In this section, I used lyrics from "I Will Love You" by Angel Diaz, and "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" by Elvis Presley. Thanks for hanging in there.... Lorraine A. Balint
Willie held his daughter in his lap, and tried to smile for her, but he just couldn't. He would look at her,and sigh, and then turn to his wife, who reached out with her casted wrist. "It's my fault. I had a fight with him in the cafeteria. I chucked him down so hard, he hit his head."
Cellie declared, "People don't get strokes, just like that, from being sat down too hard. You didn't even give him a bump on the noggin, I'll bet. You once chewed me out for trying to kiss up to Jack, when he'd just given me a hard time. At least I had a good reason. But you have to get past this tendency to feel guilty about things you've done against people who probably deserve it. You were right about your Dad. As far as sleazy head games go, he could run neck-and-neck with Nicholas. I'm sorry he's sick, but you shouldn't carry on like you caused it."
"It's not just that."
"Hon, what did he say to you that would make you chuck him anyway?"
Willie laid the baby on the pillow across Cellie's lap, and leaned over the bed rail, head hung down. Cellie reached up and ran her fingers through his hair. Her wrist cast scratched his scalp, but that didn't seem to bother him. "Cecily, he wanted money to go away. The donated money. I said no, and I offered him a hundred bucks of our money."
"Twice that would have been a worthwhile investment, if it really made him leave. But that's not the real problem. I know it's deeper than that. You've got that guilty color all over you."
"Cecily, he said the apple never fell far from the tree. I'm like him in more than looks. There's something that happened a couple of days ago, with your Dad, something I was scared to tell you. But I can't stand NOT telling you, you understand? He offered me an awful lot of money to leave you and Sarah Teresa. I came real close to taking him up on it."
"How much?" Cellie's face became red. She dropped her hand from his head.
Willie became frightened, even though he wasn't feeling bad. Yet. He whimpered, "Ten thousand dollars. Cecily, I'm sorry. I didn't even tell him I'd consider it, I just refused him outright. And, see, I'm still here!"
"How long did it take you to think it over?" Her voice was hard, but with a teary edge.
"A couple of minutes. I couldn't help it! I mean--"
"You know, when my father first came to see me, he offered to take me and the baby to Saint Thomas in the Carribbean. And I told him no, right off the bat, because you promised to take me someday, when we had our own money. Even if your promise never pans out, I'd still say the same. And look what happened when he offered you a bribe." She cried now. "After all we've been through!" She fought that urge to get back at him.
"I turned him down! Damn it, Cecily, it was ten thousand! I don't think we'll ever have ten thousand altogether at any time in our whole lives. And, at least, he would have taken care of you and Sarah. But I thought about the baby, and you, and all the good stuff we got going. I'm not a saint, like you. I'm a Loomis. But I chose you over the dough."
"Thanks for acknowledging my sainthood. I'd better alert the nuns," Cellie said, bitterly.
Willie rubbed her arm. Cellie moved it away from him, and put it under the pillow, to hold up the baby's head better. Sarah Teresa wriggled, and made little noises. When she had her parents' full attention, she smiled at them. Willie stroked her cheek. Then he reached for a hank of his wife's coppery hair, rubbing it between his fingers.
"I want to stay, Cecily. I don't ever want to dump you two, like my Dad would have. But he said other bad things, about you and my Mom. Comparing you to her. That hurt worse than what he said about me."
"I can just imagine what that horny old toad must have said. How many times do I have to tell you,
you're 'It' as far as I'm concerned? And as for your Mom, if you really loved her, I don't mind if you compare me to her."
"I really did. I was a dopey kid, leaving her alone, then. I wanted to screw around, and take stuff--"
"The difference is, when you left, you were a kid. He was already, what? About the same age you are now? There's no excuse for him, I'm afraid. It's been surreal, you know, the past few weeks, seeing what you must have been like, once, in Jack, and then, what you might have become, in your father. But 'might have' and 'must have' don't count anymore. I have you now. That's all that matters. Just make the 'now' last."
There was a soft tap on the half-closed door. Julia entered the room. "How are the three patients today?" She asked, sympathetically.
"Okay, I guess. What did they find wrong with my--my Dad?" Willie said.
"The doctors on his case have no explanation. He didn't have a stroke, or any injury that could have brought on a coma. There were abrasions on the back of his head, but they were strictly on the surface."
Willie sighed in relief at that news, then became concerned. "So it isn't a 'regular' coma, if there is such a thing. What put him out like that, and will he get better?"
"Nobody has any idea. As usual in these cases, I'm consulting. I personally believe him to be in some kind of trance. I'm having a hard time tracking down anyone who saw him before he went out, to ascertain the source of the problem. I've talked to Pavlos, who had some words with him before he left the hospital, but he swears Harold was fine when he went toward the elevator. The manager at the motel said an attractive woman showed up at his office, that evening, looking for Harold's room---"
"That figures," Willie said, bitterly. "There he was, giving me a lecture about blowing money on women, and then, before you know it, he's getting it down with some hooker. She had to be a hooker. Why else would she spend time with the likes of him? Still, he was kind of a cheapskate, and he was hitting on me for money, which I didn't give him. I don't think he had much to begin with. I just don't get it."
"Maybe she was handing out free samples," Cellie commented acidly. "Or, maybe she was drunk, and he wowed her with his charms."
Julia said, "Well, however he came to know her, he was conscious when she left. The manager heard him singing, of all things."
"That's my Dad. I used to know when he was messing with my Mom, especially if he was wasted...." Willie's voice trailed off. He had a far-off, sad look in his eyes. Cellie pulled his head to her shoulder. Sarah Teresa reached up to touch a button on her father's shirt. He took her tiny hand.
"Afterward,” Julia continued, “ that was the last anyone saw or heard of him, until the cleaning woman came in the morning."
Someone else knocked on the door. "This room is starting to get popular," Cellie commented. "I think it's time the baby went back to the nursery." Willie reluctantly placed his daughter in her bassinet, and wheeled it out of the room. Elliot Stokes and Mrs. Texeira entered, as he eased past them.
Mrs. Texeira kissed Cellie on the cheek. "You poor girl. It never rains but it pours for you and your husband. I was so sorry to hear about your father-in-law."
"It's kind of hard on Will. He never got along with his Dad, even before he left, but now I wonder if they'll ever have a chance to at least try to work out a truce."
"Cellie, you are quite an optimist," Elliot said. "I spoke to Pavlos, shortly after he met Harold Loomis. To hear him tell it, even a brief encounter was enough to give him the impression that your father-in-law was nearly irredeemable."
"Harold must have bowled Pavlos over with his fine manners. Pavlos almost never gives up on anyone," Cellie observed.
Willie had returned. He stood in a corner, as though he was being punished for having such an unregenerate character for a father. Cellie gazed at him, trying to send him soothing vibrations, but he stared at the floor.
To Julia, Elliot said, "I take it the learned physicians consulting on this case are baffled?"
"That's why I called you."
"And that's why I brought Fatima. As we've gotten closer, we've shared some of our interests, and it turns out, she has some of the same beliefs. When she heard about the elder Mr. Loomis's misfortune, she had something to tell you. Something I consider significant. Fatima?"
"Yes. I don't know if this will help Willie's father. Make of it what you will. See, I go to church with an older lady named Ana Ines Ferreira. She works as a maid at the Bide-A-Wee Motel. They call her the English name for Ines, Agnes. She helped me when I first came to Collinsport, and since then, we've kept in touch. She called me at home, the day she found Harold. She told me, finding him like that, undressed, in bed, with that smile on his face, that wasn't the whole story."
"What more do we need to know? Sounds like the story of my father's life," Willie said quietly.
"She found things in his room. In the bathroom. Candles all around."
"So, he was with a hooker who liked candles. I suppose there was incense, too?" Willie asked.
"As a matter of fact, yes. But there was more. Ines said there were little chalk drawings of stars, and other symbols. They were mostly in the bathroom. Maybe whoever put them there thought Harold wouldn't be as likely to notice them, perhaps even think they were part of the wallpaper. Anyway, that's how it looked to Ines."
"Did she show these things to the police?" Julia inquired.
"Well, they saw the candles and the incense sticks, and figured the same thing Willie suggested," Fatima replied. "As for the pictures, Ines cleansed them from the wall with Holy Water. She wants to call Father Rondini, and have him bless the place. I told her it was pointless, there would be more sinning going on in there before the week was out. And she said, 'Maria Fatima, I do not protest ordinary sinning. People will do what they do, and cleaning up after makes my living. God will judge each case as it comes before Him. But this was different. I felt it to be different. She who made the stars, and put that foolish man to sleep---la bruxa, la bruxa.' "
"The witch. Oh, boy," Cellie said. "Who's the new witch in town, these days?"
"My father thought it was you," Willie replied. "It's a good thing they don't burn 'em or hang 'em, anymore, or you'd be in real trouble."
"As long as you don't agree with his opinion."
"I don't, my girl." Willie approached the bed, and resumed his seat at Cellie's side. "The manager and that Ines didn't have a better description of that woman?"
"No," Julia said. "They both only saw her briefly, and, apparently, she was wearing a kerchief on her head. She wore a white dress, like a nurse, but that's all they could say. I don't suspect any of the nurses here, but I made private inquiries, and they all seem to be accounted for."
"You know," Cellie said, "I wish I could go see Harold for myself. I was able to get some impressions from him. In a lot of ways, he was as easy to figure out as Will. He just took me off guard, and then Will came in here and took him away before I had a chance to get better acquainted."
"He'd have tried to make a date with you, for when you got better, if he stayed any longer," Willie sighed, "And tricked you into paying the bill. He didn't like you, but I could tell he thought you were, ah, hot stuff. What good would it do, seeing him now?"
"What's all this about?" Mrs. Texeira asked.
"I'll explain it later, with Cellie's permission," Elliot said. "Do you think this is a case involving emotions, Cellie? If so, perhaps they're emotions better left unexplored."
"You may be right. Harold had some pretty base emotions. Still, something's bugging me.... something that's bugged me since he left my room, and even before. Aunt Jule, could you arrange for me to see him somehow?"
"Well, he's in Intensive care right now, but since he seems to be in stable, not to say static, condition, they're considering a move to a regular room. I'll lend my support to the plan. But you have to be checked over by Virginia, before we automatically drop you in a wheelchair and take you to him. I don't want you performing any complex functions that might interfere with your recuperation."
"Like I said, it might be pretty easy with him. But there's someone else I have to see. Hon," she said to Willie, "Could you call Pavlos? I want to see him as soon as possible."
"Whatever you want. I'll start dialing for you right now," he said, picking up the receiver.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Pavlos sat by Cellie's bed, and reached for her hand. She let him take it. "Little Flame, my deepest sympathy over your father-in-law's condition. I did not like the man, but he is not one upon whom I would wish such a distressing malady."
"Are you sure about that, Pavlos?"
"Of course. What kind of question is that?"
"I don't know. You tell me, Pavlos. Tell me what you are. I know what my father-in-law was. I know know how he is, now. I know what I am, and what I could have done to him, if I was up to it, and he pissed me off enough."
"And what are you, Cellie?"
"What you are."
"What do you believe us both to be?"
"Empaths. With the ability to identify, analyze, absorb, filter, and project the emotions of others. Occasionally, to help them. Sometimes, to even hurt them, as though one was throwing a rock at their innermost selves."
"Cellie---" Pavlos broke off, and stood up. He paced the small room. "You are right about the one thing. I am found out. I, too, have this gift. I have known of it, and practiced at it, since I was eleven years old."
Cellie's eyebrows shot up. "Eleven! I was thirteen!"
"In my family, the males mature early. The anomaly comes with this--this sexual maturing. Perhaps it is meant to help one find true union with a mate, I have no idea. But I only know, in my case, it has not brought me that happiness. Not yet, at any rate. As long as I live and am healthy, I will never give up that hope. But you and Willie, my little Flame--"
"I'm not talking about Will, or soul-mates. I'm talking about Harold. Someone as experienced as yourself must be able to place a suggestion, an emotional time-bomb, to go off when the target is most vulnerable. As vulnerable as a fifty-six-year-old man after a satisfactory visit from a prostitute. Maybe you even know the prostitute? A prostitute who may well have been a witch, at that?"
"No! Cellie, No! That is where you are in the wrong. I may have misused and misinterpreted readings and projections in the past. Who does not make honest mistakes? But this I swear, upon my belief in the Holy Mother and Her Son, that I have never, and will never, use this great gift for evil purposes. Far from it. I have had intimations that I am to use the empathy in the service of God. Further, I have been charged to watch over you and instruct you, and the littler Flame. I regret to say, I have not always been vigilant. The night of your attack--- if not for Anissa, I would not even have been in the neighborhood, and been around to help you, and Willie, as inadequately as I did."
"Pavlos, Pavlos...." Cellie's voice broke. "It wasn't your fault. Jack was a hard read, if ever there was one, among ordinary humans, at least. I tried to help him, and failed. You and I may even have been made to fail, that night. I have had to think a great deal about destiny, and the purposes of pain and suffering, in the past ten days. I am trying to accept my afflictions and trials as part of a greater plan, difficult as it may be."
"The trial could have been softened for you, Little Flame. But that chance has passed, and we must deal with the present and future. As for the present, Cellie. Yes, I did confront Harold Loomis. I found him to be riddled with corruptions, and unwholesome lusts. How he dealt with them on his own time, that was his own choice. But I sensed a disruptive influence around him. I admit, I did give him a little incentive, to leave the hospital. A bit of a headache, a twinge in the prostate...."
"Oh, Pavlos, that's gross!"
"I did him no lasting harm. And even though I have planted suggestions in susceptible individuals, I did nothing further to him. What happened to him, after, is as much a mystery to me, as it is to you. I pity you, my dear. This is another instance of you, and now your child, standing between your Willie, and the demons of his past, his earliest past. He hates, and yet, wishes he could love his father. He sees his image reflected, and dreads a return to the attitudes that make a Harold Loomis possible."
"My shoulders are almost overloaded as it is, Pavlos. I have to get better, somehow, learn to care for a new baby, fight evil, and soothe my husband's psyche. All that, and college someday."
"I can see your real shoulders. They are stronger than you think they are. Your gift is stronger, also. How did it finally come to you that we have this anomaly in common?"
"I have always searched for someone who is like me. I found friends, and I even found a lover, who would accept me, and for that I'm grateful, especially for Will. But even the most knowledgeable of them could teach me little more than simple methods to throttle the empathy. I had my 'feelers' out for a kindred spirit. I have several kindred spirits to call upon for other purposes, my husband, and Barnabas, and David, but I searched for a kindred empath. I might have sensed it was you, earlier, but I was distracted, and we haven't spent much time together.
"Then, the other day, after Harold came and went, I was resting alone in my room, and I had a very strong sense of the kind of force I use when I'm projecting, or, rather, ricocheting, a negative emotion back at someone. I couldn't check out the situation, and Will was so upset when he returned to me, I didn't have the heart to ask him to investigate for me. I thought you were coming to see me that night, and you didn't show, but Aunt Jule said you were here, and had talked to Harold. I just put two and two together."
"I am sorry I didn't tell you much earlier," Pavlos said, shamefacedly. "But again, if one accepts that there is a plan, this delay must be part of it."
Cellie replied, "Oh, this isn't the first time I've had to wait, and suffer, before I found out what I needed to know, and it won't be the last, I fear. Can I just ask you one thing?"
"Why hasn't your ability brought you personal happiness?"
Pavlos sighed. "I don't know, Little Flame. I sometimes feel I answered the wrong call---not to watch out for you, but which path to follow. When I was very young, before my gift emerged, I felt a great calling to the religious life. Orthodox priests can marry, but I was thinking of the monastery. I had an uncle who went to live on Mount Athos, one of the strictest and most isolated monasteries. I don't know if it was God who called, or simply the fact that I missed my uncle, but until I was eleven, I tried to be worthy of eventually joining the monks. Then, one day, I woke up, and suddenly, I had this disturbing new ability, and even more disturbing new feelings about girls." He smiled.
"I pursued them, lustily, but, I assure you, without malice," he continued. "I felt I had what they call here an 'inside track' to their hearts, and thus, their bodies. My father thought my behavior extreme, even for a Pavlos, so he encouraged me to marry early. He found several pretty, well-dowered virgins, and gave me a choice. I did fall in love with the one I eventually married, but she also happened to be the hardest to 'read.' We came to this country and had four children together. I did confide in her, but she found my readings intrusive. I had marginally better relations with our children. We all loved each other, but there was a fatal pressure. There was great relief, and great peace that came to exist between all of us, after we parted."
"And there was more of the same, with the other two wives and kids?" Cellie asked gently.
"I'm afraid so. And then, I became entranced with the life of providing good times and entertainment for strangers, and I got lost for a while. I was not a faithful husband, I confess. I figured, the gift is not enhancing my life, so I left it behind, and lived a surface life for a time. I did come to my senses, though, only too late to salvage the last marriage. As I told you, I am allowed three divorces in my church. If I ever find a woman I truly want to marry--"
"Like my Mom," Cellie said. Pavlos generated a deep red shade, both inside and out, when she said that.
"I will have to go outside my church. I certainly don't wish any of my previous wives to pass away prematurely. And yet, I am torn about my commitment to that faith. Until I started spending time with your mother, I was still involved with sins of the flesh, but I always felt there was a refuge to turn to, when I made up my mind to give them up. And yet, if I do the right thing, and marry, I will lose that refuge."
"Maybe there's another refuge, Pavlos. Maybe I can help you find it." Cellie reached over the bar, and the Greek grasped her casted hand gently. "Pavlos, were any of your children like you?" She asked.
"One, I believe, but he wouldn't let me know for sure. My Theodore, the son of my second marriage. He blocked me when I would have found him out, and I was so messed up, myself, I didn't wish to interfere. I am pleased to tell you, though, that after a short, troubled period, he's interested himself in the Orthodox priesthood. I pray he may make the best use of whatever empathy he posesses in that service. I almost did not do right by him, but I wish to make it up to you, and your little one."
"Then, you'll have to help me with Harold. My aunt says he's in a trance. As I told you, we believe a witch brought it on. I don't think I can do the job myself. But I don't want him to die, even if he is a creep."
"I will render any assistance you require."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Fran Maracek, dressed in a white hospital smock, held her new niece under the noses of her own son and daughter. Lew wasn't terribly impressed, but Adele was enchanted. She stroked the reddish fluff on her new cousin's head, and got lost in a daydream. She was here, in this hospital, showing off her firstborn son, Stephan David Collins, born after a heroic labor during which her devoted husband, David, stayed at her side and held her hand. Instead of cigars, he'd be handing out chocolates in blue wrappers, and then he would whisk her and little Stevie away, to the huge new nursery at Collinwood, filled with all the latest equipment.
"Addie, snap out of it," Fran said, gently. She was worried about her daughter's tendency to suspend all but her breathing while her fantasies took over. Adele's teachers had tried to encourage the child to participate in a variety of activities, but she'd allow herself to get left behind. She was bright enough, they said, but she lost touch with reality once in a while.
"Maybe she'd like to hold the baby," Cellie said. "Adele, just run down to the nurse's station, and Nurse Texeira will set you up."
Adele did as she was bidden, and sat beside her young aunt, as Fran handed her the bundle. Sarah Teresa was in a fretful mood, after being handled by strangers all day, and she began to cry. Adele tried to comfort her, but was repelled by a sudden unpleasant smell. "I--I can't hold her anymore. She did something in her diaper," Adele complained.
"That's a baby for you," Fran laughed, as Adele handed Sarah to her uncle. Willie turned from the company, and bent over the bassinet. When he finished, he placed the baby on his wife's lap pillow. Fran said, "I never thought I'd live to see the day you'd be changing diapers again, and with a smile on your face, yet."
"Hey, somebody has to teach this hospital the right way to put the stupid things on the kids," Willie replied. "I showed you back then, didn't I?"
"I wish you could have showed us how to make a million bucks, but, hey, that's how it goes. Strange how things do work out. Something terrible happens, and your baby comes early, but that ends up okay. Then, just when we're breathing a sigh of relief and gratitude, and we're just about to enjoy the baby, our Dad shows up and immediately conks out on us. I wish he was somewhere else. I hate to spoil this visit, knowing we have to go upstairs to see him."
"I don't like it either, Fran. But he is our father. I do resent the extra hospital bill." Harold's "illness' had eaten up the rest of the donated money, and most of Willie's and Cellie's savings. "He got the dough he came for, after all," Willie thought, angrily. "But at least he's not having a good time on it." He didn't know how he and his wife would handle it if Harold had to stay much longer, even if Fran and Steve kicked in some money. This wasn't the Collins' responsibility, or Collinsport's.
"We have to get him on the dole, somehow, and sent to a nursing home," Fran said. "You and Cellie certainly can't look after him, and, even if I could, I wouldn't, and as for Steve--- Forget Paul, too. Even if we could find the other boys, I doubt they’d be interested, in the least."
Her brother said, "I don't know if they'd take him in a regular nursing home. He has something weird wrong with him. I guess he's going to be stuck here a while, yet." Willie looked at his wife. He didn't want her to do what she felt she must, to try to snap his Dad out of his state, but she would have Pavlos at her side.
Willie always felt reassured when he thought about Pavlos, these days, ever since he'd made the horrible grief-pain go away the night Cellie was attacked. Pavlos was the kind of father he would have liked to have, even though he protested he wasn't such a great father to his own kids. "At least you didn't smack them and their moms around," Willie had said. Pavlos had replied, rather cryptically, that there were other abuses one could perpetrate that didn't involve bruises, but Willie could tell the older man appreciated his admiration.
Cellie was talking quietly to Adele. She said, sympathetically, "I know what you just went through. I'm not used to babies, myself. I never even baby-sat, because as soon as I could get a job, I started working in stores. Your Uncle can't wait to get me home so he can show off how much better he can take care of the baby than me."
"I just thought they were too small to get that scuzzy. You hold them and love them, and feed them, and you change 'em. It shouldn't be that difficult or annoying."
"Babies are people too. That's a good thing, and a bad thing, because they can be just as obnoxious as grown-ups, in their own way. And we were all like that, once, some noisier and dirtier than others."
"Well, someday, when I have mine, I'll have lots of help. Maybe I won't have to change too many diapers myself."
"How do you figure that?"
"When I marry David some day, he'll hire a whole bunch of nannies."
"David's own Mom and Aunt took care of him when he was little. He didn't even have a governess till he was nine. Oh, Adele...." Cellie's eyes prickled with sentimental tears. "Maybe you shouldn't count too much on David. He's a lot older than you, and--"
"Uncle Willie is way older than you, and you got married."
"Okay, you got me there. But David has a girlfriend. You saw her. Annette."
"I'm nicer, and smarter, and when I get some money to fix myself up, I'll look prettier."
"Don't go getting a swelled head, or anything, Adele," Cellie admonished. "As for being smarter, I heard you have a bit of trouble in school, because you keep running these big plans in your mind when you should be paying attention in class."
"I'm sorry." When Adele looked sad, she reminded Cellie so much of Willie it hurt. She thought of a simple solution.
"Look, Adele, when you have these daydreams, save them for when you have some free time, then write them down. Don't do it in math class!" Cellie laughed, then turned serious again. "I used to write poems when I was sad and lonely, and I used to write little stories for myself."
"Nobody has to read them, do they?"
"Not unless you want them to. If they're too embarrassing, you just rip 'em up. But save a few. Maybe you'll want to share them."
"I write to David."
"Write a story about you and David. You can change the names, if you want. Maybe you'll come to understand how you really feel about him. Then you can make plans."
"I'll try it. Maybe I'll be a real brain like you, someday."
"Just try to use it better."
Adele turned to Fran. "Mommy, when are we going to see our other Grandpa?"
Fran bristled. "Oh, you can't see him. He's too sick. David and Cellie's Mom are coming to take you and Lew to Collinwood."
"Aw, I kinda wanted to see him," Adele complained. "I never saw him before, and neither did Lew."
"I don't think you'll be able to. Don't fuss over it, now."
Cellie became aware of a powerful wave of hatred coming from Fran, even worse than Willie's, for their father. Fran was full of that queasy shade of pink, that Cellie had mistaken for parental affection in Harold, and a twist of orange-brown. When David and Janice came by to collect the two children, and Willie had gone out to see if Pavlos had come, Cellie said, "Fran, you look a bit sick. Why are you going to see Harold, when you hate his guts?"
"What do you mean by that? I don't love my father, I don't even like him, but hate his guts? That's pretty strong, coming from someone who doesn't know me very well."
"You're a lot like Will, in a way, but I noticed your reaction, without even having seen Harold yet, is as strong as Will's when he actually confronted him. That was nasty, but Will's over it pretty much. You're still shaking. I know Harold was hard on the lot of you. But what if there was some chance he might get along with your kids?"
"That'll never happen. I don't want him near them, either."
"I don't think I'd leave him alone with my Sarah, but--"
"Don't let him near her at all! Steve, and me, we wouldn't let Adele--"
"Why, Fran? What happened?"
"Look, Cellie, there's just some things.... You really don't know, do you?"
"I'll probably guess soon enough, but not in time to help you feel better."
"Not a whole lot could, except my Steve. Cellie, when my father was still at home with us, and nobody was around but me and him, he used to pull me into the bedroom and sort of, you know--" Fran almost turned purple "--put his hands where they didn't belong. And stuff. Don't make me tell you more."
"Oh, my God. Did Will know?"
"I'm not sure. It was weird, between him and our Dad. Willie always wanted to get even with him over what he did to our mother, but Dad was too much for him. Still, if he ever got wind about what Dad was doing with me…. I guess I would have known if Willie found out."
"And how are you, now? I mean, the rest of the time, when you know you don't have to see Harold?"
"I'm okay. Really. The sun still comes up in the morning, chores get done, I have a good time with the kids, and Steve's just the best. You get up, and do what you have to do. It was a bad time, way back then, for everybody. I was lucky Mama dropped me off with the Maraceks. That why she did, 'cause I told her. She cried a lot, but she said the Maraceks would look after me good. And they did. And Steve was nice to me. He was so mad when I finally had to tell him, after Adele was born.
I was a little scared of him with our own baby, at first! Plus, my Dad started calling us, after a few years. So now, when he does, I have Steve tell him off."
"Don't see Harold, then, Fran."
"I have to, to make sure he's good and still."
"He may get better."
"Then I want the satisfaction of telling him to go to hell when he starts asking for money, or what else he always wants. He can't get around me, the way he tried to get around Willie."
Willie came into the room, followed by Julia and Pavlos. "Well, Cecily, this is your last chance to back out."
"Back out of what?" Fran asked.
"Back out of seeing our Dad."
"Why drag her up there in a wheelchair?"
"It's very important, Fran. I can't explain right now. Maybe you'd like to get up there, right now, before--before he wakes up."
"I just need to know what's going on."
"Let her," Pavlos said. "It is important to her, as it is to you."
As it turned out, Cellie wasn't taken to see Harold in a wheelchair. Consenting, wearily, to yet another infringement on her medical authority as it applied to Cellie's case, Dr. Hurley insisted the girl be transported on a gurney, as though she was returning to surgery. This led to concerned whispers among the nurses and new mothers, as they saw her pass through the corridors with her entourage. "That poor girl, they must have found some other injury they didn't catch in the first operation," was the general consensus.
Cellie found the ride exhilarating, after being cooped up in her room for ten days. She was relieved when she saw that they were taking her to a regular room, with a door that could be shut. After her experience with Margene's baby in Intensive Care, she didn't want to practice her skill in such a public arena again.
Harold lay, seemingly awake, his eyes wide open and staring, shielded under taped-on plastic goggles. "He only blinks once in a great while," Julia explained. "That's how they keep his eyes from drying up." There was a humid mist under the lenses.
"They may have to be removed, at least until we get going," Cellie said. She studied her father-in-law. He wore that disturbing smile, but his face had relaxed. Harold resembled his son more strongly now that he wasn't animated by that sleazy swagger. This made it easier for Cellie to concentrate.
"He's waiting for something," she announced finally.
"What for? He got what he wanted," Willie said.
"A different kind of release," she replied. "Aunt Jule, they took toxicological tests, didn't they?"
"Whatever they have available here. They came up negative. Do you get the sense that this was caused by some obscure poison we have no test for?"
"Not poison. A potion. An aphrodisiac, maybe."
"But he'd just had---" Julia began.
"What if he wanted something more? What if this so-called 'witch' offered him something to tide him over until she had a chance to visit him again? Especially if it was free," she commented, wryly, looking at her husband. Willie nodded at the observation.
"He did mention he was familiar with some voodoo practices," Pavlos said. "He would, doubtless, have found sexual stimulants a welcome fringe benefit of these rituals."
"That's disgusting," Fran said, looking at her father with a withering expression. "But then, he always was---is---disgusting."
"We have no tests for aphrodisiacs," Julia said.
"Maybe they could re-check the results of the earlier tests. Herbal remedies sometimes have pretty strong chemical traces," Cellie observed. "What's a good aphrodisiac? Ginseng? Mandrake? I've heard of a couple, but I'm not sure what would bring on paralysis in an overdose." She reached her free arm over the railings of her gurney, and Harold's bed. It was Willie who placed his father's hand in hers.
"We'll look all that up. What else is going on?" Julia asked.
Pavlos put his hand on Cellie's shoulder. He said, "Remove the goggles now."
Julia gently untaped the goggles. Cellie and Pavlos looked into Harold's eyes. Cellie drew a sharp breath. She hadn't noticed before, but Harold's eyes were the same intense blue shade as Willie's. "Cellie, I know what you are thinking," Pavlos said. "Your Willie is over there," he pointed. "If this distresses you too much, or you feel yourself getting lost, break your gaze and look toward him."
"I'm okay right now." Cellie forced herself to look into the eyes she loved so much on her husband, and loathed so much on her vile father-in-law. She was seeing through them, to a tiny pinpoint of light, rather like looking through a telescope, backwards. She forced herself to focus on the small figures she glimpsed moving around. "Fleas?" She thought, but the image enlarged and sharpened. There were bright green eyes, half-closed, looking up at her. Something soft brushed her face. A bright orange nimbus surrounded her. In spite of all her aches, pains, and bandages, Cellie began to feel aroused. Her heart pounded. She felt an uncomfortable pressure under her incision. She muttered, "Promise....promised I can feel this way anytime....she promised.... Miss.... miss....aah!" Cellie gagged and coughed.
Lost, lost.... Pavlos jerked her head toward Willie, and took over. He sighed deeply. His face turned a dark shade of red. He sweated and panted. "Stuff's takin' too long to work....Wish she
just stayed another damn half-hour.... Never forget.... I'll never forget...." He moaned. "Best things in life really are free.... Can't breathe....What's the hell's going on? Who put out the lights?" Pavlos's eyes teared up, and he gasped. "Can't die now.... I'm scared.... No I'm not.... It's got to work...."
Julia looked toward the bed, as Pavlos relived Harold's last conscious moments. Harold's exposed eyes began to tear at the time Pavlos's did. He breathed hard at the same time, and moved his hand in Cellie's, but fell still again.
Celie felt Pavlos's pulse pound, where he grasped her shoulder. He clutched her so tightly she almost cried with pain. His face became a maroon shade, then he sighed very loudly. Cellie became aware of the relaxation of tension in both Pavlos and Harold.
Pavlos whispered hoarsely, "She gave him something that should have paralyzed his breathing just briefly, in order to give him an intense rush. Perhaps Lobelia, or the narcotic Thornapple.... You must re-test for these things. But he will not pass away now. His fear is behind him. He may even awaken on his own, soon, though I'm not sure how this will affect his memory. I couldn't identify the woman."
"Me neither," Cellie said, regretfully. "Her eyes were green, though." Green eyes....where had she seen green eyes like that before? They weren't Angelique's, which only occasionally assumed a greenish tint in certain lights. Seduction was hardly her modus operandi these days, anyway, if she was serious about her redemption. But the eyes WERE similar, in shape, clarity, expression. Maybe ALL witches' eyes were like that, she reflected.
Harold stirred, and moaned. He blinked his eyes several times in rapid succession. Then, still resting against the pillows, he turned his head around, looking at everyone in the room. "What--what the hell is going on here?" He coughed and sputtered. "What's this stuck in my nose?" He touched the nose feeding tube, the I.V.'s. "I'm hooked up to some kind of blood machine?" When he focused on Cellie, lying on her gurney next to him, he got extremely angry. "What, I'm giving a transfusion to that bitch? Or is she giving me one? Get her out of here. And that Greek, too. It's a plot."
"Nice to see you're back to your old, pleasant self, Dad," Fran said, bitterly. "I don't know what Cellie and Pavlos did, but I guess they saved your miserable life."
"They did no such thing! They screwed me up, and they made a big show of bringing me out of it, so you wouldn't know what they're all about. You got a hell of a nerve talking to me like that anyway, Frannie. You, at least, should respect your old man who's flat on his back in the hospital. By the way, when I'm better, I'd like to see my cute little grand-daughter, Adele. Or does that Slow-Vac cow-jockey of yours have her locked up at home? I'll bet you didn't know she's been writing to me." Harold smiled his old, leering smile.
"She's been---WHAT!" Fran almost knocked Cellie's gurney over, in her frenzied rush to grab her father's throat. Willie reached for her, and dragged her away.
Pavlos came close to Harold's bed. "You still believe I did this to you? You have no memory of your date?"
"Date? I don't remember a date. I don't have enough dough to get a date. My son wouldn't give me any. Waste of money, anyway. I just know you zapped me in the head, and my family jewels, and that's the last of it. You probably gave me a damn blood clot in my brain."
"Well, Harold, if you think I 'zapped' you before, I can only promise more of the same if you ever communicate with any of your grandchildren, especially the girls. And I wouldn't harass Fran again, if I were you."
Harold's pupils dilated, and he cringed away from Pavlos. Cellie hated to admit to herself that she found the sight of her father-in-law's fear, almost a parody of her husband's, so gratifying. She glanced across at her aunt. Julia didn't approve, but as a psychiatrist, she had often heard of such cases, and sometimes wished there could be some kind of effective, lasting payback.
Still, she had to protect her patient to some extent. "That's enough, Pavlos. He'll be out of here, as soon as we do some of the tests over, and administer any antidotes to the poison."
"I wasn't poisoned! I was hexed!" Harold protested.
"This is MY case, and I will handle it as I see fit, Mr. Loomis." Julia walked to the door, and signaled to Willie, who was comforting his sister. He released her, and came back into the room, followed by an orderly who had helped push the gurney into the room.
As Willie, Pavlos, and the orderly eased Cellie from the room, she looked back, hopefully for the last time, at her father-in-law. She was sorely tempted to hit him up in that sickly-pink-and-orange-brown, incestuously lustful place she found inside him. She visualized it, and began to wring it out in her mind, like a wet, filthy mop.
Harold writhed, and groaned, "You win, you win. Let me alone! I'm on the next boat out of here!"
Julia whispered, "Cellie...." Her niece sighed, and lay quietly, with an innocent look on her face. Harold relaxed.
Cellie felt her husband's hand on her head, stroking her hair. When they were out of the room, she motioned for her weeping sister-in-law to come closer.
"Fran, you're Catholic now. You ever hear of Saint Dymphna?"
"I know that's the name of the school you lived at before you got married. That's all I know about her. I'm not really up on any but the usual saints. Why?"
"Bend closer, and I'll tell you," Cellie said. She whispered the sad little story into her sister-in-law's ear.
"This Saint---she had a father like mine?"
"Well, I don't think that's the exact reason he wanted be with her, but the result would have been the same. Maybe, you wouldn't feel so alone if you thought about her ....Unless you know someone else who went through that."
"Nobody that'll admit it, anyway.” Fran sighed. “That's just the way it goes. I'll think about her, maybe even pray.... Imagine, a saint who had a problem I can understand."
Walter came into his daughter's room, carrying a box of Cellie's favorite candy, and two old books. He kissed her face, now nearly clear shell-white again.
"Sorry I haven't been around for a couple of days, Princess. I had to dash back to Boston to wind down a very big, very profitable, but decidedly amicable divorce. I've just been to the nursery. I heard our Sarah is about ready to be released."
"I know. I wish I could leave with her. But she'll get plenty of attention at Collinwood, between Mom, Mrs. Stoddard, Carolyn, Mrs. Johnson, and David. And Will's going to stay there, nights, so she won't totally forget both her parents." Cellie's eyes teared up. She already felt bereft, even though Sarah would still be with her two more days.
"Where is my son-in-law today?"
"He finally went back to work. He's been going in the last couple of days, cleaning up, and he and Carolyn are giving me a six-month wedding-anniversary present. Brand-new kitchen Linoleum."
"Well, they couldn't clean the old linoleum---the blood and dirt were too ingrained, and it would have given me nightmares to see it anyway. So they brought me a book of patterns in the best-quality flooring, and I picked a pretty Spanish-tile pattern. When that's installed, and Will straightens out the showroom, Barnabas will be holding a grand re-opening, to bring back the customers. On top of this, he's been putting the finishing touches on our nursery."
"A regular dynamo, I'm sure. He certainly recuperated from his father's visit. I heard the man caused no end of trouble, and almost died on everyone. I'm glad I missed that."
"Daddy, that reminds me of something I have to talk to you about. You tried to bribe Will to leave me. How could you do that?"
Walter turned red. Cellie was surprised to discover actual shame in him. "I'm sorry about that, Princess. I was still angry, and I was upset that I couldn't see you, and I guess I thought he was responsible. But that's no excuse."
"Will confessed he was tempted. You know, Dad, it's so easy to say he shouldn't have considered it. But he used to be a certain way, and he's been poor most of his life. I can't say I would have been surprised if he took you up on it, at least for a short time. Why did you want to hurt me like that?"
"I thought I was helping. I guess I was wrong. He stood up to the offer, and then I really got mad. But it turned out okay, in the end. He's still here, laying down the linoleum, and I got to meet a lovely lady."
"You really like Maggie, don't you?" Of course he did. Cellie hadn't sensed such strong red lights in someone other than her husband, since her aunt had gotten together with Barnabas.
"It's amazing, Princess. I don't think I've felt quite like this about anyone, since I was courting your mother. I realize that didn't turn out well, in the end, but we had many good years together. Since I'm older, now, I think I'm quite ready to settle down, again. Perhaps for good, this time." He smiled, in an almost innocent-looking way.
"What about Maddy?"
"She wasn't too thrilled, but she's been dating around herself. She gave her notice, and by the time I return home, again, she'll likely have landed a new job."
"Mom's getting a new job."
"Oh, really? She brought herself to part with Justin? That Pavlos must be something else."
"Cut it out, Dad. Mom would never make such fun of you and Maggie. She's been apologizing for whatever she said to Maggie at the Koffeehaus, for a week already."
"Alright, I'll behave. Where is she going to work now?"
"At the cannery."
"What, did Janice take over the position left vacant by the late Mrs. Knowlton?" Walter tried not to smile.
"Good Heavens, no. She's Roger Collins's new administrative assistant."
"Janice doesn't have a business degree. Sounds like a glorified secretarial postion to me. And I've met that Roger Collins. He's rather an overbred version of Justin, as far as I'm concerned."
"Well, Mom's pretty tied up with Pavlos, and anyway, Mrs. Stoddard approved the hiring. Mrs. Stoddard has a wonderful reputation in the business world."
"She's the one who locked herself up for almost twenty years, isn't she?" Walter asked eagerly. "And yet, even then, one heard, from as far away as the New York Stock Exchange, that she was cutting some of the most amazing deals. She even saved her companies from a hostile takeover, working out of her living-room, they say, and then she turned around and formed a limited partnership with the fellow who tried to buy her out. Maybe you've heard of Burke Devlin? The ‘late great,’ that is. Terrible thing about him, dying in that plane crash when he was flying high everywhere else."
"David, especially, reminisces about him constantly. Apparently, Devlin was like a surrogate father to him."
"He certainly benefitted us, indirectly. If you recall, a few years ago, when we moved into the big house in Brookline, well, that came about as a result of my judiciously playing the stock market, during the wrangle over the companies. God bless insider trading."
"Well, if Mrs. Stoddard was right about that decision, she must be right about this one. Mom is sure she'll love the job. She's even getting her own little office, with a view of the harbor."
"As long as that Roger confines his view to his ledgers. I worry more about a guy like that, than someone like Pavlos. Maggie likes Pavlos, and so do you. He must be all right."
"Dad, I think you're loosening up. Love has done wonders in your case."
"Just opening my mind to new possibilities. I'm even going to make peace with my brother-in-law. He and Julia invited me to live at their house when I'm in town. I'm not sure I want to do that, or live in their guest cottage, either, but I will be going to dinner there, and maybe stay over a night, this weekend."
"That's fantastic. Wow. Things are getting better every day. I'll have to call Will, and have him bring over our special bottle of Champagne."
"How did you come by that?"
"David brought it over, one night. It's Collins private stock. Since it was bottled the year David was born, he decreed it should be used when the baby was born."
"Save it for the grand christening, whenever that's going to be. Have you chosen a date, or is it too soon for the doctors to predict when you'll be sprung from this place?"
"As it happens, the doctors think I'll be able to leave by the second Saturday in September. A week and a half from now. David's birthday falls on the last Sunday. I've kind of been sticking to birthdays for these milestones, and since he's the God-father, I've already told his aunt we should start sending out invitations.
She thought it was a splendid idea, and so did Maggie, when I clued her in. I already know David's getting the baby a fabulous christening present, so I'll need help choosing an equally fabulous birthday gift. And, of course, a present for Maggie. I know you'll be a big help in that department."
Cellie didn't mention the wrangle she'd had on the phone with Father Rondini. He almost persuaded her to have a formal christening at St. Ann's R.C., but, in the end, admitted the final decision was up to her. In return, Cellie promised to expose Sarah Teresa to the tenets of both Catholicism and Episcopalism. "Well, at least there's no Unitarian church near here, to make things even more muddled," she thought.
While they were talking about David, Walter brought forth the old books he'd carried in. "That reminds me," he said, "I ran into your friend Carolyn. She said David insisted you have these books. Apparently, he wasn't going to be available to see you himself, today. I don't know why the books couldn't have waited, until you were home with all the other antiques. They look a bit unsanitary to me. And I noticed, they're not exactly by Doctor Spock."
"Well, don't look at them as if they were written by 'Mister Spock'!" Cellie laughed. "See, I've been involved in a kind of research project for Barnabas and Aunt Jule. Now that it looks as though I'm going to be staying on the planet, after all, none of us see any reason not to pick up where we left off."
Walter said, "I looked at the books, when David gave them to me. One of them was published in 1742. It's all about the 'Darker Natives of New England', Indians, I guess. And the other is a book about early Ipswich. You know, your Mom's ancestors came from Ipswich. Did she ever tell you her mother was descended from the Siskes of Old Ipswich?"
"Yeah, and I tried to trace the line, but there were so many Sisks in the nineteenth century, I lost track."
"Well, maybe they're mentioned in this book. No matter how many Sisks there were in the nineteenth century, they could only have been descended from a few in the seventeenth century. People had huge families, and even with child mortality so high, the survivors managed to create something of a population explosion further on down the line. Certain families, like the Sisks, showed a tendency to proliferate and prosper, as did the Frasers in Scotland."
"And then, for whatever reason, some dwindled after peaking, like the Collinses."
"This branch of the family may prove resurgent, once the young ones get married."
"Now you sound like Barnabas."
"That's something new." Walter wasn't sure he wanted to be identified with his brother-in-law in any way, once he'd read the information Simons had gathered. "Well, when I go to that 'Old House,' I'll find out how much more we could possibly have in common." Not much, he hoped.
* * * * * * * * * * *
As the time for the dinner approached, Walter became more uneasy. He would have his copy of his son-in-law's dossier open at the same time he reviewed his brother-in-law's, so he could trace the discrepancies. He was thoroughly familiar with the short section of Willie's record that dealt with Maggie's kidnapping, and its aftermath, including a brief period, following his release from WindCliff, when he apparently became obsessed with her again, and tried to whisk her away.
Barnabas's record, while harder to trace, fitted into the sections where Willie's was blank. Simons had somehow come across a private letter written by one George Patterson, sheriff of Collinsport until 1970, when he was succeeded by a fellow named Davenport, who died soon after, and then, by Fred Beardsley, both of whom had been his deputies. The letter was in the form of a memoir, and was never sent. "It was tucked in a file he left after he vacated the office," Simons had written. "Someday I'll have a drink with you, and tell you just how my agent managed to get it from the current sheriff."
In this letter, Patterson had detailed the four years of his tenure, a most trying time when his quiet office had been wracked by disturbances emanating from the eccentric "ruling family, high on their hill," as he put it. Walter learned some interesting facts about old Collins family scandals that had impacted the public consciousness, including an infamous drunk driving incident that had involved
Roger Collins, the late Burke Devlin, and Maggie's late father, Sam. At least, this Patterson had some kind words for Sam, "a gentle, but, unfortunately, morally confused man who lubricated his self-doubts with liquor. Still, he always claimed anything he did was for his dying wife and his daughter. I believed him, but never got him to admit what we both knew, that he was paid to with-hold information by Roger Collins."
There was more fascinating information, about a fire supposedly set by David's late mother, and a distressing series of incidents that took place when both Willie and Barnabas took up residence at Collinwood. Actually, Willie had arrived first, with a certain Jason McGuire, who also turned out to be a troublemaker of another sort, an extortionist and master manipulator. His personal mission was to gain control of the Collins fortune, by convincing Elizabeth Stoddard that she had killed her husband during an argument, years earlier. Fortunately, it turned out to be a fabrication. Just before he would have married Elizabeth, McGuire had been exposed, and exiled from town. Elizabeth's husband turned up alive, a few years later, only to have a breakdown and then get murdered for real shortly afterward, but at least not in a manner that implicated his ex-wife!
What troubles Patterson had experienced with Willie, at first, were simple, if obnoxious---a barroom brawl, the incident with the Knowlton boy, suspicions about local break-ins. In short, little, or nothing to indicate what was to follow. Then, Willie was missing for a few days. When he re-appeared, he was noted to be very sick, and, more to the point, had, seemingly, the layers of a dozen years of violent behavior peeled from him.
Curiouser and curiouser, Walter thought. Why should someone who had suddenly re-discovered docility (and a pleading, mournful docility, at that) suddenly go off his head, attacking women, and, if the sheriff's account was to be believed, mutilate helpless animals? The sheriff didn't understand either, apparently. In this period, Barnabas had showed up, and hired Willie, to everyone's consternation. Things went along, relatively peacefully, except for the intermittent attacks on women and livestock. Interesting juxtaposition, Walter thought, de-humanizing the women and de-valuing the animals, by the same method: somehow siphoning their blood.
Patterson had left a detailed review of the facts of Maggie's case, including the observation that she'd suffered that same kind of anemia, on and off, before she was even taken. At this point, Simons had written, "Tried to find any trace of medical records of late attending physician David Woodard, on both Miss Evans and Loomis, who was known to suffer the same condition. Records were stolen during a break-in at Woodard's office which was never solved."
Patterson mentioned a young girl, who wandered around town, and seemed to know all about Maggie's disappearance. The girl called herself "Sarah." Walter wondered if this had anything to do with the choice of his grand-daughter's name. Not that it wasn't an uncommon name, with all this back-to-the-land nonsense going on, but it was an interesting coincidence. Why would a kidnapper consent to name his own daughter after someone who apparently spilled the information that got him captured and almost killed?
At any rate, Maggie was found by her father on the Collins property, several weeks later, barely alive, and treated by Walter's sister at that WindCliff hospital. Except for a few vague details, she was never able to provide even rudimentary information about where she'd been kept, or by whom. (Walter wondered what had happened to the records Julia must have kept.) Loomis was barely suspected, but, the sheriff confided, his earliest suspicions centered around Barnabas.
After all, Patterson reasoned, where would Willie have kept Maggie, and how could he have fed her, all that time? One thing was well-known about Willie; he spent practically twenty-four hours a day, repairing the Old House, making trips for his employer, to buy supplies to keep repairing the Old House, as well as a few other odd errands.
Once, there had been a report that Willie had been fencing valuable old jewelry at a jewelry broker's. Patterson had sent Beardsley to check it out, and found that everything was on the
up-and-up. Willie had a written statement from Barnabas, that he was authorized to sell the items for his employer. Patterson and Beardsley both agreed Willie wasn't the first person they would consider for such an errand, but there was the statement, unmistakably in Barnabas's hand. Just to make sure, Patterson tried to contact Barnabas, but, as was often noted, he was virtually never available during the day. He had a tendency to show up at Collinwood, or in town, after the sun went down. It was never clearly established just where he went during the day.
That little detail set off a small alarm in the sheriff's head. Perhaps Willie was involved, but in a secondary capacity. Both he and Barnabas were known to be quite stand-offish when an uninvited guest came around, especially during the day, and especially one as full of questions as the sheriff. Then, Willie was ambushed by the police while, apparently, trying to force an entry into Maggie's room, after she had recovered and returned home.
Even then, the sheriff had his doubts about the man's guilt, until Barnabas allowed him to search Willie's room, and they found a ring that Maggie had been wearing when she disappeared. Actually, Barnabas found it, and called the sheriff's attention to it. This tiny shred of circumstantial evidence was enough to settle the question in everyone's mind, including the sheriff's; especially since Loomis was out of his mind, Maggie's own mind was a blank, and neither could testify to the facts.
Walter fumed at that detail. He almost wished he could have been Willie's lawyer. If the case had gone to trial, it would have been easy enought to tear down this tenuous connection between Willie and the kidnapping. As it was, Maggie was discouraged from pressing charges, and it was thought that a long spell in an institution would be enough to keep Loomis away from the scene for a great deal longer than it actually did. Walter found it interesting that Barnabas apparently had no qualms about re-engaging the so-called "Psycho", when he was released from WindCliff. "Yutz psycho is more like it," Walter thought. As Maggie had observed, Willie was, indeed, no "mastermind", then or ever, unless it came to installing linoleum.
According to Patterson's letter, this last detail, Willie's return to his old position, turned his head around yet again, as far as his assessment of Loomis's probable guilt went. These doubts had been fanned by the persistent skepticism of both Burke Devlin, and Doctor Woodard, both of whom died before Loomis's return. While there was no doubt about the cause of Devlin's passing (his plane had crashed in Brazil), the Sheriff admitted to some suspicions over the circumstances of the Doctor's death. He'd apparently died of a sudden heart attack after he'd made an urgent appointment to discuss an unnamed matter, probably connected to the kidnapping.
With this last possible source of fresh evidence dried up, Maggie's case was considered closed. There was some interesting addenda about yet another bizarre stalker who had appeared in town, a scar-covered, semi-retarded giant, who also seemed nebulously connected to Barnabas, Willie, and Julia. Only, this oddball's main target was Barnabas's cousin Carolyn. He did, however, attack Maggie's father, who died less than a week later.
At the same time, it seemed as though whoever caused the early troubles had returned, to do fresh mischief. Maggie's former fiancee and his cousin (who later died) were known to have suffered the same sort of injuries as Maggie and Willie. In this case, though, it was the victim who went off his head, when Joe Haskell tried to kill himself and Barnabas, so it was obvious the older man couldn't have been to blame.
Maggie's hapless former fiancee went from bad to worse after that incident. He wandered about town, muttering to himself, and exploded in violent outbursts; the combined result, the sheriff thought, of a series of confrontations with various attackers who'd inflicted numerous head injuries on the beleagured former sailor. The last came about when, the sheriff discovered later, Joe had been attacked by a mysterious wild animal believed responsible for several grotesque deaths. After a year or so, (and months after Haskell's lengthy confinement in what Walter was coming to think of as "that damned WindCliff,") the "beast" must have died or wandered off somewhere. At any rate, it was never heard from, again, and no fresh reports of its continued activity came from anyplace else. Soon after that, Patterson's term as Sheriff drew to an end; exhausted and exasperated by all he'd endured, he refused to seek re-election.
As the narrative closed, Patterson noted the unsettled situation he was leaving his successor, pitying the burden on Davenport, but relieved that his job was done. Still, in the end, Patterson expressed a wish that "Someone, someday, might review these facts, make a more agressive investigation, and settle the question, once and for all. Even if no conviction results, I feel there is a real human need to know the truth. Too many people have suffered as a result of this, and other odd incidents, that swirl around that most peculiar member of that most peculiar family."
When Walter came to the end of the letter, he immediately wanted to get Patterson on the phone, to rehash the whole ugly story. His desire to do so was so great, he knew a proportionate crash of disappointment when he found another of Simon's notes in the file. "Sheriff Patterson passed away in July 1971, as a result of a heart attack, on a golf-course in Myrtle Beach, while enjoying his well-deserved retirement from the travails of Collinsport," Simons had wryly related.
There were a few more interesting papers, including copies of receipts from the jewelers who'd bought from Barnabas (all noted that the jewelry was about the same age, almost two-hundred years old), as well as from an Ellsworth consignment shop that had sold a considerable quantity of good clothing to Willie, during one April week in 1967. The sizes of some of the items were recorded, and Walter could tell the stuff would never have fitted his son-in-law. There was a curious paper from the Motor Vehicle Department, inquiring after Barnabas's Social Security number, as was required for a driver's license. He must have come up with one, since he was still driving. However, the Collins family was, Walter believed, so-well favored that, perhaps, nobody would have questioned Barnabas's right to operate a motor vehicle without a license.
Most important, like Walter had discovered in his own delvings, there was absolutely no other information available about Barnabas before 1967. He didn't know what to make of any of this. He didn't want to come out and accuse his sister's husband of anything at this time; after all, one of the reasons Barnabas had never been formally accused in the first place was that so much could be explained by coincidence. Still, there was a point beyond which the term "coincidence" no longer applied.
There was Maggie's attitude to consider. She would not be joining in the dinner this weekend, because she had to go to a gallery in Augusta to host a retrospective of her late father's artwork. (The unfortunate Sam Evans had, in death, gained the acclaim for his work that eluded him in life.) But Walter knew she would have been included in the invitation, and would have accepted it. In fact, Julia had made a point of inviting Maggie to any such gatherings in the future. Whatever had passed between Maggie and Barnabas, it was not an issue in their present friendly relationship. Maybe Maggie would resent Walter's delvings into Barnabas's past, also.
Walter was torn between his growing affection for the pretty art-store owner, his fond concern for his sister and his daughter, and his mistrust for his brother-in-law. He wished, sometimes, he didn't have that drive to possess all the facts. He hoped his anxieties would be laid to rest by whatever he could discover during his upcoming overnight stay at the Old House, but his past experience had taught him that he wasn't the sort to be so upset by a threat that didn't exist. Denial wasn't his way, any more than it was his daughter's. If he was frightened by something, it was, surely, real.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Adele came down to the drawing room at Collinwood, carrying the new notebook and mechanical pencil she'd insisted that her mother buy for her. She was in the throes of a new fantasy: A. Francine Maracek, world-famous authoress. Of course, in between churning out heart-pounding potboilers, and making gazillions on movie rights to her best-sellers, she was enjoying a peaceful personal life with her husband, David Collins, industrial mogul, and chief supporter of his gorgeous wife's literary efforts.
Then she snapped out of the dream, and did what Cellie had instructed. Adele plunked herself into the nearest easy chair, and began to write. She almost didn't hear David walk into the room.
"Another Cellie in the making," he commented, tousling her light brown hair.
"I thought you were doing something with Lew," she said.
"At present, he's beating the pants off my father, playing chess. He's already won countless games of rummy against him. He's like Cellie in that way, too. Father couldn't stand the way she always beat him at cards. She sure picked the right family to marry into. All winners."
"The kids in school call me and Lew a couple of 'winners,' but I don't think they mean it in a nice way." She pouted.
"Don't listen to that crap. Lew's a cool little dude, and you're a nice kid. Sarah T. couldn't hope for better than to turn out like you two."
Adele smiled. "You sound like a Dad yourself."
"I'm a God-Dad. The Gahd-fahthah. I'll make you an offer you can't refuse," David laughed.
"You're just picking on me," Adele said.
"No, I'm serious. I've spent enough time with the card-sharks, and you've spent enough time following your Mom and Mrs. Johnson around, getting things ready for the baby. I'll really give you something to write about."
"What? A present? A date?" Adele's eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.
"I'm going to take you on a magical mystery tour."
"We're not going to that horrid West Wing, are we?"
"Aw, it's not so bad once you learn the way around. But no, I don't think your Mom would appreciate you running around back there, alone, with an older man."
"You're not too old for me. You're just sixteen."
"I'll be seventeen in two weeks, and you're just twelve."
"I turned thirteen August second. So, it's not even a four-year's difference between us, yet."
"Adele.... that's a big difference between two kids."
"Aunt Cellie is awfully young compared to Uncle Willie."
"That's different. Cellie was never really young, I think. And your Uncle only started growing up recently. They meet in the middle somewhere."
Adele considered this logic. "We could meet in the middle. Maybe wherever you're taking me. Where are we going?"
"Where we can wander around in the open. You want to take the exclusive bicycle tour of the grounds? I heard it's supposed to rain tomorrow, and you're going back home the day after, so this is your only chance to view the wonders of the grand, the stupendous, Collins estate."
"That's really neat. You have a bicycle my size? Oh," she said, "All the boy's bikes have those nasty bars."
"Not mine. I hate those things, myself. I have a couple of comfortable bikes, different sizes, in excellent condition. One-speed, three-speed, ten-speed, your choice."
"Wow. I only have one bike, and so does Lew, that we got from our cousins when they got too big for them. It must be nice, being rich, having so many bikes."
"They're not all mine. My Aunt and Carolyn still like to ride once in a while. We have a good bike trail around the estate. So, you want to go, if your Mom lets you?"
"Oh, boy, would I !" Adele ran upstairs to ask Fran, who was fussing over crib mattresses with Mrs. Johnson. She gave permission, once Mrs. Johnson explained the location and layout of the trail. (Mrs. Johnson was no bicycle rider, but she liked to follow the trail on her daily walks.)
"It sounds safe enough to me. Just don't ride up to that Widow's cliff, or whatever they call it, and stay out in the open. Make sure you're back in an hour or so," Fran said. She wasn't unduly worried about Adele being alone with David. She'd observed David with his girlfriend Annette, and with Cellie, and decided if anyone had to worry about what he might be up to, it would be Annette and poor Willie. He was obviously besotted with Willie's wife, though Cellie made a great show of not acknowledging his affection, referring to him as her "Other brother."
At any rate, he appeared responsible enough to watch out for her dreamy-headed daughter. David was nothing like Harold Loomis. Fran dismissed Adele's little crush altogether. The girl was surely too shy to act on her feelings. And Mrs. Johnson assured her that, if she wanted to check on the two teenagers, the trail was visible from practically every room in the house. Fran did take a break, going down to the kitchen for some coffee, and came back to sit on the upstairs balcony, watching as Adele and David burned up the trail toward the Old House.
"Oh, David, could you take me there to show me Josette's special room?" Adele asked, breathlessly, her legs churning the pedals as she struggled to keep up with her friend.
"Not this trip, Ads. When you come back for Sarah T.'s christening, and Barnabas is completely better, we'll stop by." David, panting, braked his bike, as did Adele. They were on a small hill overlooking the front entrance to the Old House.
"But he must be better now. Look," she pointed, "Cellie's Dad is going to see him." And, indeed, Walter, who had arrived early for dinner, was climbing the steps, and disappeared behind the columns.
"That's different. Grown-ups don't keep other grown-ups trotting around, giving house tours, when they know their host isn't feeling up to par. Mr. Hoffman probably just wants to yack about Maggie with Julia, anyway."
Adele had heard David's version of his ex-governess's romance with her new aunt’s father. "Are they going to get married?" she asked. "How come he isn't married to Cellie's Mom anymore? I don't know what I'd do if my Mom and Dad broke up." Then she blushed. "Oh, I'm sorry, I almost forgot. Your folks got a divorce."
"Not until the last possible minute, after my Mother....went away for good. But it's true, they did split up for a couple of years before. I was only six. But they had to, Adele, they just fought all the time, and my mother, well, she drank a lot and got sick in her mind. My Dad couldn't take care of me too well, not alone, anyway, so that's why I live here. The important thing is, they were better off apart."
"That's just terrible. But Cellie's Mom doesn't drink, and her Dad loves Cellie and the baby. People don't try hard enough, that's what my Daddy says."
"Maybe it's true for people who belong together from the beginning. Your Mom and Dad probably did. Cellie and Willie---I want to believe they did. But my folks didn't, and it could be, Cellie's parents belonged together long enough to bring up two swell kids, and then it was time for both of them to move on. I know I won't squawk if her Dad marries Maggie. Maggie's sweet as can be, and she's had a hard life. I sure didn't make it any easier. But Cellie's Dad looked like he wouldn't mind protecting her." David patted Adele's cheek. "Now, don't go getting all worried about your own parents. When they were here, at the reception, they acted like they were still on their honeymoon, except for when they had to go chasing after you and Lew."
David and Adele mounted their bikes again, and sped off, out of view from Collinwood, but still close to the Old House. Fran, who was still watching from the balcony, knew if she had any further anxieties, she could just call down at Barnabas's place. She had told her daughter to keep checking her watch. She went back into the house.
David pointed to Abijah's Cottage. "Abijah Collins hid runaway slaves in his cellar there," he called. "He had a special room in there, even more secret than some of the secret rooms at the Big House, or the Old House. But now, all the rooms are open."
"That was real nice of him," Adele called back.
"I'm not sure," David shrilled. He slowed down. "I read a letter from some rich dude in Canada, thanking Abijah for procuring such cheap servants, and workers for his factory. He had to pay them, and they were free, I guess, but they didn't make much, and it was years before they learned French, so they stayed put."
"Sort of like the sharecroppers who stayed Down South after the Civil War," Adele observed. (Her history teacher was a Civil War buff who drilled details of that conflict into his very young pupils' heads.) "They were free, but not really, because they were so poor, and with all those stupid laws hanging over their heads."
They swung by the old Henderson house, which stood just beyond a simple wire gate. The grass and weeds grew high around the white-clapboarded, Georgian-style Colonial.
"Is that another of your haunted houses?" Adele asked.
"It's not ours. But it might be haunted. An rich old spinster lady lived alone there for years, with the spirits of her ancestors, I suppose."
"It's a dinky house, compared to Collinwood."
"Actually, it's a kind of a mansion. Most of the rest of the house is hidden by those trees."
"You'd never know it was a mansion. It looks a little like our house in Vermont, but ours is bigger in front."
"If I was younger, or you were older, I'd find a way in, and we could check it out together."
"No, thanks. I don't want to get arrested. One Loomis with a police record is enough." Before she rode off after David, Adele looked back at the house, with its empty, unshaded windows, its dormer gables resembling five eyebrows in a row. "You know," Adele commented, "Maybe this place isn't haunted, but the house looks like it's watching us." She was glad to get away.
They were approaching Widow's Hill. "My Mom said I can't go up there," Adele protested, when David drew his bike up toward the bench on the cliff.
"She just said, don't ride there," David said. "So, get off the bike, and walk. You can't have a proper tour of Collinwood without spending a few minutes on Widow's Hill. Don't panic, there's a safety rail, and a walkway."
"Okay," she replied, trustfully. She came to stand next to him, near the railing. "It's beautiful," she sighed. She reached for his hand. He took it, and patted it while they looked over the jagged rocks, to the ocean beyond. "But such a horrid name. Did widows really come up here to kill themselves? Why couldn't they learn to live without their husbands, or find new ones?"
"Not all the widows in Collinsport came here, silly," David said, smiling. "Most of them remarried, or did without, depending on their age and circumstances. Three particular widows did themselves in here, and they were in dire straits to begin with. One had lost, not just her husband, but all her sons, six, I think, in various shipwrecks over the years. And then, not all who died here were widows. And some were pushed. My cousin's husband, for instance---" He broke off, when he noticed Adele beginning to cry.
"I'm scared now," she wept. "Take me away from here."
David embraced her, awkwardly. "Aw, Adele. I'm sorry. I got a little carried away. I thought you liked my stories. You know, this'll make a swell chapter in your book."
"I don't want to write that kind of book."
"You never know. It may just turn out that way," he said. "Before we go, we could do something fun."
"What, hang from the railing by our toes?" She asked, resentfully. She was still frightened.
"No, I used to stay up here for hours, chucking rocks as far as I could. I challenge you to a contest. Let's see who can chuck the farthest."
"That's a baby contest," Adele sniffed disdainfully.
"I don't think the baby could chuck as far as I could. Bet you can't either." David scooped up a few round pebbles. He wound his arm, as though he was pitching in the World Series, and tossed a pebble far out of sight.
Adele joined in, picking up stones, and throwing them madly. They varied the contest, choosing rocks of different sizes and colors, and tracking their trajectories. Both she and David wore serious expressions of total concentration on their faces. When they looked at each other, they laughed.
After a while, they tired of the game. David led Adele from the cliff, to a small hangar of maple trees. There was a clearing among the trees, where thick grass grew. They flung themselves down, and stared at the sky.
"It's like we're a million miles from anywhere," Adele whispered.
"Not really. If someone looked out the dining room window at the Old House, he would see us." David noticed the way Adele was looking at him. He wrapped his arms around himself, and squealed in falsetto, "So don't get any funny ideas." He laughed uncomfortably. "Maybe we'd better head back. Your Mom said an hour. It must be at least that."
"In a few minutes. David, do you like me?"
` "I wouldn't have spent the time with you, if I didn't."
"I mean, really like me. I really like you."
"Ads, you're a sweet kid, and I'm flattered, honest, that you think so much of me. But you're just thirteen, and I'm going with Annette. Maybe things will change someday, but that's how it is now."
"I'm old enough to know if I like somebody. My Mom met my Dad when she was eleven, and he was fourteen, and they fell in love. They got married when she finished High school, and he was out of the Marines."
"I'm not saying you're too young to feel love for somebody, Adele. But you're too young to do anything about it. And, like I said, I'm sorry, in a way, but right now, it's me and Annette." And
Cellie, he thought, with a pang. She was out of his reach, forever, but a part of him would never stop hoping....
"David, could I, um, kiss you good-bye at least? I mean on the lips, not on the cheek like you'll do when I really go home?"
"Please? Just this once."
"Oh, well, if it's so important to you, and you promise it's just this once." David looked downhill, toward the windows at the Old House. "It's all clear, go ahead---"
Adele embraced him, wildly, shoving her face to his in an absurd parody of every passionate movie kiss she'd ever seen. She knocked him to the ground. He should have realized a girl who'd been raised on a farm would be stronger and sturdier than her slight appearance implied. She forced his lips open, and even stuck in her tongue. Where had she learned this? He wondered, while gently pushing her away. She fought him, and finally, he relaxed, and let her finish her kiss. He began to enjoy it a little, but he was relieved when it was over.
"Oh, boy, Adele. That should take care of our good-byes for the next five visits. Now I know how Cellie felt, when I first met her, and I got her alone in the dark."
"You kissed Cellie?" Adele looked hurt.
"Yeah, but it was months ago, before she even started seeing your uncle. Don't tattle on us, now. Poor Willie has enough to worry about."
"You went out with her?" Adele began to sound jealous.
"No, no. Nothing like that. We're just pals. Like you and me. What's wrong, Adele? I go out with Annette, and we kiss all the time. And, if you must know, the one time I kissed Cellie, she almost decked me."
"You even like her, more than you like me. I can tell, just from the way you say her name. Like you're saying a prayer in church."
"Don't be silly, Adele. I'm over her, it was months ago, she's married, I have somebody else, and what's it to you, anyway?"
Adele got up, and brushed herself off. "I gave you my very best kiss, and rubbed on you like they say boys want, and you don't appreciate it."
"Ads, come on. Calm down. We have to go back. It's over an hour, already."
"Mom won't be checking her watch, the way you are. Please, leave me alone! I have to be by myself." She ran off, crying, in the direction of the cliff, but to a point below it.
"Ads! Come back! Ads! Adele!" David hauled himself up to follow her. He was rounding the corner he'd seen her run past, when he heard a shrill scream. "ADELE!" he cried. "Oh, my God, Oh, My God!"
He stopped so suddenly, he almost fell himself, from a tiny ledge just below Widow's Hill. He looked down, his heart about to explode in his throat, tears running down his face. "ADELE!" He screamed again. Despairing, he looked out to the ocean, expecting to see her slim, lifeless body thrashing about on the waves.
"David," he heard her whimper. He looked straight down, and saw her clinging to some thick roots jutting from beneath the ledge, about three feet below. Her sneakered feet dangled, as she tried to step onto some rocks that stuck out, for extra support.
"Adele. My God. Look up at me. I'm reaching down to you. See if you can grab my hand," he said, leaning over as far as he could without falling, himself, and extending his arm over the edge.
"It's not close enough," she sobbed. "I'm too afraid to reach up, anyway."
"Adele, Adele. I want to get help, but I don't want to leave you. I'll just run up the hill, and see if I can find a branch to stick down there."
"Hurry. My hands are so tired," she said in a dazed voice. She kicked, futilely, at the rocks near her feet.
David ran back to the maple trees. There were no branches on the ground that he could use, and he couldn't snap a big enough one from the trees. He went to the lookout point over the Old House, and screamed for help, but the breeze seemed to carry the sound in another direction. Then, he heard Adele cry out again. He ran back to her.
"I can't hold on much longer, David. I'm sorry.... so sorry. It's all my fault for being such a brat...."
"No, Adele, hang on. Oh God, what am I going to do?" He dangled his own legs over the edge, but there was nothing for him to hang onto. He cried out loud, now, as he saw her hands slowly lose their grip.
"Tekwitha. No, Tekwitha."
David looked behind him, when he heard the voice. The Indian stood there, tears running down his bronze face. "Please, please," David pleaded. "Help---Tekwitha."
"No help for Tekwitha. No more."
"Please, she's going to fall just about now."
"Tekwitha is gone. But I will help you." He disappeared, for an agonizing minute. A sudden gust of warm air, not blowing from the direction of the ocean, rushed over David, making him think he was about to go over the cliff himself.
Suddenly, the Indian re-appeared. A long, thick maple branch, neatly cut, lay at his feet, as though the same stiff breeze had blown it there. He nudged it towards David.
The teenager reached for it, afraid it had no more substance than the Indian spirit. He was surprised to feel the heaviness of it. Spirits had transported solid goods before, but nothing, he thought, nearly as heavy as that branch. "Thanks. Thank God--the Great Spirit." He stuck the branch over the edge. "Adele, you have to reach up."
"My hands hurt. And they're so tired." Her voice was weary.
"Adele. If Cellie was here, she could pump you up. But this is it. You have to try---Never mind trying. You have to do it. Now."
Adele tried, one last time, to brace herself on the rocks at her feet. She finally managed to hook a sneaker toe on one. David dangled the leafy branch just above her head. She reached up, quickly, and grasped at leaves. She gasped, and David's heart missed a beat. He dropped it another couple of inches. This time, she caught it firmly, then reached up with her other hand.
David began to crawl backwards from the ledge, onto the path. As he pulled, he could feel Adele pushing herself up, like a rock-climber, fitting her feet into crevices along the cliff. Then, she almost lost her balance again. David reached behind him, and, mercifully, grabbed at a thick bush growing there. He hung on, until he could feel Adele righting herself. He stayed close to the bush, in case he needed to hang onto it again. He gave the branch a mighty yank with the last of his strength, and dragged Adele up and over the edge. She crawled to safety, gasping and crying like a newborn baby. David crept toward her, and pulled her onto his lap, holding her tight.
"Adele, Adele. Oh, God. You're safe. You're safe. I don't know how we did it. We'll have to thank the Indian. He brought the branch."
"The Indian that was at the reception?" She asked. She hadn't seen? It was probably just as well, David thought. Perhaps she would have let go of the tree roots in her surprise and fear. Perhaps the Indian had figured on that, and kept himself out of her line of sight.
"You must have reminded him of someone he loved who--who--anyway, he brought the branch, after I couldn't even pull one from the trees. Thank God He let him appear. Adele. I'm so sorry. I should have been more careful with you."
"It's my fault I ran off. I was a dope. I shouldn't have kissed you and made a scene."
"I didn't understand. I won't embarrass you by telling anyone. But we'll have to tell them something---your clothes are a wreck."
"David...." She looked into his red eyes. "I hurt your feelings. I never thought about that. You were crying."
"I was scared, for both of us. I was supposed to be responsible for you. I don't want to think about what kind of trouble.... But there's more. I was afraid to lose my little buddy."
She snuggled up, close to David, and he stroked her hair. She turned her face up to his, and this time he kissed her, not like a friend, and not like he kissed Annette. He kissed her, the way he had wished he could kiss Cellie. "Adele," he whispered. "We'd better get home. Your Mom will definitely be worried by now. Can you get on the bike?"
"I can do anything, as long as you're with me."
Fran Maracek roared at David, when she saw the condition her daughter was in. Adele had come up with the necessary cover story. "Oh, Mommy, you know how I always have to climb trees and rocks at home. There's plenty of that stuff around here. David would have had to tie me up to stop me. But he never left me alone. I just put some holes in my clothes. I'm sorry."
"Did you ride up to the cliff?"
"No, Mommy, but he did show it to me, when we passed by. We only spent a couple of minutes there. It wasn't as interesting as the rest of the estate."
"Well, I guess I'll forgive him this time. It's true, nobody can stop you when you get that urge to climb like a monkey, except your Daddy. At least David brought you home in one piece. I guess that's the best that can be expected when you have to chase after the queen of the tomboys."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Walter Hoffman had just finished dinner, and rose to help his sister and brother-in-law clear the table. Then, he offered to wash the dishes.
"Oh, Walter," Julia said, "Just like when we were kids. You'd never know it to look at him, Barnabas, but Walter was really into washing dishes. He was a lot like our mother, very particular about how to do it."
"Well," Walter protested, "I'd been at it for quite a few years longer than you, Sis. Mother's theory was that, she knocked herself out, cooking, so it was up to the rest of us to clean up. Our father didn't agree, so it was all on me. And then, finally, you came along, and I had to hurry up and teach you the ropes before I went
off to college."
"I sure missed you then," Julia laughed. "Mother just couldn't adjust to someone else messing with her china. I broke a gravy boat the week after you left for Harvard, and she went wild."
"I hope you're over all these deep-seated traumas," Barnabas joked.
"Been spending time reading Julia's textbooks, Barnabas?" Walter asked.
"But, of course. I married Julia to get my hands on some new reading material." Barnabas smiled, sincerely, but, his brother-in-law noticed, always rather gravely, in spite of his own light remarks. Like a doctor with-holding devastating news, the smile didn't reach his eyes. "Seriously, though, to hear some of these 'experts' tell it, one can be ruined for life when one hears the wrong word whispered behind a closed door, or has to keep re-capping the family's toothpaste, or faces a reprimand for breaking one's mother's treasured gravy boat."
"But that's just it, Barnabas," Julia said. "It's thought, now, that it's the little, everyday aggravations of life that really chip away at our defenses. So much so, that it makes it harder to cope with real crises."
"I don't think we've ever let trivial irritations get in the way of facing any crisis, Julia."
"What sorts of crises, Barnabas?" Walter asked, a bit too eagerly.
Barnabas answered carefully. "I'd say, what just happened to your daughter, for a start, Walter. If we, and Cellie, and Willie, were so tied up in minor details, none of us could have endured, and risen above that appalling situation. The disaster required our full attention, and we gave it, and now, we will move beyond it. A great deal of credit must go to Cellie. She is, definitely, not a modern type, distracting herself from the important issues of life, and death. Everything is important to her, and feeds into how she ultimately handles her travails."
"She's a coper, no question of that. But I know what happened will always lie beneath the surface of her consciousness. She won't be able to help it, when Sarah Teresa is a little older, and Cecily sees her friends pregnant, or with new babies."
"We don't mean, she'll never be unhappy about her situation, Walter," Julia said. "What Barnabas means is, she's like those mothers in the past, who lost so many children, or could have no more, and yet, still made themselves get up and do what they had to to survive. And they must have wanted to survive. A lot of them lived into old age, years after their loved ones' passing, and yet you seldom hear of them losing their minds, or their health, from what must have been considerable grief."
"I just wish my little girl didn't have to go through all this, at such an early age. But there's been a lot of tragedy around here," he said. "When I spend time with Maggie....Well, I've never considered myself a particularly sensitive fellow, but I would have to be pretty hard-hearted not to notice her lingering sadness."
Barnabas replied, a trifle uneasily, Walter thought, "She has had more than her share of crosses to bear. But I trust you do all you can to keep up her spirits?"
"I would do anything to relieve her unhappiness. She has a lot going for her, but if I could help her with the things I know bother her the most...."
Julia broke in, "We've all done our part to help her, Walter. Still, I find it touching, as does Barnabas, that you already care so much about her welfare."
"It's not merely her welfare I care for, Julia. I haven't known her that long, but this may turn serious quite soon."
"I'd say, it already has," Barnabas said, as he worked his face into a more benign expression. "You'll have to keep us apprised of your progress, and hers. " He turned to the kitchen door. "Why don't we leave the dishes to soak for now? Let's just go sit in the parlor for a while. I have some fine after-dinner brandy. I need to rest anyway, as my head still gets that hollow feeling when I stand too long."
They sat before the fire, sipping their brandies. Barnabas rested his head on a pillow Julia had carefully arranged around his head and neck. But he was chatting animatedly about his home.
"It's all true, what you've heard about the condition of this place before I moved in, Walter. Elizabeth hesitated to hand me the keys."
"That was a real leap of faith, Barnabas, considering that you were new to this country, and alone, and you didn't have a restoration program all planned out."
"I have always relied on the turn of fortune, and have been rewarded more than once. I discovered Willie, and, as it turned out, he was, up to a point, almost all I needed. In the last two years, I've had to have experts come in for the electricity, the gas, and a lot of the plumbing. But, for the first couple of years, until he was, unfortunately implicated in Maggie's tribulations, Willie was more than adequate. We roughed it quite a bit in those early days, but most of the early repairs and restorations were his work, under my direction, of course. I would say that your daughter need never worry about the condition of any home she and Willie may share in the future. He'll have it put to rights, in any manner Cellie chooses, in the shortest possible time."
"He's certainly the Lord of the Linoleum these days," Walter laughed. "I stopped by the Antique Shoppe this afternoon, and there he was, measuring and cutting and nailing, as though he'd done it all his life. I would never have the patience to work the stuff around all those tiny corners."
"He has, I suppose you'd call it, a simple-minded determination to get things done the right way the first time. But to accomplish that, he can only really concentrate on one task at a time."
"Exactly. That's why I couldn't understand, how he got into such a complex situation, years back, with Maggie. He can get from point 'A' to point 'B', well enough, but when it came to something like that, there had to be a dozen sticky points in between."
"And so, he was tripped up." Barnabas looked directly into his brother-in-law's eyes. "Look, Walter, I know this all has to do with your affection for Maggie, and concern for Cellie and Sarah. But I can assure you, that was strictly an aberration. The story was, indeed, more involved, than the public ever understood. Perhaps you've heard of of an accomplice, someone who directed the activities that went forward. Both Julia and I have come to believe, it was so. But we also believe, the person will never disturb Maggie's, Willie's, and even Cellie's peace again."
"How could you be sure, unless you knew he was dead?"
"There's every indication, he is. At any rate, he hasn't resurfaced elsewhere. That's a common phenomenon about some of these cases. Someone attacks, and sometimes kills, a series of similar victims, and then, suddenly, stops, and never again does anyone even hear of crimes with a similar modus operandi."
"People can change their methods."
"Such serial crimes have an almost immutable pattern. Sooner or later, a similarity would crop up. Of course, there is a limited amount of ways in which these crimes can be committed, so it can sometimes appear that the same person has reappeared someplace else."
"Sometimes, unfortunately, he does. I hope it never happens, with whoever caused the trouble here, years ago. You sound like you've given the matter a great deal of thought," Walter observed.
"I'm partly to blame, Walter," Julia said. "We enjoy hashing out these ideas, and yet, we seldom argue about any of the major points."
"An ideal marriage, some would say," her brother commented.
"It's something for me to learn from, and work toward, now that I may be getting a second chance at it." Walter surprised himself with this declaration. Until he actually said it, he didn't realize he thought of Maggie in that way. But it was, he admitted to himself, true. At the same time, his suspicion of his brother-in-law grew. He had to control himself, he thought. Maybe, at the last minute, he would discover he was wrong.
"I'm feeling a little better, now, Walter," Barnabas said. "If you like, I can show you around for a while, before we retire." He stood up.
"If you really feel up to it, Barnabas," Walter replied, rising. "Save me those dishes, Julia."
Barnabas started with the room they were in. "This house began with a two-room cabin, and grew out from the main room, as did so many other houses of that era. It's hard to believe that my ancestor Isaac, his wife Dorothea, and their six children all camped out in this room for years, before he became prosperous enough to expand his quarters. But if I open this tiny door, off the side of the fireplace that exists now, you can see the original brickwork of the old, walk-in hearth." He pulled the tiny door ajar, for Walter's perusal.
"I can even see the old wood work," Walter said. "The whole thing was paneled and stuccoed over?"
"Much more than that," Barnabas said. "Isaac built a fine frame house around this room, but, as time went on, and his sons and grandsons became even wealthier, this space was enlarged, and worked over, many times." (That was how the small, "secret room" on the other side of the fireplace, behind the bookcase, came to be. Barmabas wasn't about to show that to his brother-in-law.) "The greatest expansion and renovation took place in the mid-1760's, when Joshua Collins married a distant cousin from a more aristocratic branch of the family. He had the resources to import the finest materials, and employ the best craftsmen. They all but knocked down the original structure, changing so much of it that it was virtually a new house by the time they finished.
“The process took a few years, during which period Joshua married, moved in, and began his family. My ancestor, the original Barnabas Collins, grew up here, and wrote about the constant din the family lived with. But even he agreed, in the end, that it was worth the aggravation. It's a tribute to the quality of the workmanship that most of it survived intact, up until the time I moved in. It just required a thorough cleaning."
Walter said, "So, the house has remained pretty much the same, since then?"
"Except for what I've had done, installing utilities, and changing the worn drapes, carpets, and other such ephemerals, yes. I've even left some rooms without electricity, because I didn't want to damage the wood work. The intervention has been minimal in any case. There's just been myself, and now Julia, so we don't need much. Even Cellie adjusted to, and enjoyed the way we live here."
"This room is certainly a jewel. And I understand those two pictures were painted by Maggie's father." Walter pointed to Barnabas's portrait, and Julia's lighthouse scene.
"Yes, Sam Evans was a gifted artist, underappreciated and largely unrecognized in his lifetime. I'm pleased that, at least now, his work is receiving its proper due. But that's the way of it, with artists. The work gains value once the source has departed."
"You sat for him. You must have talked with him. What was he like?"
"Well, he certainly didn't like me talking while I was sitting! But, otherwise, he was, as far as I could tell, as dedicated a parent as he was an artist. He talked of Maggie often. He wanted her to have a better life than he was able to provide. You must have heard, he was a very troubled man. But he stuck with his projects, even under the most trying circumstances. Even when Maggie was missing, he reported here, to continue his work. I suppose he felt better, keeping busy, than going back to an empty house, or to the Blue Whale."
Walter mulled this over. Why would Barnabas have let Sam in the house if Maggie was being kept here? Even allowing that she may have been drugged, and bound and gagged, as well as threatened, it seemed like a big risk to take. But what a cool customer Barnabas must have been, if it were so. Then, Walter saw the logic of this. It certainly would have diverted suspicion, if he could have pulled it off, and
he apparently did so, successfully. Even the sheriff, in his letter, admitted that the presence of Maggie's own father on the premises tended to lessen his own suspicions. Still, it was a big house, and there were, surely, unsuspected, and probably quite sound-proofed nooks and crannies, as there were at Collinwood. (Walter had heard the story of Adele and Lew Maracek's adventure during Cellie's reception.)
"I'm just sorry I'll never have the chance to meet him," Walter said, finally. "Maggie still misses him a lot. When David and I brought her car back to her store, the morning after our date, I noticed she has a self-portrait he did, hanging on the wall behind the cash register, surrounded by some of his smaller paintings. And the logo on the sign for Sam's Place features his profile."
"It was a great loss, when he passed. He had gone blind, and been through many other travails, even after Maggie's return." Barnabas sighed. "Well, are you ready for a tour of the upstairs area? You have, like your daughter before you, a choice of rooms for your use tonight, and any night you decide to spend here."
"Lead the way," Walter said, smiling. He half-expected Barnabas to carry a candle to illuminate the staircase, like a scene out of the "House of Usher." But Barnabas simply flipped a switch surrounded by what appeared to be a decorative molding.
"I found an electrical supply house that sells antique-look fixtures," Barnabas explained. "All my switches are similarly decorated. I've recommended the place to some of my customers at the Shoppe."
"You really went all the way with this restoration business."
"Not all the way. Our bathroom does not have a crescent moon carved in the door."
Walter laughed, in spite of himself. He followed as his brother-in-law led him up and down a surprisingly short corridor. "Not too many bedrooms," he commented.
Barnabas explained. "In the old days, several family members would occupy one bedroom. and even one bed, for warmth. However, as family life changed, and children struck out on their own, the concept of single-occupancy bedrooms caught on, at least amongst the wealthy. Joshua and his wife, Naomi, only had two children who survived infancy, and they also lived with Joshua's spinster sister, and childless widowed brother. Until Joshua's son became engaged, these bedrooms, and a couple of guest rooms, as well as several attic and off-kitchen rooms for the servants, were considered adequate."
"That's when this Joshua decided he needed a little more elbow room, eh?"
"Well, he'd already decided, and had plans drawn up, for a grander monument to his wealth, and the masons had laid the foundation. But once his son began to seriously seek a wife, the work went forward with dispatch. And, in spite of the fact that all the family's personal plans came to nothing, the Great House itself was successfully completed, and occupied, within three years. This house was virtually abandoned, at first. Then, over the years, it was used as a guest house. I'm the first permanent resident in over seventy years."
"That's quite a distinction. So, you're thoroughly familiar with your home by now, I take it?"
"I am not the first of my branch of the family to visit here. Before I came to this country, my ancestors left extensive pictorial and written descriptions of the place. So, when I arrived,
I came equipped with quite a fund of knowledge about this house, so much, that I admit I unnerved some of my relatives at first. They couldn't believe I'd never been here before."
"Neither can I, in a way. You tell these obscure anecdotes as though you were witness to the actual events."
"The men of my family line were noted for their vivid writing and story-telling skills. I must have inherited the knack."
"Cecily likes to write. Perhaps you two can collaborate on your autobiography someday. I would like to read it, if you ever do." Walter wondered how much of what he believed to be the "real story" would be left out of such a book.
"Well, only if it's more about my ancestors, than myself. The family history could use some updating. But I have little of substance to tell about myself."
Nothing you'd want printed, I'll bet, Walter thought. "Oh, you never know what might be interesting," he said. "My sister wouldn't have married you, if you were that ordinary. No offense, but you'd think, being a psychiatrist and dealing with odd---unusual people all day, she might have chosen a 'John Doe' type to come home to."
"No offense taken. She's told you, herself, she welcomes our sharing of knowledge, and even our disagreements. I may consider myself a bit of a bore, but thank God, she doesn't."
Walter wondered how just how exciting life with his oddball---yes, that was the word he almost used---brother-in-law could be. He wondered if Julia had ever been suspicious of her husband's behavior during their rather long pre-marital acquaintance. And just why had it taken her so long to hook the man, anyway? Walter remembered his sister, for all her starchy dedication to her profession, was no shy violet when it came to pursuing a man she was interested in, and that she didn't wait around for long when things didn't work out.
Of course, in the last couple of years before she buried herself in this town, she had become pretty much obsessed with her work in that WindCliff asylum. Her visits to her brother's family were extremely sporadic, and she'd talked little about either her work, or her new acquaintances.
Walter had been very surprised when he learned that all the Collinses, including Barnabas, had visited Boston numerous times since Julia lived at Collinwood (twice in her company) and she had not brought any of them around to visit her family. She had, in fact, barely mentioned the existence of her relatives to them, until Cecily's arrival forced the issue. Walter wondered at the source of this reticence. If it was fear, then, for whom did she fear the most, her own people, or the members of that distinctive clan?
Walter recalled times during the last eight years when Cecily would cry heartbrokenly because her beloved God-mother sometimes forgot to send a birthday card, at least. Maybe it had taken Julia that long to re-join the human race, offering to open her home to her niece, and then taking her along when she finally married this untouchable, ineffable Collins fellow (whom Cecily also, unaccountably, adored.)
Barnabas showed Walter Sarah's and Jeremiah's rooms. "Cellie preferred Sarah's ocean-view room, but she ended up spending more time in Jeremiah's library room, especially as her schoolwork became more demanding. She actually managed to finish a couple of complex books she found here."
Radcliffe, Wellesley, even Yale, Walter thought, mournfully. All out of his daughter's reach now, and most of that book knowledge would surely fade with each midnight feeding and diaper change. "I think I'll stay in here," he announced. "I'll feel closer to Cecily that way. Now, what about that large room at the end of the hall?" he asked. "Is that permanently locked up?"
"That's what we call Josette's Room," Barnabas said. "This Jeremiah's ill-fated second wife. No, it's not permanently locked. It's just that, a few months ago, I lent quite a bit of her furniture for a museum exhibit, and, between the summer heat and our terrible incident, we just haven't had a chance to put anything back into place. Still, if you'd like to see it.... There's no electricity in there, though, and it's gotten quite dark. I'll get a flashlight."
"No, I guess that can wait for another time. And you certainly don't have to show me the attic rooms, or the cellars."
"Well, maybe sometime you'd be interested in the attic, at least. I've stored some interesting items up there. But there really is nothing to be seen downstairs, except my wine cellar, and that's in a locked room."
"Oh, why would you lock up something like that? A ring of wine thieves holing up in Collinsport these days?"
"No special reason, except that there is a room with a lock. And, quite frankly, since David's been getting older, well.... I don't want to make you think he's a budding lush, but he's been known to raid the cellars at the Great House. And I store some other items with the wine, so it's really just more convenient. Nothing, though, you'd care to see."
Walter speculated about the probable size of the cellar. "Lot of empty space down there?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so. It runs the whole length of the house. But the foundation is quite sound, and reinforced with many braces and walls. A veritable maze. But, other than providing a rather bare home for spiders and centipedes, it's not especially utilitarian. Or attractive."
"Oh, well, I'll take a pass on that part of the tour," Walter replied, while thinking of some way he could sneak downstairs, just to check.
"Quite frankly, I'm relieved to hear that," Barnabas said, his hand reaching for his temple. "I've got
that hollow feeling back in my head. I think I'll turn in right now. Please tell Julia. I'm sorry to cut things short like this."
"That's alright. I really appreciate your taking the time, when it's obvious you're not completely well."
"I don't mind a bit. You're Julia's brother. I know you've had many questions about this hermit she's married." (Again, that forced smile, Walter thought.) "I hope I answered most of them."
"I'd say everything's a good deal clearer to me, than before."
"That's wonderful. Well, goodnight, then. I'll see you in the morning."
Walter returned downstairs. Julia was reading by the fire. "I confess, I did some of the dishes," she said. "I saved you the big ones, though," she laughed.
"That's swell, Sis. I've come to tell you, Barnabas already went to bed. He almost ran the course, but his head began to ache again."
"Well, I'd better get up there, myself. He may want pain pills. And he just hates to be alone these days," she said, blushing. "Hope you don't mind our early nights, Walter. The next time you visit, when Barnabas is really better, we'll have a night on the town, with Maggie, too, of course. Maybe by the christening.... Goodnight." She kissed her brother's cheek.
Upstairs, she asked Barnabas, "Well, how did it go? Did he seem more or less suspicious?"
"It's hard to tell," her husband replied. "Still, there's no longer any evidence of Maggie's presence here, or my vampire days. It's been quite a few years, after all. If anything, he just thinks I'm some eccentric you married to relieve your ennui after a hard day at WindCliff."
"If only he knew...." Julia said, snuggling up to him. Barnabas drew her closer. "Not about your secret. But about how we really feel about each other. You are everything to me. Those other men he remembers.... I felt nothing for them, compared to the way I've always felt for you."
"And the way I came to feel about you. Well, he may have an inkling, with Maggie. I just hope his growing affection for her doesn't lead him down a road better not taken."
Downstairs, Walter listened, in case his sister came down for something. Except for footsteps leading to and from where he figured the bathroom was, just above him, both she and Barnabas were, apparently, settled for the night. Walter began to wash and dry the remaining dishes. He dragged out this operation for about a half-hour. When he'd finished, he walked quietly into the parlor, and approached the cellar door cautiously, hoping the electricity extended down there. Even though the door had a lock, it opened easily. To his relief, there was a lightswitch, which he flipped on. The light downstairs was very bright. He closed the door behind him.
He tiptoed cautiously down the brick steps. He found himself in a large, empty space. Except for the arched supports, and a curious bricked-up wall in the middle of the granite room, it was, indeed, an uninteresting area. He turned around, under the light, figuring he wouldn't get lost down there, if he kept in sight of the steps.
He decided to look for the wine cellar. He realized, very quickly, that he would have to leave the area of the steps. He carefully rounded a couple of corners. He was about to give it up, when he saw a heavy door with a barred window at the end of a short hall. He tried the door, and it was, indeed, locked. He peered into the tiny room, and in the dim light coming from around the corner, from the main room, he could make out a large wine rack, a safe, and a trunk. A rusty bed-frame leaned against one wall, and a candlelabrum. Except for the presence of the bed-frame, which Walter supposed could be explained away, there was no trace that anyone had actually lived in there.
He was making his way, gingerly, back to the well-lit main space, when disaster struck. Or, so it seemed. He had tripped against a short metal wastebasket he hadn't noticed before, as it was hidden in a gloomy corner. It made a loud clatter as it rolled into the light. He ran to right it, grabbing the trash, years old from the looks of it, which he supposed dated back to his son-in-law's tenure as houseman. The poor idiot probably had so much to do at the time, he simply must have forgotten it, Walter thought, with some sympathy. To hear Barnabas tell it, he ran Willie ragged in those days, even if he wasn't holding anyone prisoner down here.
Walter hurriedly reloaded the basket, fearing every minute that the noise would attract Julia's attention, at least. There were old papers, dating back to the late Sixties, a broken wine bottle, dirty rags. Suddenly, Walter noticed something odd about one of the rags.
It was whiter and cleaner-looking than the other rags, even though it was covered with dust. It was also crumpled into a neat, round ball. When a few minutes had gone by, and Walter realized nobody must have heard the noise downstairs, he worked the ball open with some difficulty, and, in a moment, realized it was no rag.
It was a woman's handkerchief, decorated with a white tatted edge. It must have been heavily used and re-used without having been washed, before it was discarded, rolled into that hard white ball. Was it Julia's? Walter didn't think so. She favored monogrammed handerkerchiefs, which she used more for enhancing her wardrobe of blazers than to wipe her nose. And anyway, she certainly wouldn't keep it until it was so cruddy as to be unusable. Maybe this was an antique, that had fallen from an old trunk, and was mistakenly used as a rag by Loomis.
He examined it carefully. The linen, even though it was filthy, looked fairly new. He remembered a time when his daughter had taken up embroidery, a few years back, and had bought a few handkerchiefs in this style to work on, with similarly tatted edging. He still had one in a frame at home, with his initials, a birthday present from Cecily. He'd just turned, what, forty-five? Eight years ago.... He supposed this handkerchief could have been almost the same age.
Walter didn't think his brother-in-law had a rumpus room down here, in which he'd entertained unhygienic ladies who favored linen handkerchiefs, unless that so-called "wine cellar" counted as one. If anything, that room may have served a more sinister purpose.
Walter tiptoed back up the stairs with his prize. He didn't know what to make of this evidence, if, indeed, evidence it was. It was in the same category as the ring Barnabas had "found" in Willie's room, years before, and even less directly connected to either his brother- or his son-in-law, and Maggie, than that troublesome piece of jewelry. Maybe, there were new tests that could be performed on the dried dirt that held the ball together, but that could prove meaningless. After all, Maggie had been in this house during her time as governess. The handkerchief could simply have gotten mixed with household trash.
But the stiff, balled condition indicated, to Walter, constant usage by someone who may not have had ready access to fresh wipes. Maggie was, he'd noticed, quite meticulous, like Julia, not someone who'd keep a dirty thing like that around…. Unless she had to.
Walter was careful to turn off all lights after him, and closed the door quietly. He got up the stairs to the room he was to occupy. He shoved the handkerchief into a corner of his suitcase. He selected a book from Jeremiah's collection. When he opened this well-preserved original edition of "Tom Jones," he realized his daughter must have read it. There were tiny slips of paper, with her initials, stuck in random sections of the book. She liked to keep track of how many pages she read at a time, that way.
The effort required to follow the tiny print proved too much. Walter dozed off, uneasily. He had no foolish fear that his brother-in-law or sister would come to smother him in his sleep. But his suspicions disturbed him.
He dreamed about Maggie. She stood at the door of his room, clad in a filmy nightgown. He didn't know how she got there, but he was glad to see her. She belonged with him. She climbed into bed with him, and they rolled together, kissing and touching each other, until he was on top. He was sliding the straps of her night dress from her shoulders, when she stopped him. She tore herself away, and ran out into the hall. He jumped out of bed, and chased her. He was so afraid their activities would awaken Julia and Barnabas. Especially Barnabas.
But she wasn't in the hall. He called her, but no sound came from his lips. He thought of going down to the cellar. He felt sure she was in that room, on that rusty bed. It was a trap. He'd go in to her, and continue what they'd started, and Barnabas would lock them in forever, with nothing but wine to drink. Walter laughed, because that was kind of funny, then, he felt sad. He wanted Maggie so much. He was going to walk down the hall, downstairs to the parlor, downstairs to the cellar, because his desire was greater than his fear.
But he was blocked, suddenly. A man stood in the hall. Not Barnabas. Not Willie. A heavy-set man with dark glasses and a mustache. He took off his glasses. His sad eyes squinted at Walter. Walter recognized him, especially when he saw the squint. The squint of a man who'd spent a lot of time looking at a mirror. He had to, in order to paint that picture of himself. But his eyes were milky, opaque, the worst case of cataracts Walter had ever seen. And yet, Sam Evans seemed to see him, see through him. Walter sensed that Sam knew who he was, the man who wanted his daughter. But he didn't appear to be angry about it. He regarded Walter with a gentle, milky gaze, an expression of what might have been gratitude on his tired face. He held out his hand, made a gesture to follow him. Walter trotted obediently after him. Sam stopped in front of Josette's room, and pointed to the elaborately carved crystal doorknob. "Art," he said, in a calm, even voice, "is in the eye of the beholder."
Walter reached for the doorknob. The facets of the crystal felt cold and sharp in his hand, as he turned the knob. There was a bright light in the room. Walter lifted his foot to step in, when he was jerked back. He looked wildly behind him, and saw Barnabas.
Walter sat up in bed, clawed at his forehead, and cried out, he didn't know how loudly. He looked around. He'd left the bedside lamp on, and as his eyes adjusted to his surroundings, he saw he was alone. But not for long. Julia burst directly into the room.
"Walter, are you all right? You woke both of us up. Barnabas will be here in a minute. Did you see something?"
"Is there something to be seen?" Walter asked, uneasily.
"There used to be a 'presence' here, I suppose you'd call it. I know you don't believe in such things, but in an old house, one can sense all kind of vibrations. If you did, don't be ashamed to admit it. Cellie had some odd experiences here. But they were benign, for the most part, and they're over. A stranger in the house, might bring something on, though."
"I just had a Hell of a bad dream. Barnabas needn't get up for that."
"Can you remember any of it?"
"I--I don't know. Not much. Oh, God, I touched my head when I first woke up. Remember what Mother used to say? If you touch your head when you first wake up, it's almost impossible to remember what you've dreamed."
"Well, if it comes to you, don't hesitate to share it with us. A bad dream is never just a bad dream around here."
"That's what my son-in-law said. I'll be sure to tell you." NOT, Walter thought. Even though he couldn't remember most of the dream, he had a powerful, inexplicable craving to open Josette's room.
But Julia forestalled him. "Maybe you'd like a sleeping pill?"
"Oh, no thanks. I'll get back to sleep just fine."
"Well, okay, but if you change your mind, I'll be listening for you. I have a hard time sleeping myself, when someone else has a bad dream. Funny, isn't it?"
"Must be from worrying about the sleep patterns of those flakes at WindCliff. Just relax, and take a pill yourself, Julia."
"I can't. They make me sick to my stomach. Well, good-night, Walter."
Walter lay awake. frustrated, the rest of the night, because he knew he didn't have a chance of getting into that room, with his sister and, very likely, his brother-in-law laying awake down the short hallway. And the next day, when he thought he'd have a clear shot at it, after he shaved, he heard Barnabas, who, he'd thought, had gone to the Antique Shoppe already, come upstairs.
Walter never had another opportunity. He visited at the hospital, and went to dinner with Maggie right after. (He certainly didn't share his experiences or suspicions; he didn't want to worry her, until he had more concrete proof. And he was still hoping against hope all his suspicions were baseless.) He was due in court late the next morning, so he took the night train to Boston. But he vowed he'd get into that room, the next time he came back to Collinsport, for the christening.
Mrs. Johnson looked at the grandfather clock in the great foyer at Collinwood. She turned to Elizabeth Stoddard with a weary look on her face. Her eyes met a similar expression on her employer's face. "Eight-forty five," the housekeeper sighed. "You know what that means."
"Yes, I'm afraid so. Have you alerted Janice?"
"She's ready to give in."
"So am I, Sarah. Almost time to face the inevitable. Brace yourself." They both looked expectantly at the elaborately-carved oaken doors.
The doors burst open. Willie came in, an eager look on his face. "Where's my little girl?" he asked. "You usually have her down here when I come in."
"Willie," Mrs. Johnson began, hesitantly. "She's sleeping already, in her grandmother's room. She's been fussing all day, and we finally got her quieted down. Why don't you go and eat your dinner, first, and then take a little rest? Maybe she'll be up by then."
"No. I haven't seen her in almost twelve hours. Maybe the reason she was fussy was because she missed me. And her Mom, of course."
"Willie, don't go riling her up, now," Mrs. Johnson warned.
Willie kissed both of the older women on the cheek. "I'm sorry I'm such a pain. I know you put in a hard day with her. And my mother-in-law, too. I promise I won't wake her up right now." He tiptoed upstairs.
"I suppose we should be grateful that he's proving to be such a doting father," Elizabeth commented. "I have to admit, he may wake her up, but he can also quiet her down better than anyone. That sweet little fussbudget upstairs could make a saint tear his hair out."
"And you love every minute of it, yourself, if you don't mind my saying," Mrs. Johnson said, smiling.
"I do, honestly. It's good practice for when Carolyn and David decide to populate these halls again. All things considered, Sarah Teresa has been a very good baby, really."
"Of course, Sarah is a good baby. She has a very good name to live up to," Sarah Johnson said.
Upstairs, Willie continued his stealthy progress toward Janice Hoffman's room. She opened the door for him, before he had a chance to knock. He kissed her, also. He silently peeked into the crib.
Baby Sarah Teresa, bundled firmly in a receiving blanket, was propped on her side, her dainty hands balled into tiny fists, her bow-shaped lips curved in a mysterious smile. Her father simply couldn't resist the urge to run his fingers through her orange hair, and down her cheek, which had lightened to a delicate pink.
The result was predictable. Sarah opened her bright blue eyes, and began to sob. Janice rolled her own eyes heavenward. But she didn't have the heart to remonstrate with her son-in-law.
Willie picked up the crying baby. His result was just as predictable. Almost as soon as Sarah took a good look at him, and listened to his soft humming, she stared at him, quietly. This peaceful interlude would last anywhere from five minutes to a couple of hours. At this point, Willie would take her into the kitchen, and lay her in a basket, so he could watch her while he ate dinner, and helped Mrs. Johnson clean up afterward.
This he did. The baby remained quiet throughout her father's meal. Afterward, Willie prepared a fresh batch of formula, and carried her into the drawing room. David came in, and sat on the couch near the father and baby. Willie said, "Time for a burping lesson, God-father. You don't want a disaster on the big day."
David said, "From the way you said that, I can guess you don't mean the old throw-her-over-the-shoulder method." He reached for the infant.
Willie handed his daughter over. "Not unless you want her to up-chuck all over your five-hundred dollar designer duds, and her Mom's heirloom christening gown." He helped David sit her up, the boy's hand supporting her in front, while Willie rubbed her back. Sarah burped neatly, just producing two easily-cleaned bubbles. "She still spits up some," her father said.
"I'll just have to pick out the most stylish diaper to drape myself with during the christening," David replied. He cradled his God-daughter, as he slouched next to his friend. "She doesn't look like she misses her Mommy."
"Deep down inside, she does," Willie declared fervently. "And so do I."
"Just two more days, pal. Keep with those cold showers."
Willie regarded David tolerantly. It would be quite some time before he and Cellie could resume that part of their relationship, but at least he would have her nearby. When he was staying alone at the cottage, he'd had a series of bad dreams about his father chasing Sarah Teresa into a bedroom in the shack his family had been living in before Harold's departure. When Willie tried to save his daughter, Nicholas blocked the door. Willie could hear his daughter's screams, and Fran's, too. He would sink to the ground and weep futile tears. When he awoke, his pillow was wet.
He was grateful, then, for more than one reason, when his baby's early release from the hospital gave him an excuse to move out of the cottage. Right now, having the baby's crib in his room at night, and being completely responsible for her nighttime needs, kept his anxieties at bay.
David gave Willie the baby, and went upstairs. He was more upset and nervous about Cellie's homecoming than he let on. Ever since his rescue of Adele, he'd been confused about his feelings for her, Cellie, and Annette. He didn't want to discuss them with Cellie until she was better, and, preferably, back in her own home, but he knew it couldn't be put off that long. Adele would be back with both her parents for the christening, and his relationship with Annette had been dangling by a thread; David was increasingly inhibited by the memory of the passionate kiss he'd shared with Adele. He understood the consequences if things went any further with her. He just hoped he could muster the inner strength to CARE about the consequences.
When he was upstairs, he gathered a couple of towels, his robe, and his night clothes, and locked himself in the bathroom. In the shower, he turned on the cold water, full blast.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Willie had one more ritual with his daughter before he himself went upstairs for the night. He carried her around and showed her different items in the rooms. This had begun as a simple diversion for one of her crying spells, the first night they spent here. Willie rocked her gently, as he paced from one end of the room to another, explaining things in a soft voice. Mrs. Johnson, who'd caught him at it around eleven one night, thought it was simply the combination of the repetitive motion and the monotonous rhythm of his words that quieted the infant. But Willie was convinced that Sarah Teresa understood him, just as he'd been convinced she knew his touch before her birth.
The desire to get one up on his brilliant wife, as far as teaching their daughter went, was so great in Willie that it drove him to read, once more, some of the more simply-written Collins family history books. Then he would hold Sarah Teresa up to face the inscrutable face in the portrait above the mantle, and announce that they beheld the image of Isaac Collins, 1612-1681. Or they would stand near a small statue of an elephant, decorated with tiny mirrors, and he could tell her that the curio had been obtained in Old Delhi, India, by one Miles Collins in the 1880's. Finally, when he'd run out of innocuous household items to identify, he would make a last stop, before the portrait near the front doors in the foyer.
"Maybe you don't recognize who this is, just yet," he whispered to the dozing infant. At these words, Sarah Teresa seemed to force her nearly-transparent eyelids open just one last time for her father. Willie gazed down on her face, at her blue-grey eyes with that knowing expression in them. "Then again," he sighed, "I guess a part of you does."
He surveyed Barnabas's portrait for perhaps the thousandth time, since he'd come to Collinwood. He pointed to the ring, the cane, the medallions, and pins. "Someday, Teresa--"(when they were alone, he always called his daughter Teresa) "--I'll try to tell you how those fancy jewels and things kind of led to your being here. But I wouldn't frighten my little Ruby-Tuesday girl." He kissed her pale rose cheek. "You're my little jewel, now, my little Ruby, just like your Mommy, and you were born on a Tuesday. She sang that song a lot before you came. Isn't it funny how stuff like that happens?"
"Well, Loomis, I see that, at last, you've found a female to whom you can present yourself as the fountain of knowledge and wisdom," Roger Collins said, as he came down the stairs. "Of course, she is quite under-age."
Willie refused to be goaded. "It's never too early to learn. That's what they say, these days. Cecily's Dad read to her when she was two."
And the lot of good it did when it came to the important things in life, Roger thought, irritably. That Walter should have read a book on picking an adequate husband to his precocious daughter. Roger controlled his thoughts, and said, "Still, Loomis, this isn't HER family history you're teaching her."
"A little bit of it IS, in a way. And I'm sure she'll be spending time here, as she grows up. Your sister and Mrs. Johnson love her as much as David, Carolyn, Julia and Barnabas."
"Liz is hungry for a grandchild, that much is clear. I suppose this little mite is an adequate stand-in for the real thing." Roger reached out, and flicked the reddish fuzz standing up on the baby's head. Sarah Teresa gave him what looked like a genuinely dirty look. "Does she have gas, Loomis? She doesn't look terribly comfortable."
"Not that I can tell. But she's real fussy about the company we keep," Willie said, mischievously. Before Roger could respond with the angry reply he obviously longed to make, Willie tried to smooth things over. "Didn't you ever spend some time, carrying David around the joint, showing him the pictures, and talking to him, when he was a baby?"
"Can't say that I did," Roger admitted uneasily. "I'm just not the baby-handling type, I suppose. Every time I tried, early on, well....the unfriendly feeling must have been mutual. David had a rather unfortunate habit of letting me know just how badly we were getting along, when he was that age." He made a sour face.
"That's just a baby thing. It's not personal," Willie said, consolingly.
"In David's case, I'm not so sure. Thank heaven we've made it up since then. At any rate, I was brought up to believe it was the mother's job to care for the baby, and if she couldn't, then the female relatives and help. In that respect, at least, I have the highest praise for his, ah, departed mother. Whatever she became, toward the end of her.... sojourn with us, in the beginning she was the most devoted parent one could imagine. She never let that child out of her sight. And later, when she became unwell, my sister filled her office admirably. And Carolyn, to some extent, and dear, dedicated Vicky. Even Mrs. Johnson. Maggie was an adequate governess, but terribly nervous, poor thing."
"That wasn't her fault," Willie replied, his tone becoming defensive.
"And whose was it, then, Loomis? Oh, never mind, what's past is past, and shall, hopefully, never return. I would say, your father-in-law is doing his level best to relieve her nerves, so to speak. But I'll let that pass."
"Still," Willie said, forcing himself to stay calm,"A kid needs his or her Dad, to teach them good stuff."
"Like the family business? Well, I suppose Sarah Teresa will be a big help in the Antique Shoppe someday. You're certainly teaching her how to take inventory. I just hope that's the only reason you're taking this little survey. I remember you in your salad days, Loomis, even if my sister has chosen to forget."
"I haven't forgotten anything, Roger." Elizabeth stood at the top of the stairs, with Janice Hoffman close behind. "I have forgiven. And I've moved on. Please leave Willie and the baby alone. It's hard enough to get the poor little dear to sleep, without you badgering her father."
"Sorry, Liz," Roger said, his face turning red. That Janice Hoffman, whom his sister had foisted on him at the cannery office, appeared to be stifling a giggle, most unbecoming in a woman just a bit younger than himself. But then, most of her extra-curricular behavior, running after that hippie Greek barkeep, and supporting her daughter's continuing mesalliance with Loomis, was unbecoming to a Boston matron. No wonder that sharp ex-husband of hers had chosen to leave her for greener pastures.
"I'm not the one you've offended, Roger," Elizabeth said.
"Oh, all right. I'm quite a poor host, it's clear. At least, if my sister says so. I'm terribly sorry, Loomis. Bad day at the office, and all that."
"I guess I'll accept your apology. I have to set a good example for my little girl." Willie cuddled the bundle. The little girl for whom he was supposed to set an example had fallen fast asleep.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"It's wonderful, being able to sleep with you again, even if I'm up here, and you have to sleep down there, on the trundle," Cellie said to her husband. He sat on the upper bed with her, holding her hand, and gazing from her to their daughter, who wriggled on the bed between them.
"Well, they could have given me a room with a double bed, I guess, but your ribs are healing nicely. I want everything to be better on you, before we try something," Willie said, leaning over the baby to kiss his wife, a little hungrily. "And I'm closer to the crib, so I can just jump up at night. I'm kind of stuck on this room, anyway. It's the one I stayed in when I first came here."
"Oh. Doesn't that bother you at all?" Cellie reached up, and stroked his face.
"Nothing really happened in here. But I had some bad times alone.... Still, it's a nice room, far away from the others, so the baby's noise doesn't bother them at night, and we're right across from a bathroom. Plus, it's just a short hop to the stairs. And, you know, it's kind of a challenge, I guess, trying to take care of Sarah Teresa, and deal with the memory. At least, I haven't had any bad dreams since I've been here, with her. And now, you're back, so I don't have to worry about them at all."
"Hon.... this whole month's been like a bad dream. A bad dream even I can't wake up from." Cellie's eyes filled with tears.
Willie lifted the baby, and nestled closer to his wife. He wrapped his free arm around her. She sank her face into his shoulder. "My girl. My two girls," he murmured. "My God, Cecily, I know how hard it's been for you. Nicholas, and Melinda, and Jack, and then my father....It's too much for you to keep being brave. Take a little vacation from being brave."
"It's like, I can't. Today, when we came out of the hospital, and those reporters surrounded us...."
"That'll be the last time for a while, Cecily. I was really proud of you, though. What you said about walking through a fire to learn what was important in life---"
" 'And that the only way to re-adjust is to learn to take things for granted again. That sounds awful, to get worked up over piddly things, after a great disaster, but you don't get anything accomplished if you stop to smell every rose.' Geez, even I can't believe some of the B.S. I can come up with, just like that."
"They'll be using your quotes for months, at least until Jack's trial."
"It may prove to be our trial, more than his. If he gets off on an insanity plea--"
"Even if he does, they can still lock him up in a stricter nuthouse than Windcliff, for the rest of his miserable life. And may he be shocked daily, and operated on, to boot, if that's the case."
* * * * * * * * * * *
David leaned across Cellie's bed, playing with the baby in a half-hearted fashion. Cellie said, "David. You have to tell me what's bothering you. I can see bright enough pink when you're with the baby, but there's red, and orange, and dark green...."
"Sounds autumnal," David sighed. "An end to a part of life. To innocence."
"Who lost their innocence? Oh, Muffinhead, don't tell me, you and Annette--"
"No," David said, his voice breaking. The baby picked up on his mood, and began to cry, too. When Cellie had ascertained that Sarah didn't require a change or feeding, she rested the baby on her shoulder. Oddly, when she held her baby, she looked younger, somehow, more like when David had first met her. He turned from her.
"David, what happened? If it isn't you and Annette, then it has to be---Oh, my God. What did you do with Adele?"
"It's NOT what you're thinking, I swear to God!"
"Calm down. I can feel you're telling the truth. Still, something must have passed between you. I'd bet you haven't been this tormented in years."
"From such a simple cause, too, Torchtop. No ghoulies and ghosties, or creatures of the night...."
"You don't need them to get upset, you're sensitive enough without that stuff. Please, David. You know I only want to help."
"How can you, when you're part of the problem?" he wept. "Oh, God. I didn't mean that. Jesus, Cellie, don't be mad at me."
"I may get mad, but I couldn't stay mad at you, any longer than I could at Will, or even Barnabas." She laid the baby on her lap, and rested back on her pillows. "Tell me."
David related the story of his afternoon with Adele, telling her the complete story of the rescue from the cliff, and about the Indian, and then, that guilty kiss.
"So that's all you did?"
"It's not what I did, it's why I did it," he said, miserably. "Cellie, it's--it's hard for me to say this. I keep telling you, and telling myself, that we just have a strong brother-sister thing going these days, and until you--- Jack hurt you, I did believe it. I tried with Annette, I really did. I was all set, the next time things got too hot when we went parking, to take a trip with her to the good old Bide-A-Wee. I know she wants to. But I don't love her. I guess a part of me is old-fashioned, that way, and there's only one person I could love like that. You. At least I thought so. I don't know."
"But, really, David, Adele? Maybe in the future, but why now?"
"It's like I said, when Jack tried to kill you...." He wiped away tears. "Oh, Cellie, I wished I could have been there, to save you. I know Willie wished he could, but he was out of the picture that night. When we all thought you were going to die, I wanted to get that gun Willie had, and head to that hall in the West Wing, where I kissed you and you smacked me. Where it all began, for me .... Anyway, I did the right thing, and called all the clergy instead. I guess it helped a little. And I've tried to defend Willie. When you told me you were worried about him being with your Dad, I brought Maggie up with me, and we straightened it out. But it doesn't change anything. I love you. So much, it hurts. It's not supposed to hurt, but it does. And that's how I got tied up with Adele. I couldn't save you, but I did save her. I knew she was crazy for me. When she sat on my lap, somehow...."
"You couldn't be my knight in shining armor, so you accepted being hers."
"I wanted her, for a minute, as much as I want you. Or I thought I did. She is a sweet kid. And she grew up a little, in that minute. She was really sorry over the crazy stunt she pulled. We both could have been killed, on several occasions, in those few minutes. And, before that, well, it was like you and me, in a way. We did have a good time, just talking and playing stupid games together."
"Maybe you do like her more, now. Even if you don't end up with her, it means you can get over me."
"Still, Cellie, she's only thirteen. And this Sunday, I'll be all of four years older. Maybe that's not a lot in Cellie-and-Willie years, but in the real world.... And tomorrow, she'll be back, this time with her Dad. Maybe you've heard jokes about farmers' daughters, but this is very different. You should have seen the last letter she sent me. I wonder what kind of movies she sees, what kind of books she reads, to get these ideas." David blushed.
"Maybe it's not what she's reading, it's what she's writing," Cellie said, ruefully. "I told her to write a story about you two, to clear her head, and figure out what she really feels about you. I sort of thought, she'd write until she got the idea that she was too young for what she wants to do. I guess I was wrong this time."
"I forgive you, Torchtop, even Wonder Woman has to have a bad day. The trouble is, instead of putting her life into a novel, Adele's trying to bring the novel to life. I'm not just a character in her little romance." David took Cellie's hand. "What are we going to do? It's weird, about the way I feel---I still want to be with you, in a way, and with Adele, but I look at you, and there's something about you that makes me really want to do the right thing."
"Maybe the right thing is to do nothing. You can't ignore her, but you can keep her at a distance. Treat her just like a friend, which you were. Which we are. We are, aren't we?"
"Yes, Cellie. Even if we had a flaming affair, and broke up, we'd still be that."
"If my husband let you live long enough."
David smiled sadly. "That's another thing, you know? Not that I'm afraid of Willie. I mean, he left us alone like this. He trusts us. I really like him, honest. I'd hate to be the one to hurt him, after all the crap he's been through. And I don't want this little peanut's life messed up, with her parents at each other's throats, like mine were, when they used to fight about my Mom's old fling with Burke Devlin. Sarah T. is my responsibility now."
"That's a good God-father talking. I knew I made the right choice, Muffinhead. And try not to worry about Adele. Just, um, keep your bedroom door locked, and stay out of the West Wing." Cellie suddenly realized the baby needed a change. She eased herself from the bed, holding the baby as tightly as she could, with the aches in her shoulder and wrist. Her ribcage was only lightly taped up now, but she still had a bad twinge of pain when she moved too quickly. David reached out to help, but she waved him away. "The therapist said I had to do this on my own. But you can help me go downstairs later."
She managed to lay the baby on what had been David's old changing table, and performed the task, painfully. David stepped up to take Sarah Teresa from the table, while Cellie carried the diaper to the hamper in the bathroom across the hall. David heard the sound of running water. When Cellie returned, she sat, clutching her middle, in a chair near the large window. She commented, "This whole house is going to smell like diapers pretty soon."
"It's not just diaper smell," David declared, loyally. "It's baby smell. It's a life smell."
"I'll try to remember that, when I'm home alone, and she suddenly becomes full of life, ten times a day." Cellie leaned back in the chair, and gazed out the window, toward Widow's Hill. "What was that about the Indian, again? What was the name he called Adele?"
"Tekwitha. He said it was too late for Tekwitha, but at least he could help me save Adele."
"Oh, dear God. Poor Tekwitha, if he meant what we think he meant." Cellie began to sniffle. "I've been reading that book about the local Indians. I noticed, right away, that it was quite an uncommonly sympathetic account."
"It should be. You know who wrote it."
"Matthew H. Robbins. So what's so special about him?"
"What do you think the 'H.' stands for?"
"Oh---'Henderson.' He was one of your neighbors? The part-Indian Kezia's great-grand uncle, or whatever?"
"Of course, he was a good deal more Indian than Kezia. Sort of the Dee Brown of his era, you might say. Did you get to the part about the 1643 massacre?"
"Oh, David, you scooped me."
"I couldn't help it. I peeked in, and I was hooked. Turn to it now, and beat the rush."
Cellie got up and grabbed the book from her nightstand. She carried it, slowly, to her seat, and flipped the pages, until she found the section David had requested. She began to read aloud.
" 'And so it came about, in what the poets call the Ides of March, in the year of our Lord, 1642, just after ye new year---' "
"I didn't get that part," David said. "The New Year in March?"
"It had to do with the old Julian calendar, I think," Cellie replied. “You recall how some cultures, and even the Orthodox Church, still use it, even though it's like, eleven or twelve days behind the one we use now? Well, it was in use in Western Europe and here, until the mid-1700's. The spring was considered the time of the new year. That's why, when you look at really old graves, if the person was born or died just before March, the year reads, say, 1730-slash-31. Like George Washington's birthday is all messed up. I guess the date change didn't filter up here, until a bit later." She continued reading.
" '---After ye new year, that one of ye most tragick events took place, bringing to ruin, a time of friendship betwene those of the Orono tribe, and ye new settlement of Collins's Woods on the ocean coast. It was said that Nathaniel Collins, born in Norfolk, England, and late of ye Ipswich settlement in Massachussetts Bay Colony, formed a deep, Brotherly Love for Chief Ock-wen-uck, or, as the French spelt it, Oquonoque of the Abnaki tribe. This great esteem was sealed with, some say, a secret ceremony in Eagle's Hill grove, a blood-brother pact. Tokens were exchanged--' "
David exclaimed, "The shell necklace, with that coin!"
"Barnabas said the coin was probably Nathaniel's christening present. Anyway," Cellie continued,
" '....and Nathaniel's small band of adventurers traded and worked freely with Oquonoque's people. Nathaniel had with him, then, his yonger brother, Isaac, his yonge wife, Arabella and their tiny son, and a few others who found no favor with ye Ipswich brethren, and, douteless, woulde have found none anywhere else. Oquonoque's family, gathered in a stonework fort house near the beach clyffe, built not by them but some say ye Vyckinges, consisted of his own brother, Hannoc, a few braves, his women, and little ones. All went well, until Nathaniel had dispute with Oquonoque. They parted in anger that day in Marche. But there was no real enimity.
“Oquonoque's women came and went, helping and helped by Arabella, who was a favorite with all. Nathaniel went out to hunt, and Isaac, who had a fancie for fish, went to the river. Arabella retired with her little child, secure with her husband's men to garde their little fort. Nathaniel was late returning, and when he did, he saw at once, the fires consuming his cabbin, and manie of his men and theyr women dead on the grounde. He found not his wife and son. He struck out, and found her, on ye trail to Oquonoque's lodge, ravished and dead, and their little one, shot in the head---"
"Oh, oh, sweet Jesus," Cellie gasped, tears running down her face.
"Don't read anymore for now, Cellie." David laid Sarah Teresa in her lap.
"No, I have to go on." She picked up the book. The baby kicked at it. "Now, sweetie-pie, let Mommy keep reading. My Sar-rah Ter-ree-sah," she chanted, still sniffling, rocking the baby a little. "This is for you, too, angel-face."
" 'When Nathaniel saw all these, his hearte broke in twain, and his wrath was terrible. He call'd forth those of his men who lived, and his brother, who had returned to camp verye late, but with no fishes. Nathaniel was sure the deed was the work of He with whom he'd fought earlier. He led his band unto Oquonoque's fort house. He and the others laid waste to all without, and slaying all within, the sleeping braves, the children, ten at leaste, stabbing and shooting, and ravishing the women before they, too, were slain.' "
Cellie fell silent again. She clutched her infant to her breast. "Why do people do these things, David? Who do they run right in, without even asking a question, and trash everything in sight? And kill helpless kids?"
"Got me, Torchtop. He must have been messed up, bigtime. And those critters he ran with, just sound like mindless storm-troopers to me."
Cellie sobbed as she finshed the account. " 'It is believed that Oquonoque was not with his people at this time, having been searching for another enemy, warned by his brother Hannoc. Hannoc, to be sure, returned to the burning lodge, and, seeing no-one living, rode away, never to be seen again. But there are those who aver, that Oquonoque returned, searched the place, and rode off, also, with something slung over his horse, thought to be a surviving child. He was seen in this area, a year hence, with ye child, a young girl. But he rode off, again, one morning, and the girl was nowhere to be seen. And this time, HE was gone for goode.
'As for Nathaniel, his men sayed, after he had set the torch to the lodge himself, he went into the woods, craving to be let alone. They thought they heard two voices, and harsh words, followed by a sharp scream from Nathaniel, an invocation of some sorte. They ran to where he was, and found him, lying upon his face. Some of the men swore, thereafter, that they smelt brimstone around him. Then he arose, and bade his companions farewell. He vanished down a trail. To this day, no-one knows where he went, either.
'But as for Isaac, the other perpetrator of this deed, he settled but a short distance downshore, in what became known as the new Collins's Woods. And he wed, and he prospered, at first. But as he helped destroy one man's innocent children, so his own children did not go unscathed. Even unto this day, in the year of Our Lord 1752, one hears of the great pride and success of Isaac's Collins's heirs, and of the great sorrow of theirs, many infants dying, conflicte betwene brother and brother, and tragick marriages. And so will go on, until ye end of time, until the stain of these deeds is blotted out.' "
"What a story, Torchtop," David said. "So, after all the damage Barnabas and Julia have managed to fix, all those times they went back in the past, and fighting in this era, what's really ailing us poor Collinses is an Indian curse?"
Cellie re-read the passage. "Actually, Robbins doesn't specify who laid the curse, or if what came down could even be classified as a curse. It could have been Oquonoque's, or Hannoc's, or even Nathaniel's 'invocation'."
"Why would a guy curse the family of his only surviving relative?"
"Who knows? Maybe because Isaac showed up too late? At any rate, I think we have an I.D. on our Indian friend."
"Ock-Wen-Uck. Well, if he's so interested in helping us, then he couldn't have made the curse. But he's damned upset about something, scaring off Nicholas like that."
"There's no mention of Nicholas in the chronicle, but he must have riled the chief at some point, perhaps after death. Maybe Nicholas is getting in the way of Ock-wen-Uck's search for Nathaniel."
"And Tekwitha. Who was Tekwitha, the girl that must have fallen from the cliff?"
"The girl who came back with him. Maybe his daughter? But why did he run off with her for a year, and what led to her fall, when they came back? I know she must have felt awful, but she lived with the memory for a whole year." Cellie looked down at her baby, who now slept, her lips in that pretty smile. "She's dreaming of the angels. If I should lose her, oh, God, David, if Nicholas wins this war--- I'm not sure I would want to live."
"We have to win. But we have time. Better tell Barnabas to circle some dates on his new calendar. The Ides of March, plus eleven or twelve days."
The sun shone so brightly that Sunday, the Tiffany stained-glass windows in the old stone church gleamed like jewels. Willie shielded his daughter's eyes as he carried her to the marble altar, and handed her to Maggie. He ran back out to the station wagon, and half-carried his wife up the stairs. Cellie was able to walk to the front pew, clutching at the other pews as she passed the company already seated there.
"Sorry we ended up being late," she whispered to her parents, her aunt and uncle, and Elizabeth, who occupied the front row. "We were all ready to leave, when she messed up our christening gown, and we switched to the gown Mrs. Stoddard left us."
"Aren't you glad I thought of that? I recall a similar problem with both Carolyn and David," Elizabeth whispered back.
"Yes, thank you," Cellie sighed, fervently. "And it's a good thing Hallie let me have some of her old dresses. I had to change, too. This one here--" she poked Willie "--got off Scot-free this time, and he's not Scotch!"
"I have an understanding with my daughter," he boasted. "She knows I only have one good suit."
"You'll get yours, Will," she whispered, kissing his cheek.
"Shshsh, it's time. Here comes Reverend Brand." Willie held her hand. They watched as the minister sprinkled the water on Sarah's reddish hair. For some reason, this made the baby sneeze noisily, and wetly. She sprinkled the Collinses' heirloom christening gown, as well as Maggie's silver-blue chiffon dress.
"Well," the good Reverend chuckled, "I guess that means I got another one of those devils out again." The company laughed politely. The minister took the baby from Maggie's arms. "Seriously, though, it isn't every day that I have the honor of bringing into our fold, such a special young lady. Indeed, the Lord must have a special eye out for Sarah Teresa Manoela--" (Cellie looked back at Mrs. Texeira, who wiped a sentimental tear from her eye, at hearing her late mother's name) "--Hoffman Loomis. We have all heard of her tumultuous entrance into what must seem to her, even at her tender age, a violent and uncertain world indeed. And yet, beside the violence, there is peace, there is goodness, there are those who act on their best instincts. I do not doubt, she has sensed these also.
"I sense it, in the unity of a family that has so often been at odds within its ranks, as well as with the world at large. I sense it, in her mother, who has had a mountain of tragedy and responsibility laid on her young shoulders. I sense it in her father, who has made a Herculean effort to live a decent life, failing sometimes, but always, defying our expectations. I sense it in their efforts to remain together, against overwhelming odds. And I sense it in their friends, who stand firmly behind them, who have suffered and risen above their own suffering, like the phoenix bird of the legend." (Reverend Brand gazed at Maggie, but David looked at him with an oddly queasy expression on his face, when the minister mentioned the phoenix. He couldn't figure out why he suddenly felt all hot and cold at once, and tried to shake the sensation off.)
Reverend Brand drew to the conclusion. "This child will go forth amongst this company, perhaps to spend her whole life with them, perhaps to grow here a while, and then move on. Whatever befalls, I have trust in you who have gathered here, that you will all do your part to ensure a secure, righteous, and happy future for this child, and any others who may come into your orbit, as time goes on."
After the service, Cellie leaned against her husband, as they went out on the church steps to face, not only their families' cameras, but a few reporters' as well. Willie was a little angry, but he let his wife smile and chat with them for a few minutes. Then she grasped her middle, and he hurried her to the station wagon. Walter handed his grand-daughter to her mother through the window. Willie drove slowly, down some back streets, until they lost sight of the church.
"I feel just like Jackie Onassis, dodging the damn paparazzi.," Cellie said.
"Hey, that's HER job. If you had HER dough, that's how you'd know you really earned it."
"Well, I hope this is the last of it for now."
They arrived at Collinwood ahead of practically everyone, except Mrs. Johnson, and the small platoon of caterers in their white uniforms. Willie and the housekeeper hustled Cellie and the baby upstairs to rest. Mrs. Johnson tended to the baby, while Willie helped his wife into her robe, and into bed.
"I should really go downstairs. All the guests will be here, soon," Cellie protested.
"Everyone understands. Mrs. J.'s taking Sarah Teresa down to that fancy crib they set up, and there's a decorated easy chair right next to it, waiting for you, after you've taken a little nap. And just think, you'll get to change into yet another dress. That was nice of Hallie, to give you some of her old duds. You sure looked hot in that dark blue with the polka dots."
"Makes you want to 'polka' with me, huh?" Cellie giggled.
"Oh, yeah.... There's a light blue dress you have to wear next. I guess any kind of blue is your color, much as it is, Hallie's."
"Her old size is sure MY size, these days. I didn't realize she was that much more solid, a few months ago. Hallie's lost a lot of weight. Must be the anxiety. She sent out that letter to Paul two weeks ago, and she hasn't gotten an answer, yet."
"Well, me and Fran haven't gotten any letters either," Willie pointed out. "He must just be deep in the jungle this month. As long as we don't get a certain phone call, or a visit from the Army, no news is good news, I guess."
An hour later, Willie was helping Cellie downstairs in the light blue dress. He led her to the sofa, where Barnabas and Julia sat. Barnabas held the baby. He gazed into her eyes, deep delight on his face. Julia had her head on his shoulder.
"You look like a baby-holding expert, Barnabas," Cellie commented.
He said, quietly, "They haven't changed much since the last time I held one. Julia here, was a bit anxious, but I think I've reassured her. Sarah Teresa seems content."
"I'm just seeing our own baby in her place, maybe this time, next year," Julia said. "Tomorrow, we're heading to Boston."
"I almost tried to book Reverend Brand in advance," Barnabas joked. Then he became serious. "His sermon this morning was truly inspiring, and very moving."
"There wasn't a dry eye in the House," Willie said "Mine included."
"Every word hit the mark, that's for certain," Barnabas agreed. "You know, I'm grateful to both of you. This is the first christening I've attended since--since...." His voice trailed off.
"Your Sarah's, right?" Cellie asked, gently.
"Yes. I stood as her Godfather that day, did you know that? In all but fact, I acted as her father. And today, almost two centuries later, because of your love for her, and hers for you, I had a chance to stand in a church---a miracle in itself---to see the beginning of a new Sarah. That's Hebrew for 'princess,' you know."
"I never heard that before," Willie said. "Well, I kind of feel better about the whole name business now. 'Princess Teresa.' I like that."
Walter walked up behind his daughter. "A big Princess and a little one. Well. That's not so far off the mark, Barnabas. Sometime, Cecily, I'll have to tell you about the Lairds of Castle Fraser, and their tenuous connection to the Royal Stuarts. All morganatic, of course, but quite genuine."
"I thought Grandma Muriel was just a governess and Sunday-School Teacher in Aberdeen."
"Governess? Did I hear the magic word governess?" Maggie popped between Walter and Willie. "No wonder we get along so well, Walter. A governess always knows."
Julia said, "Our mother wasn't just any governess. True, she worked for a mine-owner's family for almost ten years, but she was well-respected, because of her learning, her piety, her strictness, and also because of her ancestry. Even though her branch of the Frasers had fallen on hard times, the name was still honored, even by the new rich. Then, one day, when she was nearly thirty, she received a mysterious bequest...."
"Not so mysterious, really," Walter continued. "A distant Fraser cousin remembered her fondly from childhood get-togethers, and left her enough money to finance a decent passage to America on a Cunard liner. That's where she met our father, who was in the process of emigrating to this country. They were as different as night and day in almost every respect, but they hit it off immediately.”
His sister picked up the story. "And she always said, 'Julia, I had no real plans for when I came to America. I thought I'd visit, and return to Aberdeen. In a whole life of planning, and being practical, the one time I did neither, was the one time I found just what I was looking for!' But then, she admonished me not to be so heedless and hedonistic. I guess I followed her example in every way. I found what I was looking for, when I least expected it."
Cellie said to the baby, "I hope you're taking notes, kiddo. This is our family history we're talking here. Now, I'll have to drag your Grandma over, and pump her for the dirty low-down on the Sisk dynasty."
Barnabas raised his eyebrows. "Did you say the Sisks?"
"Janice's mother was a Sisk," Walter said. "Fine old family. Vast old family. Cecily tried to track down the right family line, and got lost in the mid-1800's. Do you know something of the Sisks? But of course. Silly question. What you haven't read about the old days hasn't been written, I think." He laughed, a little uneasily. He was thinking about what he'd managed to overhear when he silently approached his daughter before. Something about Barnabas and two centuries since a christening.... He wondered if there was some way he could get into the Old House during Julia's and Barnabas's trip to Boston.
Barnabas said carefully, "Well, as a matter of fact.... Some new, and interesting information has come my way, about that wonderful and accomplished family, of whom Cellie, Janice, and young Ernest are all fine representatives. As they are of the Frasers, and the Hoffmans."
"And what might that be?" Cellie said, her tone light. "I had no idea YOU were tracing the Sisks, or I would have mentioned my own tiny efforts at research. I'd almost forgotten about it anyway--- I was only twelve at the time, unable to drive to remote cemeteries and distant town halls. I barely had any idea whom to WRITE to, nor my Mom, either."
Walter added, "Since Janice's mother came from the Marblehead area, that was about the extent of the 'research.' I offered to help, but an increase in my workload and Cecily's schoolwork put it out of mind--- until NOW. So, what interested YOU, Barnabas, in the Sisks?" Nothing good, the lawyer thought.
Barnabas hesitated to speak openly in front of Walter, but if he hedged, he knew his brother-in-law was full of quick suspicions. "Well, it seems that our Cellie was connected to the Collins family even BEFORE my marriage to Julia. I've lately discovered, one of my earliest ancestors was married to a Sisk, a daughter of a couple of original settlers of Ipswich, Massachussetts, as a matter of fact."
"I remember--- we talked about your ancestor when we first got acquainted!" Cellie exclaimed. "Nathaniel and--- Arabella was in MY family?"
"Arabella Siske, spelt with an 'E', was the very one who married Nathaniel Collins in 1642, and bore him a son, whose name, unfortunately, went unrecorded before his and his mother's untimely deaths."
"That's sad. But I suppose things like that happened all the time, childbed fever and all that," Walter said, shrugging. Barnabas didn't elaborate-- he simply nodded.
Cellie had turned very white. She said, a little shakily, "I'll have to tell David. We were reading an interesting book about the early settlers. They mention the first Collinses. In all I've read, Arabella's maiden name was never specified."
Barnabas said, "That was, I'm afraid, the fault of her brother-in-law, my ancestor Isaac. After her---passing, and his brother's grief-induced disappearance, Isaac never spoke of her or wrote of her, not even to his own wife, so far as it was known. Aside from re-interring Arabella's remains in Eagle Hill, he seemed to want to dissociate himself from the sad memory.
“But I was just re-examining a cache of ancient letters that I found in my attic over a year ago, and had put aside whilst setting up business at the Antique Shoppe. One of the letters was actually just a few paragraphs, hastily broken off in mid-sentence, addressed to 'Honorable Ephraim Siske'. I BELIEVE it was in Isaac's hand--- the first draft of a letter about the tragedy. One can IMAGINE the difficulty of writing such a message! So, I did a little more research, and even acquired a photostatic copy of Arabella's and Nathaniel's marriage registry from the oldest church in Ipswich, where this Ephraim was, indeed, both Arabella's father AND an elder, as, I recall, I told you."
"You are quite diligent in solving these old mysteries, Barnabas," Walter commented.
"As you are, when defending your own interests, Walter," his brother-in-law replied.
Cellie became aware of the flashes of hatred and mistrust between her beloved father and her equally-beloved uncle. In an instant, she understood that her father was suspicious of Barnabas, although she didn't believe there was much Walter could do about his suspicions. She hoped he would get so engrossed in his growing relationship with Maggie, that he would leave well enough alone. It was going to be hard enough to face the real enemy when the time came.
She looked at her aunt, who generated a pale violet-blue fear. She had to break up the tension. She saw David chatting with Ernest and Lillian, while Adele hung back like an outsider, watching her idol with a sad, longing gaze. She waved them over.
Ernest had his arm around his wife in a proud, possessive gesture. He released her and scooped up his new niece. He and Lillian took Sarah's hands and babbled to her. "Well, Cellie," he said. "I kind of hate to steal the thunder on Sarah Teresa's big day, but Lil and I can't wait any longer to share the news. Even though she just got here, this little munchkin isn't going to be the only grandchild much longer."
"Oh, wow, that's great!" Cellie sang. "When?"
"End of May, if not earlier," Lillian said, beaming. "By then, Ernest will be a full partner in McAuliffe's and I'll be able to take some time off from the hospital. It's really too early to work out all the details."
"It'll be nice. Sarah will have someone to play with when we get around to visiting," Cellie said, wistfully.
"And fight with," Ernest said, when he saw his sister's face fall. "Oh, Cellie. I'm sorry I just burst out with it like that. It's just been such a happy day---I wasn't thinking...." He reached out, and stroked her hair.
Now it begins, Walter thought. He bent to kiss his daughter. She leaned against him, clutching his hand tightly.
Willie leaned over. "Cecily, please. Just think of what you have." Lillian handed him the baby. "Look, Cecily. You missed a lot with Sarah Teresa so far, but when you're really busy with her, you won't even think about whatever else you're missing. She's gonna do so many neat things, and she's gonna be special. Maybe so special she'll need all your attention, anyway. Just think about what we have to do, not what we can't."
"I know, I know." Cellie gazed at her daughter, who was blowing a big spit bubble at her. She looked into the distance. She saw her mother step up, with Pavlos. He was resplendent in an elegant new pinstriped suit, which, unfortunately, made him look a bit like a gangster.
"Come with me, little flame," he said, lifting Cellie easily from the sofa. "We'll have a nice little talk, and I shall see that you eat. Your friend Hallie, she wants to talk to you. I just wish our friend the Diva could be here. She could have lifted your spirits." He walked her to the dining room, followed by Janice. After a minute, Willie followed, bearing Sarah. He stopped on his way, to show her off to Carolyn and Tony, and a dignified older woman in a white uniform.
"Willie," Tony began, "This is my mother, Helen. She's supervising the caterers from the Inn."
"When Sarah Johnson isn't running interference," Helen Peterson chuckled. "The poor dear gets an opportunity to take it easy for once, and then she has to show everyone what a workaholic she is."
"Oh, Mrs. Peterson, Mrs. Johnson just thinks she can take care of us better than anyone else," Carolyn said.
"She was the same way with poor, dear Bill Malloy," Helen declared. "She was the same with that ne'er-do-well Phil Johnson."
"Are you picking on her, or something?" Willie asked, in a defensive tone.
"Good heavens, no, Willie. Sarah and I go way back. We went to school together, and Bill Malloy, and our late husbands, as well. I'm sure she must have given someone around here an earful about my high-falutin' job at the Inn banquet hall."
"As a matter of fact, she has," Carolyn laughed, rolling her eyes.
"She always chooses to forget that I started out as a humble waitress, years before they even thought of a banquet room." Helen shrugged. "Well, it'll be hard to force her to take another rest, when you two decide to tie the knot," she said, "But catering that affair will be the crowning of my career. I intend to out-do myself that day. I may even retire afterward."
"We'll put it off as long as possible, then," Tony said seriously.
"Oh, Tony. Carolyn, don't make me and your mother wait forever for a few of these," Helen said, touching the baby's cheek.
"I'm caving in under the pressure," Carolyn said. "Quick, Tony, to the J.P.!"
"Your Mother won't hold still for that, Carolyn," Willie admonished. "When the big day comes, they'll have to close down the town." He made his way to the dining room.
Adele wandered around, afraid to talk to David. He'd greeted her, in a friendly enough, but cool manner. Annette was somewhere around, with that Hallie Stokes, because she was also Cellie's friend. Adele was angry, and jealous. Cellie had tried to be sweet to her when she'd first arrived, and wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk, but Adele was having none of it. She stayed away from the baby, because David spent so much time with Sarah and Cellie.
She went outside. There was an early chill this autumn. Adele shivered, but she took a walk toward the garden. A woman in a white uniform and a white hairnet stood there, looking at the ocean, and smoking. She must have heard Adele's approach, for she turned to face her.
"Oh, you must be one of the guests," the woman said.
"Taking a smoking break?" Adele asked. "Can I have one?" She liked to sneak smokes with her best girlfriend back home.
"Oh, no, I'd get in some trouble, and then I'd be found out," the woman said.
"Found out? Is this a secret? Are you a spy? I want to be a spy, someday."
"Not exactly," the woman laughed. "I'm an undercover reporter for a Bangor paper, and they sent me to cover this christening."
"Aren't you afraid I'm going to tell on you?"
"Not if you want to be a real spy. I trust you."
Adele was enthralled. "Wow. That's cool. My name's Adele. What's yours?"
"Allison. Say, Adele, a reporter notices a lot of things. I noticed, you seem to like the heir to the kingdom around here. David."
"Oh." Adele's face fell. "You also must have noticed, then, that he's not paying any attention to me."
"How sad." Allison looked into Adele's eyes. "My, you have nice green eyes."
"They're really hazel. They get greener when I cry. I was crying, before."
"I'm sorry about that. Well, Adele, us green-eyed people have to stick together. I think I can help you with your problem."
"Really? How? I'd do just about anything, if he only kissed me. He kissed me once. It was nice."
"Well, I made some nice cookies, as part of my catering job. But the sugared ones are, like, magic cookies."
"Oh, that's silly. I don't believe in magic cookies. My mom said never to take cookies or candy from strangers, anyway."
"You're not taking it from me. Anyone can take them, they were baked for the party. But if you take
one, and eat it, and you can get David to eat one, I guarantee he'll kiss you, and kiss you, and kiss you, later."
"Oh, well, if everyone's having them, anyway, I guess it's okay. Thanks a lot."
Adele trotted back into the drawing room. She went straight to the big buffet table in the dining room. Sure enough, there was a huge plate of fancy cookies. Allison had said the special ones were covered with sugar. There weren't too many of that kind, to begin with. Adele felt kind of silly, actually looking for the most heavily-coated ones. Still, if there was a chance.... the worst that could happen was that it wouldn't work.
Finally she prized out a pink-and-yellow cookie with ruby-red sugar sprinkles, and a multi-color square that resembled a petit-four with a heavy sugar coating. Allison had said any sugar cookie would work for her. Adele wondered if she would have to feed David a cookie. She wrapped the cookies in a napkin, and tucked them into the puffed sleeve of her party dress.
She found David talking to Annette. Annette had an irritated look on her face, and turned away. "I'm too tired to take a drive later, David," she said. "I'm going to say 'ciao' to Cellie and Willie, and head home." David reached for her, and kissed her cheek. Annette walked away.
David saw Adele. "Hey, little buddy," he said, rumpling her hair as usual. "How's it going, since--since the last time I saw you?"
"I stay away from any cliff higher than a doorstep." She tried to laugh, but it was clear she would become upset if David pressed the subject.
He changed it. "Bored yet? I'm sorry Cellie and I aren't playing and singing today, but she still has pain in her ribs. Did she show you the present I gave her?"
"That's a real fancy stroller, with all the attachments."
"It's the Cadillac of strollers. I had it custom-made, with extra stuff. I'll bet you didn't see what she gave me for my birthday today." He stuck his fingers between his shirt buttons, and drew out a filigreed gold cross.
"Wow," Adele said. "Cellie must have gotten a lot of money from those donations, to buy you a real gold cross." She really felt jealous, then. She wondered how her Uncle Willie could put up with his wife giving another man fancy jewelry.
"It's not exactly gold. It's called 'vermeil'. It's something new, sterling silver plated with real gold. The chain is gold, though. She got it from those people you've seen, with the baby boy, Lisa and Arnold with the glasses? They're jewelers, and I know they've given her and Willie price breaks for being such faithful customers. They also sold her the silver rose brooch she gave to Maggie, but I think her Dad actually paid for that."
"That's really nice. I wish I had something just as nice to give you. But all I could come up with," Adele reached under her sleeve, "is cookies. I picked out the prettiest ones that look like they taste the best. One for me, and one for you." She opened the napkin. "Let's eat them now."
"Oh, Adele, you shouldn't have!" David squealed. "It'll spoil my appetite, I'm sure." She looked hurt. "Okay, we'll have those special cookies, later, after the party's over. I think the caterer has to clear out of here by five, and some folks have already eaten and run." He thought, wistfully, of Annette. He'd decided to revive their relationship, but she'd already read the writing on the wall. He didn't think he'd be seeing her again.
"Let's go in, and eat," he said, tugging Adele's arm. "I want to get in there before your brother cleans the joint out." They went into the dining room together, and loaded their plates. "Boy, Adele, you sure have a healthy farmer's appetite yourself," David commented. "But I can't figure out where you put it all," he added.
"I'll bet you never really noticed, there aren't too many fat farm wives," she said. "Solid, maybe, but not really fat. My mom likes to eat, too, but she's busy from sun-up to sundown, and so am I."
"Our family owns a couple of farms, here and there. Maybe, someday, I'll visit yours."
"That would be neat. I need some help, feeding the cows at five in the morning." Adele smirked at David.
"I guess you got me back for the crack about your appetite." He pulled his chair closer to hers. "Your dad is watching us. I hope he isn't packing a big shotgun."
"Well, we'll go off in a corner to eat our cookies."
"Oh, yeah. I'm really looking forward to that." David wasn't paying too much attention to Adele. He was trying to listen to Cellie's and Hallie's conversation, hoping he'd learn about what Annette was up to. He was disappointed.
"I'm really worried, Cellie," Hallie was saying. "Paul was really faithful about sending those letters. I just hope I didn't hurt him too much, telling him I wanted to go out with some friends."
"You're a very tactful person, Hallie. I'm sure you were quite restrained in your letter."
"I tried. But, you know, I've been getting, um, those dreams again. Doom and gloom, all around."
"Do you have any way of telling if it's a real precog dream, or if it's just your guilty conscience bothering you? Or, like Mr. Scrooge believed at first in 'A Christmas Carol,' a touch of indigestion?"
"It's hard to say. If the dream is especially vivid.... But that doesn't necessarily qualify. I had some really wild dreams, a few years back, about me and David dying, and coming back to live in a Victorian dollhouse, of all things. And, as you can see, we're both still here, and full-sized. Nothing happened after all. To this day, I still haven't figured out why I had so many nightmares about that."
"Interesting that you'd even remember such dreams. But the one about your parents' plane...."
Hallie's face darkened. Tears came into her eyes. "That was different. There was a bright amethyst haze around the plane in those dreams."
"Not in the dreams about Paul, though?"
"Well, there's a haze, but I think it must be swamp gas, or fog, or something. Whether Paul's alone or not, I'm not sure. He comes to a clearing, like an English moor, almost, with funny clumps of grass sticking out. He's not really paying attention to his surroundings. Maybe he's worried about his unit. He gets out of his Jeep, takes two steps onto this moor, whispers my name, and then---disappears. Then I wake up in a cold sweat, with the sense that nothing's ever going to be okay again."
"I wonder if that's the standard-issue dream for girlfriends, wives, and mothers of soldiers."
"I don't have anyone to compare notes with. I guess I'll have to wait and worry, with the rest. And Cellie, I feel like I should apologize. I almost had a couple of dreams about you, before--before the incident. I mean, they'd start up, but they'd get cut off right away, and they were so hard to remember. I feel like I should have warned you anyway, but I didn't know about what. You were already wary about so many things."
"I thought, when I heard that Will had been arrested, that was the worst thing that could have happened. I think we were all blocked off during that time. I'm not mad at you, Hal." Cellie gazed down the table. "I see Father Rondini is getting along with Reverend Brand. I guess this means he's not mad at me for not having Sarah baptized at St. Ann's. I wish Sister Innocent could have made it, though. I was sorry to hear her brother suddenly took a turn for the worse. I wish I could have gone to his funeral, but I'm still in such pain. I'll have to call her this week, and I'm planning out a long sympathy letter. Whatever donated money is left, I'll send it along, for his kids."
"As bad as you feel, as bad as things turned out for you, you're still thinking about other people's problems."
"It's a distraction, as much as a duty, I think."
* * * * * * * * * * *
The last guest had left. Mrs. Johnson insisted on finishing the clean-up immediately, so she wouldn't have to face the mess on Monday morning. Everyone helped, even Cellie, who was assigned the task of drying the silverware as soon as it came out of the dishwasher. She was able to do this sitting down. She looked down at her sleeping baby in her basket. "My little Sisk of Old Ipswich. She's a trouper. All those people picking her up, and she didn't spit up on anyone."
"Except her dear old Dad," Willie laughed. "I guess you are a witch, Cecily. You said I'd get mine, in the end. I just hope the cleaners can get that crud off the shoulder of my jacket. Those diapers over the shoulder don't protect you against too much."
"I already sent up an incantation to make your suit jacket sweet and pure again. Just in case, we can hit the second-hand store, and see if any disgruntled wives have been emptying out their husbands' closets."
"I don't want an ugly plaid or striped thing. I have to look slick for my ladies."
"Oh, please. Tomorrow you'll be back in your work clothes. That's slick enough for me."
He took the dried forks and knives from his wife. "That's the last of 'em. We got everything else squirreled away and battened down. I'll get you two to bed."
A while later, Cellie was lying in bed, giving the baby a little formula before Willie laid Sarah Teresa in her crib. He picked up the half-full bottle, to return it to the refrigerator downstairs. "Too bad you can't nurse her, yourself. It would save me some trips up and down stairs."
"There's nothing I can do. I had those broken ribs, and that huge incision, so I couldn't hold her, and I was pumped so full of pain medication she would've gotten high from the milk. I bet I know why you want me to nurse, anyway." She smiled slyly.
"Yeah. The poor kid could have used the vitamins and minerals."
"Oh, geez, you've been reading those baby-care books, again. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing with you."
"Well, at least I try to use it. You don't act like you're worried about what you just found out. About that ancestor of yours who was married to that Nathaniel."
"I am thinking about it. I don't know if it's something I should worry about."
"She was killed, and her baby, too. Now I guess the Indian didn't do it, he seems to like you, and the Collinses. It's just like when Melinda was whacked, and we found out, too late, it was Jack who did it. Until you know for sure who killed that poor Arabella, and maybe even that Indian girl ...."
"After three hundred-thirty years?"
"It's been done before. You know that. Until then, you shouldn't feel too secure."
"It's not that I don't know that. But, if you recall, Nicholas wants the baby alive. But with all that hanging over me, I'm not going to let fear rule my every move."
"If you let fear rule your every move, maybe Jack wouldn't have gotten you. Oh---" Willie was immediately sorry, when Cellie turned her head away. He could see a tear roll down her cheek. "God, I'm sorry. Cecily, I didn't mean it that way." He sat on the bed, and took her in his arms.
She fought him for a minute, saying, resentfully, "Maybe if you DIDN'T let fear rule your every move, Melinda would still be alive and Jack wouldn't have had a chance to get me!"
"Okay," he sighed, "You got me back. I guess it's true, up to a point. But what's the use of arguing about it? I meant what I said, Cecily. I'm sorry I said it that way. I just want you to be more careful, now. You have to go slow. Practice more. You just can't rush in, blindly. I told you to take a vacation from being brave, but I meant, until you have the knowledge under your belt." She relaxed against him, and he rocked her back and forth. "Cecily, I love you. Maybe too much. And the baby."
"I love you both. I know you didn't say that to be mean. Maybe I got too headstrong because I was alone, before. I don't mean alone, without you. But I have Pavlos, now, to guide me. I'm trying to learn a little, every day. Are you afraid I'm going to leave you behind? I guess we'd have to worry about that if I was just going to college. But this is much deeper than that."
"Only once in a while. But I can keep up, following you, and you always come back for me."
"I'll never leave you behind. Just cover my back."
"I'll cover more than that." Willie kissed Cellie, and got up, grabbing the bottle. "I'll deal with you, later," he said in a mock-threatening voice.
"I'll be waiting."
Willie walked up the hall, and turned a corner that would bring him to the main corridor that led to the stairs. He saw that everyone else's door was shut, except for Adele's, which stood ajar, a few inches. He could make out the glow of her bedside lamp, but he couldn't see the bed. He figured she was afraid of the dark. Just before he made it to the landing, he turned suddenly. He'd heard some noises from David's room. Willie knew David had both a stereo and a small T.V. in his room, but it sounded like two voices in there. He didn't know why, but he thought he should check on the boy. Maybe David was playing cards with Lew, but the other voice didn't sound like his nephew's. One never knew what mysterious voices meant in this house.
At first, Willie knocked softly. He still heard the noises, which began to sound more familiar to him. He thought about Adele's open door. He knocked louder. No answer. Finally, he tried the door. To his surprise, it wasn't locked. He just walked in. "What the HELL is going on here?!" He demanded.
David was lying halfway across Adele's prone body. He still had on his pajama bottoms, and she still had all of hers on, but David's hands were traveling under the flannel top, pushing it up, as he kissed her. At the interruption, he lifted his head. "Oh, my God," he muttered, as he jumped off the bed.
Willie grabbed him, and slammed him against a wall. "You PUNK! What did you do to my niece? Did you get something off her yet?"
"No---no, Willie! We were just--just kissing, you know, making out a little. Adele said it was in honor of my birthday."
"Nobody messes with a little girl in my family, not anymore! And screw your birthday. Try remembering hers. Thirteen will get you twenty in this state, and your Daddy won't be able to buy your way out of it. That is, if you live that long, after I tell Steve."
Adele had risen, straightened out her pajamas, and began to cry. "Oh, no, Uncle Willie, don't tell my Dad. Please! We were just kissing, that's all. We weren't going to do anything else."
"That's bullshit. No man ever got a girl on his bed, just to kiss her, Adele. Even a little kid like you, you live on a farm, you should know about the birds and the bees. Damn it, you want to end up like--like--" He turned red.
"Like Aunt Cellie, Uncle Willie? What's so bad about that? You got married in the end, and you had a nice baby."
"Hey, I don't know if I want to get married yet, or have a baby, Adele," David said, sheepishly. "We're kind of too young."
"Too young for a Hell of a lot!" Willie snarled. "Too young to be my daughter's Godfather. Wait until Cecily hears about this, David."
"Oh, God." That made David more upset than the inevitable prospect of facing Adele's father---or his own. "Don't tell her, Willie. Please. I don't even know how this all got started."
"Don't insult me like that David. You forget who you're talking to."
Adele pleaded, "Please don't smack him, Uncle Willie. It's all my fault. The catering lady said---"
At this moment, Steve and Fran poked their heads in the door. "Jesus," Steve said. "I should have seen this coming. That's it, Willie, hold him while I pound the stuffing out of him."
Willie was remembering a snowy morning in February. He was about to get the stuffing pounded out of him, and then some, until his girl intervened.... "No," he said, releasing David. "I did what I was supposed to do. I don't think he really did anything to her. What happens next, is up to you."
"What, are you a doctor?" his brother-in-law jeered. "How would you know?"
"I came in, just in time. He was just kissing her, and feeling her up."
"Willie, if this was your own daughter...."
"When it is, I'll kill the bastard. Until then ...."
"I'd like to hear Adele's little story. What were you doing in here, anyway, Addie?" Fran demanded.
"I was trying to tell you. The catering lady."
"Who, Mrs. Peterson?" Willie asked, incredulously.
"No, no. One of the workers. At least, she said, it was just a cover. She was really a reporter for a Bangor paper. She was like a spy. It was so neat. She baked cookies for the christening. She said they were magic cookies---"
"Oh, Adele, that's really too much. Magic cookies. If there was any magic going on, it was inside this jerk's B.V.D's," Steve sneered.
"I don't care if you think I'm lying. That's what she said, that if I ate a cookie, and fed one to David, he would kiss me a lot. And I actually got him to take one from my hand, like the dolphins take fish from the people at the aquarium. It was funny."
Fran rolled her eyes. "Oh, God. Magic cookies. Adele, it doesn't matter if you fed David a cookie, or not. He's probably had his eye on you from the start.”
"That's not true, Mrs. Maracek," David said. "We've had a couple of girls living here over the years, including Cellie, and I never messed with any of them. I was going with a girl here until just recently, and I even tried to get her to go with me tonight, but she had other plans."
Steve said, "So, you broke up with your girl, and jumped my daughter on the rebound."
"I didn't jump her! She came to my room, she fed me the damn cookie, I laughed about it, and all of a sudden, before you know it, we're on the bed. She wasn't here all that long, before Willie barged in."
"Adele, I know you like David," Fran said. "I warned you and warned you about your mooning over him, and other boys. Those movies and T.V. shows you watch with your friends are giving you all kinds of bad ideas."
"It wasn't just me! It was the cookies! I just wanted to kiss him!"
Cellie hobbled into the room, saying, "I hope you realize the rest of the Collinses are bringing up the rear. What's the rumpus, anyway? Oh, David...."
"Cellie...." David almost turned purple with shame.
"I keep telling you," Adele wept. "The lady said, all us green-eyed folks have to stick together, and--"
"Green eyes? Did you say, green eyes?" Fran looked at Cellie. "This lady had green eyes?"
"Oh, yes, very green. But I said my eyes are really hazel. I'm not sure what color her hair was, she wore a white hairnet. But what hair I could see wasn't dark. And she was pretty, and she said her name was Allison."
"What's all this about?" Steve asked. "So the waitress had green eyes."
"Steve," Fran said, "the woman who messed my father up had green eyes."
"Very green eyes," Cellie added, remembering.
"So what? If he croaked, it would have been no great loss. And, assuming for a minute, this was the same woman, she obviously didn't poison the whole batch of cookies."
"But she said the magic was just for me and David." Adele was clutching at her father's waist now, fixing him with an appealing look. The large man lifted her like a baby.
"I don't know what's going on around here," he said, finally. "Power of suggestion, maybe. I just want to get my kids home A.S.A.P. I don't want Adele anywhere near this one---" he pointed at David "--- at least until they’re BOTH of age. I can't say anything against young love, I married my own. And I did my share of kissing and hugging Fran, when we were courting. It was tough, with her living right there, in our house. But my Dad always told me, respect, and self-control, until the wedding night. My Dad may have been a little guy, but I knew better than to disobey him."
"And David should know better than to disobey me," Roger said, pushing his way into the room. "What's been happening here? Cellie, I heard your baby crying as I came down the hall. Your mother and Elizabeth went to look in on her. You look like you're in an imminent state of collapse. Loomis, take her out of here."
Willie picked up his wife, and carried her back to their room. "Good thing I didn't put the bottle back," he said.
In the meantime, Steve had a quiet talk with Roger. "Nothing really happened. Two moon-struck kids fooling around. Willie and I both gave your son Hell. I don't want to make a huge stink out of this. I don't think I'll be back here, with my daughter, anyway, for quite a while. That'll give things a chance to cool off. Say, when you were hanging around downstairs, before, did you notice a pretty blondish caterer with a hairnet and very green eyes? Name of Allison?"
"I can't say I did. I'll have to ask Mrs. Johnson or my sister. Is she mixed up in this?"
"It's hard to explain. To hear Addie tell it, she may have given the kids some ideas....The very least of it is, she claimed she was an undercover reporter, like for the gossip column in some Bangor paper. You have to be careful who you let in your house, these days."
"Once my sister admitted your brother-in-law, all the restraints came off. I just don't know what to expect, anymore. But I'll keep a closer eye on my son. Loomis's wife made him a Godfather. He'd better start living up to the title."
Cellie was changing Sarah Teresa when her father came into her room. Now that the ache in her newly-freed wrist and shoulder had finally abated, it was much easier to care for the baby. However, the pain in her ribs still, occasionally, made her catch her breath.
" 'Morning, Daddy," she said, as Walter kissed her cheek. "Come to say good-bye before you have to catch your train?"
"No, Princess. I'm staying another night. I wanted to spend a good, long evening with my other best girl before I have to return to the grind."
"And just where are you taking Maggie, young man?"
"I heard of a great new club in Orono. I haven't been dancing with Maggie yet. The little bit of hip-swiveling we put in at the Koffeehaus doesn't count. If she passes muster, I may pop the question."
"Whoa, Daddy-oh, fast work. Are you sure?"
"Just kidding, Cecily. I am sure, though, we'll both know when the time is right. And that time will be soon."
"I hope so. You know, Dad, I used to hope you and Mom would get back together, but when you did try it, before you sent me away, even I could tell it wasn't going to work. She's happy with what she's doing, with Pavlos and her new job. And you're like a different person---
I mean, I loved you way you were before, but you're a lot more tender, gentler."
"A real man for the Seventies, eh? Now, that's something I could use in my ad in the phone book. 'Sensitive, caring divorce attorney will extract you, painlessly, from an uncomfortable marriage.' Makes me sound like a dentist."
"Oh, Daddy." Cellie handed him the baby, then looked up on the bureau. "Shoot," she said, eyeing the key-ring lying there. "Oh, Geez."
"What's the matter, Cecily?"
"Will forgot to go to the Old House this morning, before he left."
"So, what's the emergency?"
"Well, aside from keeping an eye on the place, while Barnabas and Aunt Jule are in Boston, he's supposed to look in on Aunt Jule's new angelfish. She just got them, last week, a huge tankful. Will's supposed to feed them, and check the workings of the filter, every morning. You know how flimsy fish are. If you miss a day, tending to them, they're belly-up in no time."
"Can't that Mrs. Johnson go down and do that, at least?"
"I'm going to ask her."
"Why don't I just go, and check on the fish?" Walter offered.
"Oh, no, Dad. She knows just what to do." Cellie thought of the possible consequences of allowing her father free access to the Old House. Then she decided her fear was groundless. After all, it wasn't as if Barnabas kept his old coffin there, or any other incriminating evidence, not that she knew of, anyway. Still, it would be better if Mrs. Johnson went. She always followed instructions to the letter, and had developed some discretion over the years. Barnabas trusted her, and relied on her occasional household help in the last couple of years, until his marriage.
"Well, why don't I just bring them down to her, and explain the situation?"
"Okay. Just tell her, four shakes of the fish food, and to check the filter to see if it's grey. If not, and it's running smoothly, it can be left until tomorrow. If it's messed up, tell her to call Will at the Shoppe."
Walter laid his grand-daughter in her crib. Sarah cooed, and wriggled all over. He said, "She's a sure shot for the Boston Marathon in, say, 1992." He took the keys from the bureau. "I'll see you in a while, Princess. You get in some rest while she's napping, you hear?"
"You sound like Will," Cellie replied. "Hurry. Those fish are wasting away as we speak."
Walter trotted down the steps, and headed for the kitchen. Mrs. Johnson was on the phone. He waited for her to hang up. When she did, she declared, "That daughter of mine! She insists on letting her crippled mother-in-law live with her, and then goes all to pieces when she discovers how hard it is to care for someone in that condition. It seems I have to get her out of a jam, again." She took her coat off a
peg near the kitchen door. "Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Hoffman."
"No need to be."
"Is there something I can get you, or does Cellie require anything?"
"Oh, nothing important. She wanted me to ask you if you could possibly run down to the Old House to take care of something my son-in-law forgot to do, butit's not urgent. There's no reason I can't handle it, myself, but she seems to think nobody can take care of things as well as you can."
"Well, I'm flattered, of course. But thanks for offering to take over this once, Mr. Hoffman. My Phyllis is at her wit's end, and it sounded like she was crying. It's so hard, you know, what with her husband on the boat most of the time, and the two young ones in school all day. And yet, none of them will even hear of putting her mother-in-law in a home. Oh, well, the time will come when it's too much for them, and me. I just thank the Lord for my own health and strength, and I pray, that when I get old, I get taken, quick, without all this lingering and driving my poor Phyllis crazy."
"I understand, completely. My own father was in and out of the hospital for over six months before he finally passed, and it was an immense strain for everyone. Well, get down to your daughter's, then."
"I'll just run and tell Mrs. Stoddard. She'll tell Cellie, I'm sure." Mrs. Johnson ran out the door, toward the study.
Walter hoped that Elizabeth was so tied up with her accountant that she wouldn't get around to telling Cellie for a long time. He intended to be back before then. He went out to the front door, and took the path to the Old House. He tried the various keys, until he found the right one for the front doors.
As soon as he got in, he located the fishtank quickly, on a stand near the bookcase. The tank was large, at least five gallons, and held a dozen colorful, ethereal angelfish, all swimming back and forth, peacefully, near the absurd diver's statue that held the filter pump. Walter quickly checked the filter and the pump. The filter was snow-white, and the pump bubbled merrily. Walter gave the fish four good shakes of the special-blend fishfood, which they rushed up to gobble, greedily.
Then, he rushed upstairs, directly to Josette's room. He tried the door, and found that the crystal knob was unlocked. It opened smoothly, on well-oiled hinges. All the other doors squeaked except this one, he noted. He wondered why it was so important that this door should open silently. Perhaps his brother-in-law kept his dirty little secrets in there, and checked on them after Julia, the restless sleeper, was in bed.
It was, certainly, dark in there. Walter bumped into a few pieces of furniture, on his way to the heavily-curtained window. When he'd thrown it open, and allowed the bright sunlight to flow in, he realized that Barnabas had been right about not having an opportunity to straighten the room.
The delicate, Baroque-style French colonial white maple pieces were jumbled together in groups around the room. A couple of things, like the vanity, and the canopied bed, looked as if they had never left their original places. Walter studied the vanity, as carefully set with brushes, combs, rouge pots, and crystal decanters, as though the original tenant of the room would arrive any moment to use them. The bed was blanketed with a satin spread decorated with fine embroidery in a fleur-de-lys pattern. It looked original, but carefully restored.
He peeked into the armoire, which was filled with well-preserved Empire-style gowns. Then, he reached for what looked like a large, framed canvas, which leaned, with its face to the wall. He was amazed and dismayed, and then, angry, at what he saw when he turned it around.
Maggie's face, with that same tender, slightly bewildered expression she'd worn when he woke her on their first date. Maggie's hair, dark and wavy, cascading down white shoulders bared by the low-cut white dress, a wedding gown, from the looks of it. The girl in the portrait was even wearing a veil, or a mantilla.
For a minute, Walter thought this was a whimsical creation of Sam Evans's, portraying his daughter in pretty old clothes. Then, he realized the absurdity of it---why would such a portrait be at the Old House? When he studied it, he noticed it wasn't exactly in Sam's forthright, simple style. The picture reminded him of a Winterhalter portrait of the Empress of Austria, that he'd seen on his tour: elegant, serene, and of another world. Walter wondered if the picture was a Winterhalter, until he saw a signature in the corner: "Colville, 1797", and noticed the tiny brass nameplate on the bottom: "Josette Du Pres Collins, 1775-1797."
So, this was the famous Josette. Walter had read a copy of the Collins family history in the town Historical Centre. The first thing he noticed, was the overwhelming amount of tragic, untimely deaths that had occurred in the family over three hundred years, usually by violence of some kind. He'd asked some simple questions of David, who loved to gossip about his "most peculiar family." He knew that this Josette had committed suicide, soon after the shooting death of her husband, Jeremiah of the library room. He'd been killed by his nephew,
Josette's former fiancee, Barnabas Collins, who also happened to be married to someone else, a former maid of Josette's, of all things. Walter wondered what that duel had all been about. There were no answers in the family history, which had actually left some of the distressing details out, and David would only tell the tale up to a certain point. When pressed, he became evasive.
At any rate, this first Barnabas had gone to England, or so the official story went. Walter had found a book in the Collins study, which contained letters written by one Daniel Collins, who had been a child at the time Josette lived at Collinwood. He'd discussed sightings of Barnabas around town after he was supposed to have left for England, including an incident where,
"My own dear little Cousin Sarah, who missed her brother as tho' he were her fond Parent (and fonder by far than her own Father) slipped out one night, on an Errand she would never reveal what purpose, and became lung-sick, as it was a dark and stormy night. She dyed, thereafter, when left alone with her favorite servant, Ben Stokes. It was said by the maids who nursed her, that she confessed to seeking her belov'd brother, who had, also, first lay very ill, and then, went to the Mother country, still in a sad state of health. It is even said that he still hung about hereabouts for a time, and there were, in those days, young girles who fell queerly ill, fainting and pale, including my Cousin Jeremiah's widow before her Untimely End, and even my dear Sister, Millicent, until all such reports ceased for good and all, in the spring of 1797, in my fourteenth year."
So, there was a chance that the original Barnabas hadn't left at all, though what this had to do with the sick young girls was obscure. Or was it? Walter looked on the portrait, at the beloved face. A face that had once been sick and fainting, not just in 1797, but in 1967, at the time of the first appearance of a man supposedly named for the "emigrant" of 1797. And, of course, one couldn't forget the similar ailment of this man's trusty servant, drained of evil intent, at least of his own volition. Drained. The word came to Walter naturally, now. A nauseating suspicion came to him.
People and animals, drained of blood. A picture which depicted an almost perfect twin of a present-day woman, both of whom had suffered from a loss of blood. ("Art is in the eye of the beholder." Walter began to remember his dream.) A man, in a like condition. A ring, whose presence in the house had never really been satisfactorily explained. A christening that had taken place two hundred years ago, and a man who behaved like an eye-witness to history. A woman's crumpled handkerchief in an isolated part of the basement, close to a wine cellar that resembled a jail cell. An old bed-frame, carelessly set against a wall. Walter thought he'd better have a quick look at that room again, now that he had the keys. The right key was probably on the key-ring.
Walter shut the heavy curtain in Josette's room, and ran downstairs, to the door with the barred window. He tried every key. It was the next-to-last key that did the trick. He walked in, boldly, propping the door open with a brick lying on the floor. He bypassed the wine collection.
He opened the trunk with yet another key on the ring. There were old receipts and ledgers inside.
He studied some receipts. A surprising lot were for clothing bought in 1967, like the receipt Simons had tracked down. A ledger was carefully hand-filled, starting at the same time. Apparently, Barnabas's resources upon his arrival were limited, and he'd had to keep track of every penny, until he sold more jewelry, and invested the proceeds, under Elizabeth Stoddard's guidance. There were even accountings of the grocery bills, which, at first, were surprisingly small for two men. Then, there was a jump in the grocery expense, over a four-week period. It wasn't a huge increase, but it was noticeable. The dates seemed familiar.... the four weeks Maggie had been missing! A few weeks after, Barnabas had recorded a payment of one-thousand dollars to Sam Evans, for his own portrait. Perhaps Barnabas's investments had jelled, or he'd sold off quite a lot of jewelry.
There were two interesting pieces of paper, the birth and death certificates of an infant Collins, who'd lived his short life in 1926, in Wisconsin. Walter wondered, momentarily, why Barnabas should have these documents about a child he'd never known. (It wasn't even clear if the baby was related to this particular Collins family.) Then, he understood. The documents were just the sort that could be doctored in order for the holder to obtain, say, a Social Security Number, and proof of citizenship.... A passport....
Walter studied the bed-frame, which, in spite of the rust, seemed quite sturdy. He turned from it, back to the trunk, when something in it caught his eye. There was a large, round something wrapped in paper, nestled among the bills and ledgers. Walter unwrapped it carefully. He found a large, heavy, embossed bronze ring, with a small chain attached. The chain had been cut. Walter wondered where that had come from. He wanted to take it, but if it was discovered to be missing, well.... It wouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to discover who'd been around the Old House, who shouldn't have been. So Walter made a mental photograph of the ring, carefully wrapped it up, and replaced everything in the trunk as he best remembered it. Then he locked it, and the door, again.
He returned to the Main House. When he checked his watch, he was surprised to discover that he'd only been gone about three-quarters of an hour. He rushed back up to Cellie's room, and discovered that she'd taken his advice, and had dozed off while her daughter napped. He dropped the keys back on the bureau. He went back downstairs, where he ran into Elizabeth.
"So, was everything alright at the Old House? The fish fed?"
"Everything's under control," Walter said. "I took a short walk around the garden, after I was done. I was just upstairs, checking on my daughter and grand-daughter. They're both sleeping soundly."
"That's how I found them. It seemed pointless to wake Cellie up to tell her you were feeding Julia's fish for Mrs. Johnson."
"It was no big chore, and I had a nice walk. Hardly worth a mention, really."
"I suppose. It's just that Barnabas and Julia are so particular about who goes in and out of that house. And we all became anxious, when we heard about the reporter who posed as a caterer. But you are Julia's brother, and the fish tank is right out in the parlor. When I walk by there, I can count them, from the parlor window."
"True enough. Oh, well, I guess I'll be heading back to the Inn."
"If you don't have any other plans, Walter, you're welcome to join us for dinner tonight. Janice already informed us that she'll be spending the evening with Mr. Pavlos."
"Thanks, but I have a date with Maggie tonight."
"She's certainly welcome to come, too. Cellie will be coming down, tonight for the first time, with Sarah Teresa."
"Well, of course I'd like to see them again, before I head home in the A.M. And Maggie spends half the time talking about the baby. Just as long as you don't mind us leaving soon after dinner."
"That's alright. Roger and Carolyn will both be heading out, after, and the rest of us have been retiring early, since the christening. Then, Willie gets home, after eight-thirty, and he spends most of the time with Sarah Teresa, anyway."
Walter certainly intended to leave before his son-in-law showed up to perform his fond-father act. "When's dinner, then?" he asked.
"Seven. That's not too late for your other plans?"
"No, that's fine. Thank you for inviting us. I'm sure Maggie will agree."
There was a knock at the door. Elizabeth opened it. The Sheriff's Deputy, Lester Arliss, in uniform, a wrapped present under his arm, stood before her. "Deputy Arliss," Elizabeth began. "What brings you here this afternoon? Any further developments in Cellie's case?"
"Not really, Mrs. Stoddard. I have some papers she should look at, but this is simply a good-will visit. Both myself and the Sheriff were invited to the christening, but I had prior commitments, and both of us thought it might not be a good idea to show too much favor for Mrs. Loomis. But we did get a christening present. This whole visit is strictly off the record, but just in case, there are those papers."
Walter commented, "As a former defense lawyer, I'd say you're playing right into the hands of Knowlton's lawyers, should this visit come to their attention."
"He has only one, a public defender noted for his ineptitude."
"Well, I hope his situation doesn't attract high-powered, publicity-seeking attorneys. They could turn it around, to show that Melinda was just asking for it, and Willie and Cellie deserved to be punished for injuring the poor boy's psyche."
"If it comes to that, Mr. Hoffman, all I can say, strictly off the record, again, is that the folks around here won't stand for it if Jack gets off somehow. His own father was down in the Blue Whale, three sheets to the wind, announcing that he'd throw his boy to the wolves."
"I hope you're right. Anyway, Deputy, you won't be able to see my daughter right now. She's sleeping, and the baby, too."
"No, that's okay, Dad, I'm up. Hello, Les." Cellie tried to hold herself up straight as she clung to the railing of the great staircase.
"Hello, Cellie," the Deputy said, blushing a little. This interested Walter. The Deputy had a crush on his daughter. He wondered if this Arliss was married. He wore no wedding ring. There was no subtle way to ask, without arousing the man's suspicion about Walter's curiosity.
Cellie knew about Arliss's crush, a great deal more than her father did. She also understood how mightily the Deputy tried to control it. She, herself, merely felt friendly, and grateful for his consideration the night of her husband's arrest, and after, when he brought Willie to the hospital, and sat with the family the whole night. She said, "I was just going to ask whoever was home to bring Sarah Teresa downstairs, so we could join in the life of the house a little bit, before dinner. It's lonesome up there, now."
"I'll go," Walter offered, climbing the steps as he spoke.
When he reached the landing, he heard Elizabeth say, "You've been a good friend, Lester, just like your late Uncle George before you." Walter wondered if she meant the late Sheriff Patterson. In a moment, he had his answer. "I'm sure that when Fred Beardsley is ready to move on," she continued, "and Election time rolls around, you'll be a shoo-in, and as fine a sheriff as your uncle, rest his dedicated soul."
"He was a great man, in his own way," the young deputy replied. "I know, though, that some unanswered questions about certain cases hounded him, even after he moved to Myrtle Beach. Maybe they even killed him," he said, sadly.
"He did the best he could," Elizabeth said, consolingly.
"I know that when he heard I was joining the police force, he wanted to take me aside and try to explain some of the hard decisions he had to make. He was even going to write me a letter, but I guess he never got around to it." Walter suddenly realized that Simons must have obtained the letter intended for Arliss.
"Well, he certainly helped you in many other ways. You were fortunate to have that much." Elizabeth sounded rather relieved, Walter thought, as he hid behind the door to the hallway. "Say, Lester, do you have any plans later?" she asked. "As long as you're going to engage in unprofessional behavior, you might as well get a good meal out of it. If you'd like to come, dinner's at seven. Don't worry about the inconvenience. Mrs. Johnson left enough food for a small army."
"Sure," the Deputy replied, with touching eagerness. "I can't cook anything at the boarding house, and Ma's working the second shift at the cannery, so I can't barge in there."
Walter rolled his eyes heavenward, gratefully. Lester must be single! Failing David, a future sheriff with a potential for further political office would make a satisfactory enough son-in-law. He went to retrieve his grand-daughter with a light heart.
Cellie lay across the sofa, feeding and cuddling Sarah Teresa, as she talked to Arliss. She'd signed the necessary papers, and opened the gift, a crib mobile festooned with soft plastic models
of birds and butterflies. "It's just like the one I had when I was a baby!" she exclaimed. "Where did you get it?"
"There's a special store in Logansport," he said. "My mother went with Mrs. Beardsley to pick it out."
"Oh, geez, thanks so much. I could kiss all of you. Even the Sheriff."
Lester pulled his chair closer, and she leaned away. "So your husband is back to work down at the Antique Store," he said. "Are you sure you still want to live there?"
"We can't go on living here, nice as everyone's been. With a baby, one likes to be closer to the services in town. We could probably afford an apartment, but then, Will would be gone ten hours a day, and then I'd be going back to work there, part-time, with the baby. We'd hardly get to spend much time alone together, let alone enjoying our apartment. It's really better to go back there and face what must be faced, together." Cellie observed his downcast expression. "Oh, Les,"
she said, softly. "I know you're worried. But the worst thing, at least, the worst thing the police can deal with, has already happened, and we all survived." She reached out, and took his hand, trying to drain off some of his heartache and jealousy.
He pulled his hand away, gently. "Well, I have to get back to the office. I guess I'll be seeing you two later. He stroked the baby's head. Then he bent, and kissed Cellie on the cheek, like Willie had when they first met. She even felt the same, a little light-headed, seeing the same red and orange sparks. But she shrugged off the sensation firmly.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Walter was quiet during the rest of his date with Maggie. He was thinking about the dinner, about Cellie's and Lester's awkward silences, and how his daughter's eyes lit up like a Christmas tree when Willie came home, unexpectedly early. He was sharp enough to catch Arliss's expression of hurt.
He was also thinking heavily about what he'd found in the Old House earlier. He wondered if it might not be a good idea to share George Patterson's last letter with his nephew. In spite of Lester's gallantry during the recent crisis, Walter had a feeling he really wouldn't be sorry if Loomis was ousted on some other pretext.
Even if an accusation of complicity and conspiracy to kidnap didn't work out, there were the other outstanding warrants, which, despite Simons' breezy assurances, were due to expire, soon.
"Walter, are you feeling all right?" Maggie asked, with concern.
"No, sweetheart, just worried a little about a couple of cases I've been working on. Let's just dance."
The lead singer of the lounge band labored under the impression that he sounded like Elvis Presley. Fortunately, the band almost drowned out his weak bass as he sang.
"Wise men say, only fools rush in.
But I can't help, falling in love with you....
Like a river flows, surely to the sea,
So the story goes, some things were meant to be,
Take my hand, take my whole life, too,
For I can't help falling in love with you."
Walter whispered the words into Maggie's ear. She looked up at him, and kissed him right on the dance floor, in the same passionate, slightly desperate manner, as she had on their first date.
In the car, a little later, they were embracing and necking like two teenagers. Then Walter pulled away from her. "Maggie," he whispered. "I don't just want to make love with you. I've been giving it a lot of thought. Even though we've only known each other a short time, I know I'm more in love with you than with any other woman I've ever known, except for Janice, and this feeling even goes beyond that."
"I love you, too, Walter," she said, pulling him back to her, encouraging him to squeeze her until she couldn't breathe.
"Maggie, listen," he said. "I think we might---I mean, I want to marry you. Soon. I'm a lot older than you, but that doesn't really matter much in our case, except that I don't want to waste the time that we could be spending together."
"I would, Walter, but...." her voice trailed off. "I guess you'd like me to live in Boston?"
"Boston, New York, St. Thomas, anywhere you'd like to go."
"What about my art store?"
"You wouldn't lack for money, if that's what you're thinking about. I could even pay off your mortgage, and clear up your obligation to Elizabeth. You could sell Sam's Place. Perhaps Bernice would like---"
Maggie became a little angry. "Now, hold on, a minute," she said, her dark eyes flashing. "I do love you, Walter. But I need to spend more time with you, before I decide to marry you."
"When a woman says that, it means forget it, I think," he said sadly.
"No, Walter, no.... I want to marry you, at least, sometimes I think I do, and then, a strange feeling comes over me.... maybe it is from all my bad experiences. And as for my store, I'm not running it just because I need to make a living. I want to do it. I love it."
"Well, then," he said, brightening, "We'll get you a new store in the heart of Boston, where they're gentrifying a few city blocks. Sell this one to Bernice. Or maybe, you can start a small chain of Sam's Places. Maggie, I'm not a chauvinist pig. If you want to run an art store, that's fine, as long as I see you at home at night."
"I'm not sure about leaving behind all the people I know...."
"We'll come up here, often. We have to keep up with Sarah Teresa. But a change of scenery would do you good. And I want to protect you from---from anything that hurt you in the past."
"You can't protect someone from something that's already happened."
"What if you suspected it might happen again?"
"What, is Willie tired of Cellie and the baby? I think it would take far more provocation than a truckload of dirty diapers, to make Willie decide to return to his past activities." Maggie laughed, ruefully.
"Not him. I still don't care for him at all, but you're right, he's as harmless as a butterfly these days."
"You haven't identified the other man?" She sounded panicked, as if even she preferred not to know his identity. "Is he still around?"
"Not that I've been able to discover for certain, but you never know. Even without that hanging over our heads, Maggie, think about marrying me, please?" He kissed her again.
She smiled. "I will. I do think about it, a lot. Walter, when are you going to be back up here?"
"Well, I have a slightly messier case than usual coming up. But the payoff will be enormous, from the husband's side, if I'm successful. I'm ready to meet the challenge. I'd say by the end of next week."
"Maybe you'll get your answer by then."
Walter returned to Collinsport on schedule, but not in triumph. The attorney for the wife in the divorce case managed to drive a few salient points home to the judge, including the fact that the husband was keeping not just one mistress, as he'd confessed to Walter, but three. The judge, an upright, old-fashioned fellow, overlooked the wife's one affair with a young man who'd helped her dip into her husband's Swiss bank accounts. He awarded her the house, half of the family business, full custody of the children, and an outrageous amount of alimony. Walter was left with just a flat fee, for helping to negotiate and mitigate the settlement.
Consequently, Walter was not in the best mood when he stepped off the train. To make matters worse, the train had to bypass the tracks that led to Collinsport, due to repairs necessitated by a recent heavy rain. The train had stopped in Chartville, about twelve miles from Collinsport. Walter was slightly familiar with the place, at least the part where Lisarnold's Jewelry Emporium was located. He was irritated when he realized he'd have to pay a taxi driver to take him all the way to Collinsport Center.
While he endured the ride in the one ancient cab that was available, he thought about in some extra-curricular research he'd done in some of the oldest and finest libraries in Boston. He'd felt a little silly, at first, going through the section of the card catalogue that bore the heading, "Vampires-Vampire lore." But he was surprised at the amount of sensible, factual information he'd discovered.
He learned, for example, about many medical and psychological conditions that may have suggested the original concept of vampirism to both early and modern man. Chief amongst these ailments were Porphyria, Rabies, and Tuberculosis, all of whose sufferers exhibited either the behavioral anomalies of the classical vampire, or the physical symptoms of the classical vampire's victim. These conditions were further complicated by the perceptions and persecutions perpetrated on those who bore these ailments. Some of the most grotesque of these indignities, Walter read, were foisted on the victims of Tuberculosis.
He was astonished to discover that, as late as the early years of the twentieth century, the graves of these pathetic victims were frequently desecrated and the remains disarrayed. In one revolting case, the heart of one such unfortunate had been exhumed, cremated, and the ashes fed to her brother, in hopes of arresting the progress of his own disease. (The experiment was a failure, and the brother soon joined his sister in the family plot.)
Far more disturbing were the accounts of those with psychological conditions which provoked blood-drinking behavior. Some even took the behavior to the next level, choosing to rest in caskets during the day, and affecting to absurd customs of dress and personal identification. They were a good deal less subject to outside control than the disease victims, and were frequently harder to catch. Walter wasn't quite sure his brother-in-law was a real, two-hundred-year-old vampire. However, he may have been, at one time, so suggestible, hearing all those tales of his ancestors, and sick, perhaps from a hereditary disease, that he might have acted as a vampire.
At least, that's what Walter preferred to think. As for his son-in-law,it was clear, from all he'd heard about Willie's prior involvements with overbearing male figures, that the man was so simple-minded, he may simply have accepted Barnabas as being a vampire, without question.
Still, that left a lot of mysteries. Just what kind of anemia had Willie and Maggie suffered? Why had the records been stolen? If Barnabas was ill, he certainly exhibited no symptoms. Walter wondered just how his sister had come to meet her husband. Perhaps he'd presented himself for treatment, without telling anyone in his family. The treatment was, obviously, successful. (Still, Walter considered the possibility of a relapse.)
But that left the most obvious question. Just where had Barnabas been before 1967? Had he assumed a new identity because of earlier misdeeds he'd committed under the influence of his "disease"? Walter read through the material about fictional vampires. Some, like Dracula, were identified with vicious real-life figures, such as the brutal despot of Romania, Vlad Dracul, who gloried in impaling his enemies on tall stakes. Others, like Edith Wharton's tragic Brand sisters, were loosely based on the legends about T.B. victims. As for those not easily associated with real-life cases, or derived from previous fiction and legend, well.... There were some apochryphal accounts that couldn't be explained away.
Walter bore all this in his mind, as the taxi clunked down a rambling road. "This is the old road from Chartville," the taxi driver explained. "Not many folks come down this way, anymore, except stupid kids looking for a drag strip. But it's a couple of miles shorter than the new road, and you said you wanted to get to Collinsport quicker."
"Thanks, I guess," Walter replied, absently. He looked out the window. There were a few houses along the road, but the populated area ended about a mile before an old cemetery, bordered by a stone wall with a rusty iron gate, came into view. Beyond the cemetery rose a lofty hill, covered with magnificent old trees. The next brace of houses lay a mile beyond the cemetery.
"Not too much development around here," Walter commented.
"Lotta land around here belongs to the Collinses, including that cemetery. They won't sell as long as Mrs. Stoddard is alive. Not that many would buy around there, anyhow. That whole place is said to be haunted, by the old Collinses, and the older Indians."
"I guess they'd lose money on the deal, in the end."
"That and a hell of a lot more, or so they say."
"Is this just quaint talk for the tourists?"
"Not too many tourists come up this road. I do believe in some spooky stuff, if you must know. When I was a boy, me and some pals went into that boneyard on Halloween. We went way in, where the Collinses have this big old marble tomb built into the base of that there Eagle Hill. My pals left me in the dark for a joke. I almost died of fright, just from that. Then I saw a ghost."
"No, really. I did. At first, I heard a rustling of the dried leaves still on the trees. I thought it was that creepy old caretaker, Hinckley. He passed away a few years ago, but to hear him talk, back then, he was one of the dead way before that. Then I heard some kind of silly, tooting music, and I turned around. I saw this cute little girl, about my age, carrying what looked like a stick. Maybe it was a flute, you know, to play the tune. I couldn't see too good. She told me to stop crying, that she'd lead me away from what she called 'the bad place', the tomb, I guess. I didn't have a choice, so I followed her out to the road. Then I saw, like, white smoke, and she was gone. Just at that moment, my folks came driving by, looking for me. I guess the ghost knew they were coming."
"Did she tell you her name? Are you sure she was a ghost, or a figment of your imagination, or just a girl from the neighborhood?"
"She said her name was 'Sarah', no last name. She was dressed old-fashioned-like, and she couldn't have come from the neighborhood, because there was no neighborhood up this road, back then. I swear I saw her disappear into that white smoke. I always thought that, maybe, she died because she'd gotten lost in the cemetery, and that's why she felt sorry for me."
"Sarah. What a coincidence. My grand-daughter is named Sarah."
"It's a pretty name, and the girl I saw must have been a pretty kid. May your grand-daughter be so pretty."
"She is. But I certainly wouldn't let her near this place, and I'm sure her parents wouldn't, even when she's older." Especially her father, Walter thought.The mention of the Collins tomb planted an idea in Walter's mind. Maybe he'd come out here, tomorrow, to have a look around.
The taxi arrived at the Inn. In spite of the shorter distance they'd traveled, and the horribly bumpy ride in a vehicle with no shock absorbers, Walter gave the driver an extra-large tip. "I've seldom had a more entertaining, and informative taxi driver, and I've ridden with some of the best, down in Boston," Walter said, causing the driver to blush with pride. "Just do me a favor, though," he continued. "Use
some of this to fix those shocks. Your stories should be the most shocking thing about the ride."
* * * * * * * * * * *
With her last X-ray, Cellie's ribs had been pronounced healed, even though she still felt a hollow soreness from time to time.
As Dr. Hurley unwound the remaining bandages above the new, ugly Caesarean scar, she said, "It's a safe bet that all your internal repairs are healed, too, but you still should take it easy, no heavy lifting for another week or so, and then build up to it. The therapist will guide you. I realize, though, you might be interested in when you can resume relations with your husband."
"He sure is," Cellie grinned. "He's been congratulating himself about being so good at getting the baby to sleep for a few hours at a stretch, preparing himself for the Big Night."
"Well, put off the Big Night for a few more days," Dr. Hurley advised. "Get used to being without the added support of the bandages, and don't put pressure on the chest area right away."
Cellie left the examining room, and joined her husband, who was gently rocking the baby in her souped-up stroller. She led him out of the waiting room, and kissed him passionately. "Just a preview of coming attractions," she whispered.
"When will the attractions arrive, Cecily?" Willie asked.
"You just have to sweat it out for a few more days, hon," she replied. "But, wowie-zowie! You will be able to see the real me, without the mummy-wrap." She stopped, suddenly. That meant he'd finally get to see the scar, too. She'd been careful to conceal the eight-inch line with the grotesque puckered edges, during her convalescence, even when he helped her bathe. "Hey, I just got a neat idea," she said brightly. "Let's go down to Brewster's and help me pick out the sexiest nightgown they have, for the Big Night."
"Cecily, don't worry about the scar. I've seen it. I peeked while you were sleeping," Willie admitted. "It's not that bad, honest, and it will heal up more, that's what it said in the booklet Dr. Hurley gave me. In a year, it'll just be a big line."
"I won't be able to wear that itsy-bitsy teen-weeny bikini, anymore, though."
"So, I'll get you a nice one-piece bathing suit. That's what those girls wear for the Miss America contest, and they look pretty, to me, anyway. And so will you. I'll buy matching ones, for you and Sarah Teresa."
"In turquoise, right?"
"You must be a mind-reader, like the baby," he laughed. "Okay, if you really want a new nightgown, we'll go down to the store and see what they have."
They walked down the street, stopping every now and then so Cellie could rest. The baby began to cry. Cellie lifted her carefully, feeling the tiny arms and legs bumping into her ribs for the first time. "It feels good," she observed, "But maybe it's time to use that Swedish papoose-sling Maggie gave me."
There was a side-street, just before they reached Brewsters'. There were a lot of cars, and, surprisingly, many motorcycles, headed down the formerly quiet lane. "Wonder what that's all about?" Cellie asked. She peeked around the corner. "A new store! Oh, Will, let's go see!"
"If it's opening day, they'll probably be awful crowded, Cecily. Another day, when you're feeling better, and we can leave the baby home."
"Just for a few minutes, hon? If it's too wild, we don't even have to go in. I just want to see the place, at least."
Willie sighed. His wife was back in charge, that was clear. "Okay, but only for a minute, Cecily. I don't want to hang around too long, with all those bikers down there." He turned the stroller down the street.
The new store, operating out of a building that was formerly a garage, sported a garish sign that read "BuzzCycles, Inc." There were, indeed, quite a few shiny new motorcycles of every make, on display, out on the sidewalk, and Cellie could make out even more through the brand-new picture windows. The milling crowd was surprisingly well-behaved, and made up, for the most part, of men, and a few women, who appeared to be in their thirties. There were some wild-looking young bloods, wearing their "colors," but they affected a subdued attitude, probably for the benefit of the police who surveyed the crowd.
In the midst of this din, stood a tall man with dark curly hair, who looked like he was about thirty, decked out in the most elaborately-decorated leather jacket Cellie saw that day. At his side, was a thin woman with long, straight, dark hair, and two little boys, one with curly hair, and one with straight hair, all similarly attired. The oldest of the two boys couldn't have been more than four.
"Oh, Will, this is a family business!" Cellie exclaimed. "We should drop in."
"I wouldn't want a suicide machine, even if I could afford one."
"Maybe they can tell us where to get leather jackets like the ones they have. They're sexier than a nightgown."
Willie shook his head. "Can't afford those, either, Cecily. Come on, there's no point in hanging around a place where we can't buy anything, anyway." He turned the stroller around again, when he heard a man shout. He looked back.
The tall man, proprietor of the Cycle shop, trotted up the walk, followed by the woman and the children. "I know who you are, man! Don't be shy!" He called.
"Oh, God," Willie said. "Now I know why I don't feel like going down there. That's that biker Carolyn used to go with, around the time I came to town."
"Is he a bad biker, or a good biker?" Cellie asked.
"Oh, he's okay. He wasn't a hoody kind of biker, I guess. Just rough. But he wasn't my friend, or anything. I hardly even knew him."
In a minute the leather-clad family stood before them. "Yo, Willie. Man of the hour. And the lovely Missis and the little one. What an honor," the man said. "Hey, Roja, how's good old Carolyn doing these days?"
"What's 'roja' mean?" Willie asked.
His wife whispered, "I think he means my hair. It's Spanish for 'red'."
"Oh, yeah. I remember, now."
Cellie said, "Carolyn's just swell. How nice of you to ask. Who are you, anyway? I'm Cecily."
"I am the Buzz-man. Buzz Hackett, that is. And this is my lovely lady, Louise, and our two sidecars, Jeffy and Buzz, Jr." When he said the last name, he patted the smaller, curly-haired boy.
"Buzz, Jr.?" Cellie asked.
"Well, I couldn't go around calling him Alfred Carlyle Hackett, Jr." Buzz, Sr. shuddered. "I have the old image to maintain, here. On the other hand, I couldn't take him down to St. Ann's and tell the good Father to baptize him Buzz, Jr."
"That is a problem. Our, ah, sidecar, is named Sarah Teresa. Manoela. Hoffman. Loomis. Etcetera. Etcetera," Cellie giggled. The baby had a puzzled look on her face, as did her father.
"Now there's a mouthful," Louise said. "Cecily, do you remember me? I was one of the nurses in Intensive Care when you were brought in."
"Not really. I couldn't see too well, and I was out like a lightbulb most of the time."
"Well, I wasn't your main caretaker. I had my own patients, but I did relieve the nurses who had to take a break before they collapsed."
"I can't remember. Still, thank you for being there."
A boxy brown Dodge turned into the crowded lane. Louise watched it, and said to her husband, "Buzz, I just saw my parents drive down the street. I'm taking the boys down to see them. Nice to really meet you folks, finally." Louise took the little boys by the hands, and headed back to the store.
"Ah, my Louise," Buzz sighed. "Birds on the trees seem to whisper
Louise!" he called after her. "She loves that," he whispered.
"Buzz," Louise called back, "How many times have I told you not to sing that in public? Sheesh!' She shrugged her shoulders, and kept walking.
"I see you got your wife under control, too," Willie said.
"It's the other way around, bud. One must be careful around dear Louise. By day, she's Mrs. Hackett, devoted wife, mother, and nurse. By night, she's a black belt in Karate, and with the trophies to prove it. I kid you not."
"So, she's a nurse at Collinsport General?" Cellie asked. The longer she thought about it, the more she remembered; Louise's face had seemed familiar. "How did you meet her? Were YOU her patient?"
"Afraid so. See, after Carolyn gave me the old heave-ho, I started running with the Pirates, and I crashed. Louise was one of my nurses. The best-looking one. After I got better, I tried to get her to ride with me. I tried a little too hard, you might say. When I pulled on her hand, she turned me around. Literally. While I was lying on the sidewalk, she said she'd be my woman, but she would never ride. Since then, we both changed our minds about riding. She took to it like a duck to water, and I'd rather sell 'em than ride 'em, most of the time. We take the boys around, though."
"That's so neat," Cellie said. "I had a friend back in Boston, who gave me rides, and was teaching me, before I had to come here."
"What friend was that, Cecily?" Willie asked. He sounded irritated.
"Siobhan. My best girlfriend back in Boston, who also had the Ouija board. She wasn't a rebel," Cellie boasted. "She was a total anarchist."
"Stop talking like you think risking your neck is a fun thing to do on a slow Saturday afternoon," Willie said. "As if you haven't had enough of the hospital."
"Don't jump on your lady, man," Buzz advised. "I knew from the minute I saw her that she has the knack. She was born to run. Cecily, many are called, but few are chosen---for a chance at a leather jacket." He reached in his pocket, and pulled out a book of tickets, and a pencil. "Don't worry, Willie, no purchase necessary. Just a friendly promotional gesture. Just sign on the dotted line, Roja. And the phone number. Tomorrow, you may be a winner."
Cellie filled out the ticket, and handed the book back. "Oh, Will, don't look at me like that. If I win, I'll pick out a jacket in your size."
"No, that's okay. You'll be needing a new jacket anyway," Willie sighed.
"Hey, fight this out if you win, Roja. I have to get back to mind the store," Buzz said. "You guys coming down to check the merchandise?"
"Not today, but I know Cecily probably will, sometime," Willie replied. Another damn fad, he thought. He looked down at his daughter. If, by some chance, Cellie managed to scrape together enough money to buy a motorcycle, he'd put his foot down if she insisted on adding a sidecar for Sarah Teresa.
"Maybe...." Cellie said. She gauged her husband's level of irritation. It was about time for her to back off a little. "Hey, Buzz, before you go back, just where did Louise learn Karate?"
"At her Dad's self-defense studio. He teaches the fine art of kicking ass with respect, at the Orient-Occident Martial Arts Academy in Chartville."
Cellie thought about her occasional feelings of physical and mental weakness since her attack. She longed for a way to refuel her old feelings of self-confidence, especially with a big challenge still ahead of her. And what the Hell, she thought, it might even be fun. "It's something to consider," she said.
"We'll see what the doctor has to say about that," her husband admonished, sternly. "Come on, Cecily. We have to get to Brewster's and back. The baby's been outside too long as it is." This time, he turned the stroller firmly, and started walking back up the lane.
"The master calls, Roja." Buzz teased.
"He never lets me have any fun," Cellie complained, half-seriously.
"Hey, babe, he's just worried about you. That was a Hell of a thing you went through, worse than any spill I took off my Hog, or any fighting I ever did. I hope you don't think nurses just run home and gossip about their patients, but when you were laid low, Louise would come home, and cry, talking about it."
"I'm sorry. I've been so boxed-in, that I forget my situation created problems for people outside of my immediate family."
"Don't sweat it, Roja. It wasn't your fault. It's all part of a nurse's day. But I have to tell you---don't take this the wrong way, okay, but only thinking about your own stuff is just a kid thing, for you. You'll grow out of it pretty soon. Take it from me. I was the biggest kid going, until I got tied up with Louise, and the boys came."
"I think about other people, all the time," she protested. "Always helping them, and crying for them and then, to be hurt by someone I would have liked to help--- I'm just tired of it. I have to take care of myself, or else I won't have the strength to get back to the helping and the crying and---and everything." Tears filled her eyes.
"Okay, okay, babe. I understand. Maybe you should try the O.O.M.A.A." (Buzz prounounced it, "Ooh-Mah.") "I'll have Louise's Dad call your doctor and explain the program," Buzz offered.
"Yes, please.... if I can't have a bike, I can at least have a killer kick," Cellie sighed. "Thanks for everything, Buzz-man."
"You'll be back," he predicted. "And, I wouldn't have said this while Louise was here, even though she knows about my old girlfriends, but you tell Carolyn to take care of herself. Tell her I don't have any more hard feelings. I know she was just really bugged back then. So was I. But I'm doing okay, and I sure hope she's okay, after all the crap that came her way."
"She is. And you be careful, too."
"Only when Louise comes home from giving her Karate class. One more thing, Roja .... Always remember---Harley Rules!"
Cellie trudged up the hill. She headed toward Brewsters'. Willie and the stroller were nowhere to be seen. She thought he'd headed back to the station wagon in his anger. She didn't know why she constantly felt compelled to provoke him like that. Screw the Harleys, the Karate lessons, even the leather jacket, she thought. She stared at the raffle ticket stub in her hand. She was tempted to throw it away. Instead, she stuffed it into the bottom of her purse, and sat, with some discomfort, on the steps of a vacant store. She began to cry, hanging her head, her face draped by her hair.
"Princess, what's the matter? Why are you out on the street? Where the Hell is that husband of yours?"
Cellie looked up. "Daddy!" She cried, while rising slowly. Walter put his arms around her. She wept, "We had a fight, I guess, without really fighting. He went off with Sarah Teresa. I don't know if he went into the store, or if he wentback to the car."
"I don't care what his problem is, he shouldn't have left you at all. And if he's angry, should you even trust him with that baby?"
"He wouldn't hurt her, Daddy. I think he was afraid I might."
"That's crazy! You, hurt your own baby?"
"Well, see, it all started when I dragged him down to look at a motorcycle store. And before you know it, I'm talking about leather jackets, and Karate lessons and---"
"Karate lessons? I think that's wonderful, Cecily. By all means, if the doctor says you can, go ahead and do it. All the women I've ever heard of that take those lessons can't say enough good things about them. It'll sharpen your mind, as well as your reflexes. If Loomis won't cough up the money for the lessons, I will."
"Thank you, Dad," Cellie said. She kissed him on the cheek.
"As for motorcycles, though, Princess, I hate to say anything to shoot you down, but I'm afraid I have to agree with my son-in-law, for once. They're awfully dangerous, even with helmets, and all the protective gear they can come up with. You know what I heard they call motorcycle accident victims at the hospital? 'Donors'."
"Well, I haven't even had a ride on one since I left Boston, and I almost ended up a 'donor' anyway. Since I survived all that, maybe nothing would happen to me."
"That doesn't count, Cecily. Lightning can strike twice in the same place...." Walter became lost in his own thoughts for a minute. Lightning striking twice....
"Dad, what are you scared of?" Cellie received a strong jolt of blue-violet fear from her father.
"Scared? I'm not scared, honey. What ever gave you that idea?"
"It's hard to explain...."
"I AM annoyed, at your husband. Where is he?"
Willie struggled to push the stroller through the glass door of Brewster's. A large shopping bag hung from his wrist. Cellie instinctively broke from her father's embrace to help her husband. She even helped him ease the large stroller down the three steep marble steps. "How did you get this up the steps in the first place?" she asked.
"An older lady who recognized us from the newspapers. It's the only nice thing about being famous." Willie still looked a little irritated, but Cellie could tell he wasn't really mad anymore. He bent to kiss her, and shoved the bag in her hands. He said, "You'd better check it out while we're still here, in case you want me to return it. They won't take it if it's been, uh, 'road-tested', if you know what I mean."
While Cellie peeked into the bag, Walter spoke angrily. "You abandon my daughter on a street corner, and run off with my grand-daughter, and then you have the nerve to spring a present on Cecily, as if nothing bad happened, or could have happened?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Hoffman. We had a disagreement."
"Disagreement, my ass! I found her, crying on a stoop like an orphan."
"She wasn't alone, before. She was talking to the cycle-shop owner. I wanted to bring Sarah Teresa where it was warm, and I just went on to the store, where we were all headed anyway, before Cecily got the urge to check out the Harleys."
"Okay. I was wrong. But that's how it is when I get steamed. I have to get away, before I really say something or do something."
"What about the baby?"
"She's okay. I would never do anything to her." Willie picked up his daughter, who rested easily on his shoulder. "She helps keep me straight, like her Mom." He stepped near his wife, and looked into the bag with her. "Is that what you wanted?" he whispered.
"Exactly." She put her arm around him, anchoring her finger on his beltloop.
"What, did you blow the formula money on a leather jacket, to kiss up to her?" Walter demanded.
"If you have to know, Dad, it's a peignoir set." Cellie held the bag open. "See? Turquoise blue." She patted her father's cheek. "Everything's cool again. You know, we're spending this weekend at the Cottage. Why don't you and Maggie come up for Sunday dinner tomorrow?"
"It's not going to strain you, is it, Princess?"
"No, Will does the hard stuff. I just garnish, and I'm baking, and making the salad. We'll be ready about one-thirty."
"Alright. Even if Maggie can't make it, I'll be there."
Walter rose early the next morning. As he looked through his suitcase, seeking something casual to wear for the little expedition he had planned, the phone rang. He answered it quickly, in case it was Maggie calling to tell him she couldn't make it later. Instead, it was Cellie, squealing with excitement.
"I won, I won, I won!" She yelped.
"Won what, Honey? A lottery? Free karate lessons?"
"An official 'BuzzCycles, Inc.' leather jacket!"
"Are you sure Buzz didn't just give it to you?"
"He swore he let his sons pick the ticket. His oldest kid is four years old!"
"Well, that's nice, Princess. Now you'll have something to wear to Karate class."
"Still coming later, Dad?"
"I'll be there with bells on," he replied. "I have a little errand to run this morning, but I'll be there on time. Maggie said she'd drive up there directly, because she has to leave early, tonight. Is the baby up?"
"Since six this morning. Want to say 'hi'? Will, hold the baby to the phone."
Walter heard soft rustling sounds, and gurgling. He felt a little silly, talking on the phone to a nine-week-old infant. "Hello, Sarah Teresa. Grandpa loves you. He'll see you later." Then he heard her soft cooing.
Cellie's voice came on. "You should see the smile on this kid's face."
"You should see the smile on mine."
"I will, later. Love you, Dad."
"I love you, honey."
After he hung up, Walter wondered why he felt so nervous. He tried to shake it off. He went down to the coffee shop, the same one Maggie had worked in, years ago. To hear her tell it, little had changed except the curtains. "I'd bet they're still using the last pot of coffee I ever made," she'd joked, the last time they were there.
"Yes, they cultured it in the dusty old cabinet under the counter, and it cloned itself. It's like drinking molasses," Walter had replied. They'd both laughed. "But, honest, you make swell coffee, sweetheart, I swear," he'd whispered, when Maggie poked him in the ribs.
He almost couldn't wait to see her---an intense longing had come over him, to drive up to Ellsworth, and take her out, before they went to Abijah's Cottage, instead of going on his "errand.". Again, Walter shook off a sudden feeling of apprehension. He chided himself. He was just going to be out for an hour or so, in broad daylight.
As he sat, lost in thought, sipping the atrocious, but stimulating coffee, Lester Arliss entered the coffee shop and sat beside him.
" 'Morning, Mr. Hoffman. How's it going?"
"Nowhere fast," Walter replied. "How are you?"
"Oh, just getting along, you know? Have you seen your daughter and--and your son-in-law yet?"
"I'll be seeing them later. Want to send along a message?"
"No, not really." The deputy looked glum. "Just between you and me, are they getting along okay?"
"I guess. They had a spat yesterday, though, when I first came to town."
"But they got over it, right? They're really devoted. You should have seen Cellie when she came to see Willie in jail. I felt so sorry for both of them, even if it happened that he did knock off Melinda. And then, when he found out she was hurt.... It was like a piece of him just--just died, I guess. Only that Greek fellow could prop him up."
"You like them a lot, then?"
"I did like Willie, a little, when I saw how miserable he got when he was so worried about his wife. As for Cellie.... um, she's a very special person. And the baby is an angel."
"Well, Lester---can I call you Lester? Circumstances change every day. Maybe you've heard, I'm a divorce lawyer. I've seen seemingly unbreakable bonds split wide open, including my own, if you must know."
"What are you getting at?"
"Just this. It's never too late for things to go your way. You just have to find an open window."
"I will not be responsible for someone's marriage breaking up. If Cellie stays married to Willie for the next sixty years, then I'll just have to learn to live with it. Maybe I'll get over it."
"Don't worry, Lester. You won't be the one responsible for breaking up that marriage. Both of them, especially my son-in-law, will accomplish that chore by themselves, quite thoroughly."
"Please don't talk like that. It's bad luck, and I'm enough of a Collinsporter to believe in bad luck, at least."
Walter rose, and paid his bill. "I believe we all make our own luck, Lester. Well, I have to get going. I have a little errand up Chartville way."
Walter jumped into his rented car, and drove up the old Chartville Road. The early October sun shone brightly on the rapidly shedding trees that covered Eagle Hill, now visible in the distance. There was a wide, still-grassy verge along the road, near the cemetery gate. Walter left the car unlocked, in case he had to jump into it quickly again. He carried a flashlight. To hear the cabbie tell it, one could walk into part of that tomb. Perhaps it was dark inside. At any rate, the
heavy metal casing of the flashlight would make an effective weapon, just in case....Walter had heard enough frightening stories of visitors to cemeteries around Boston, attacked, robbed, and sometimes killed by assailants who were seldom, if ever, caught.
He explored the main part of the cemetery. He always wondered why the oldest graves always seemed to be spaced so widely apart, while the stones from the 1830's to around the 1880's were clustered so closely together. It looked as though those who chose the gravesites had the idea that they were running out of space, and yet they'd never think of filling the gaps between the old graves. To his surprise, he saw several newer graves, including Maggie's father's grave. He didn't know her mother was buried there, as well. Sam's name was still solitary on the stone.
It was warm in the sun. Walter walked into the sparse shade of a fat oak tree which grew in a far corner of the cemetery. He noticed a tarnished plaque nailed to the tree. The bark grew around it in a grotesque ridge. He read the inscription:
Here lyes buryed ye bodyes of
Arabella Collins and her Infant Sonne
b. 1623 b. Decembre ye 3rd, 1642
d. Marche ye 16, 1642/3
So, this was the Arabella Siske Collins Barnabas was referring to. Walter wondered why the two unfortunates had been memorialized in this manner. Like his daughter, he pondered the possibility that the two "bodyes" had long since been incorporated into that tree.
Looking toward Eagle Hill from the tree, he could see the Collins family tomb clearly. He struck out, swinging his flashlight. The distance wasn't as great as it appeared. There was something about the air quality, a kind of mistiness that permeated much of the cemetery, even on a sunny day, that seemed to distort one's spatial perception. Perhaps there was a swamp nearby. Walter imagined how much worse the mist must be at night.
Well, he certainly didn't intend to be here that long. He glanced at his watch, and read, "10:30." He doubted he'd find a reason to stay beyond 11:00.
He approached the tomb hesitantly. His heart began to pound, and he began to sweat. "God, please, don't let me have a heart attack or a stroke out here," he prayed, aloud. He became calmer, as he climbed the marble steps to the wrought-iron grillework gate. The gate swung open, noisily but easily.
The interior was somewhat dim, lit, as it was, from the shaded angle of the gate, and from one small iron-grilled window. Walter turned on the flashlight.
For a place that was supposed to be haunted, the scene was innocuous enough. Three marble sarcophagi, uniform in size, stood in a row. There was a vase standing on one of them, containing the dried remains of flowers. Walter wondered who had brought it.
The names of the tomb's occupants were engraved on marble plaques attached to the wall, behind the crypts. The first, to the left, belonged to Joshua Collins, the middle one to his wife, Naomi, and the last, to a Sarah Collins. From the dates on her plaque, Walter noted that she was eleven when she died, in 1796. So this was the family of Barnabas's ancestor. This Sarah must have been the girl whom the taxi driver thought he saw when he was a boy. Apparently he'd never been back to learn more about the tomb or its occupants.
Each plaque had an unusual decoration, a brass lion's head, with a ring protruding from its mouth. Each one, except the middle lion, whose mouth was empty. Walter trained the light on the rings. There was something familiar about them. Then he realized---the elaborately chased rings matched the one he'd found in the cellar at the Old House. He examined the empty-mouthed lion's head. There was, indeed, a fragment of chain sticking out of its jaws. Neither of the other rings were attached to chains.
Walter began to speculate; the mausoleum was built into the hill. That shouldn't have been necessary; all of its occupants were buried in this front room. Or were they? He wondered about the purpose of that chain. He wondered what would happen if he could pull on it, somehow. He had no wrench with him---wait a minute! Maybe there was a wrench with the tire-changing equipment that came with the car.
Walter ran back to the car, and opened the trunk. Sure enough, there was a sturdy-looking wrench, that could be screwed tight to an iron grip. He carried that back to the mausoleum. He tried to fix it to the chain. The wrench was so heavy, it fell off twice before he was able to get a good grip on the few remaining links. He yanked on it with all his might.
There was a dull groan as the heavy marble door opened. Walter held up his flashlight, and peeked inside. What he saw almost made him lose his breakfast.
There was, as he expected, a coffin, a rather old one, resting on a marble catafalque in the middle of the room, a candlelabrum at its head. But that didn't cause Walter's nausea. It was what lay on the floor, near the coffin.
A small gardening trowel glinted in Walter's flashlight beam. This drew his attention to some small marble tiles which had been pulled from the floor, seemingly in a hurry, from the looks of them. He illuminated some small, white pieces of what, at first, appeared to be chalk, mixed with the exposed dirt, some of which had been thrown across the tiles. As Walter came down the marble-brick steps, and approached the "chalk" pile, he realized that what he was looking at wasn't chalk.
In the disturbed earth, he could make out the form of a skull, with traces of dessicated flesh still clinging to it (rather like a mummy's head), as well as a few tufts of black hair. Walter stared, fascinated, even though he retched violently every few minutes. The remains were partly wrapped in what appeared to be fragments of an old curtain. Walter thought he recognized the brocade; the pattern was strikingly similar to the new drapes on the front window at the Old House.
He wondered who this unfortunate person was. He thought, upon closer examination of what he
could see of the skeleton's garments, that this had been a man. Obviously, it hadn't tumbled from the casket above.
He turned his attention to the coffin. He decided to check it out. What the Hell, he thought, if he'd survived looking at a rotted body, whatever was in that ancient-looking box couldn't be any more shocking or frightening. He lifted the lid, which was surprisingly heavy. He steeled himself to face the sight of a skeleton.
The casket was empty, except for a set of thick chains piled inside. Walter lowered the lid again. He sat on the brick steps, inside of the secret room, shaking his head. He no longer knew what to make of the situation, now that he'd found a body. It didn't take much guesswork, as far as he was concerned, to figure out who was responsible for it's being there.
The more he thought about it, the more he came to believe that Barnabas had, indeed, been in the grip of the hideous delusion of being a vampire. The fellow in the old curtain was, undoubtedly, one of his early victims. And, Walter supposed, his son-in-law must have had a hand in the disposal, if not the actual commision of the crime. Barnabas was such a fastidious fellow, Walter half-believed that he wouldn't get Julia pregnant unless he could do it with a long-distance phone call. He couldn't imagine his meticulous brother-in-law wielding a shovel, even to dispose of his dirty work.
Walter jumped off the brick steps quickly, and went back to examine the skeleton. As he lifted the trowel to push away a little more dirt, and, hopefully, uncover some trace of the man's identity, he heard a creaking noise. He turned, and ran up to the door, which closed with a sickeningly final-sounding thud.
He searched frantically for some way to open the door, but it had sealed tightly, flush to the surrounding wall. He thought about secret panels and hidden latches. He jiggled a dozen bricks on the steps. He had some hope, when he saw a whitish smear on a brick that he'd sat on, shortly before, but it wouldn't budge. He even tried shouting for help, but he quickly realized how futile, and exhausting, that was. Finally, he sat on the steps again. For the first time since he was a young soldier in a foxhole, heavy machine-gunfire ricocheting around him so loudly he could barely hear the report of the gun he himself was firing, he began to pray for help.
* * * * * * * * * * *
It had been a quiet morning at Abijah's cottage. Sarah Teresa had, indeed, risen early, and her parents with her, of course. But she was full of cheerful little noises, and even fell asleep on her own, when her father had put her down for a short nap, around ten, after the phone call. This weekend was the first the family was spending completely on its own, without the readily-available assistance of the Collinses, Janice, and Mrs. Johnson. They had all, with the exception of Roger (of course), offered to come and help out, especially since Barnabas and Julia had decided to stay on in Boston for a few extra days, and Willie had the added responsibility of checking the Old House. The Loomises refused the help, determined to learn to get along like any other family.
After the unpleasantness of the previous afternoon, Cellie felt she was back on track with her husband. Willie told her he'd decided to "allow" her to take the Karate lessons as soon as she was completely well. He congratulated her on winning the leather jacket (although he, like Walter, suspected the "contest" was rigged to allow his wife to win.) Cellie, in turn, intended to keep her promise to get a jacket in his size. She wore some of Willie's clothes anyway, so she figured it was only right to share.
She was still wearing the bright blue peignoir set he'd bought her, while she went around, caring for the baby, and finishing up the baking she'd started the night before. He walked up behind her, running his hands up and down her hips, and told her how hot she looked in it, even with an apron tied over it. "Just get back to peeling those potatoes, if you want your favorite casserole," she said, giggling.
They and their dinner were ready when Maggie arrived at one. Unfortunately, Sarah had awakened, fussing, around eleven-thirty, and even though Cellie and Willie had managed to get everything together while taking turns at comforting her, she was sobbing and sniffling even as her God-mother took her in her arms.
"A little colic this early in the game?" Maggie asked. "Well, I'm an old hand at baby-walking. When I was a teenager, I was always in demand as a baby-minder for the hardest cases. The parents knew I wouldn't give up until the job was done." She got to work immediately, pacing around the house, jiggling the infant a little, crooning to her. Sarah Teresa quieted down a bit, but when Maggie stopped, wearily, to hand her back to Willie, she began to squall, a piercing, scary shriek.
"Oh, my God," Cellie said. "Will, what could be wrong with her? She's fed, her diaper pin didn't come loose, she doesn't have a fever."
"I don't know, Cecily. Maybe we'll have to take her to the emergency room." At that, the baby calmed down again, sobbing quietly.
"This day is turning into a nightmare," Cellie said, tearfully. "Geez," she said, looking at the kitchen clock. "I just realized, it's almost two, and my Dad hasn't shown up yet. He's usually ahead of schedule. I'll bet he could have gotten the baby to rest. I hope his rented car didn't break down."
"He's only twenty minutes late, my girl. Maybe by the time he shows up, the baby will be better. We'll give it fifteen more minutes, before we take the baby to the doctor." He turned to Maggie. "I'm sorry today turned out like this. I swear, Sarah Teresa was fine until half-past eleven. And Cecily called her Dad, about ten."
Cellie said, in a dazed voice, "He said he was okay, and that he'd be here. Maggie, if you're hungry, we'll get you a plate of food right now, while we're waiting."
"I'm no hungrier than you are, at this point, Cellie. I don't get it. If he had car trouble, you'd think he'd call to let us know. Maybe," she continued, her own voice breaking now, "he's had an accident, and he can't call."
Cellie became more nervous, even a little spacey, Maggie thought. She began to whimper, "Blue-violet. I see blue-violet. The baby sees it too...."
"Cellie, what does that mean?" Maggie asked, her panic rising.
"She just gets like that when she's upset," Willie answered. "I'm going to take her into our room to lie down. Give a holler if her Dad shows up." He took his wife by the hand, and took her and the baby upstairs, to the small master bedroom. He laid Cellie down, covered her with the comforter, and handed her the baby. Cellie clutched Sarah to her breast, and cried.
"Dad's in trouble, I know it. He's scared. I can feel it. He's never been this scared in his life."
"Cecily, listen to me. I'm going to call the hospital first, and the sheriff. If there's no answer by three, I'll go look for him myself, okay?"
"Yes, hon. I'm sorry. I hope it turns out to be much ado about nothing, but I feel the fear, and I know the baby does."
Willie pulled her close to him. "You try to take it easy, now," he said. He went out to make the calls.
Walter wasn't at the hospital, and they hadn't sent out an ambulance to any accident sites in a week. Willie called the sheriff's office. To his relief, Lester Arliss answered. Willie still felt intimidated by Sheriff Beardsley, even though the Sheriff assured him that his past trouble was water under the bridge, as far as Beardsley was concerned.
"Willie," Lester said, a hint of uneasiness in his voice. "What's the problem? Somebody bothering you and--and Cellie again?"
"No, nothing like that, Les. It's just that, we were expecting my father-in-law for Sunday dinner, and he's almost an hour late. According to Cecily, that's very unlike him. I already buzzed the hospital, and he's not there. You haven't got any reports of accidents in the past hour or so, have you?"
"No. That's odd. You know, I saw Walter this morning, myself, at the Inn's coffee shop."
"Did he seem okay to you? I'm thinking, maybe he pulled over somewhere because he felt sick, maybe with a heart attack. He's that age."
"No, he was fine. A little jazzed, maybe, but he didn't look sick."
"What do you mean, 'jazzed'?"
"He was full of enthusiasm, I guess you'd say. He said he had to run an errand in Chartville."
"Chartville? I didn't know he was familar with Chartville, except for Lisarnold's store, and the train station there."
"Well, that's where he said he was going. Say, Willie, I'll tell you what. I'll call around in Chartville, and if he doesn't turn up, I'll head out there, and look around, myself, as soon as Hanson comes on in a half-hour. I know the regs say twenty-four hours for a missing person, but I always say, the early bird catches the worm. And it is Cellie's Dad. If she thinks something's happened to him, it's good enough for me."
"Thanks, Les. Who knows? We might run into each other, out there.
I promised my wife I'd go out and search, in a while."
After he hung up, Willie reported back to Cellie, and went out to sit with Maggie on the small sofa in the parlor. He reached over, and patted her hand. "It's Hell, waiting."
"It seems like everything we do boils down to this waiting, waiting, waiting," she sighed. She stared out the front window. The afternoon sun hung low in the sky, creating shadows all around, but piercing in its own brightness. Its beam shone directly into the parlor. "I forgot how early the sun goes down in the autumn.
I hope he's found---I mean, I hope he turns up before it's dark." She blinked back tears.
"You really love him, don't you?"
"Yes. I don't think I ever knew anyone who makes me feel the way he does. Safe. And now, he's not safe. And all I can do for him, is wait." She was crying now. "Damn, I hate waiting. Waiting for something to happen. And always, it's something bad, something that only the darkness can bear to witness."
Willie put his arm around her. "Sh-sh, Maggie." Her ramblings were approaching a point he'd rather not have her reach. He thought and thought. Why had Walter gone to Chartville? The only places Walter knew out there, as he'd told Lester, were the train station, and Lisarnold's Jewelry Emporium. Then, a horrible thought came to him. He knew that his father-in-law didn't like Barnabas, and that Walter wasn't above having anyone investigated the way he had Willie checked out. What if he'd had that detective--- what was his name? Simons, that's what Cecily told him--- what if Walter had Simons try to crack open Maggie's case by investigating Barnabas? And what if Walter wasn't in
Chartville, but on the Chartville road---the old Chartville road?
He rose. "I'm through waiting. Lester mustn't have found him, so I'd better get out there." He headed up the stairs to tell his wife, when he heard her panicky yell.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Walter had just gone through another session of searching for an exit. He knew there just had to be a secret panel, a hidden button, anything---after all, whoever had buried that body would have had to do it with the door shut, in order to avoid the inquisitiveness of the late caretaker. He rested again, and looked at his watch. Two o'clock already! Cecily and Maggie must be worried, he thought. He was always one to be at least ten minutes early, no matter what kind of appointments he had to keep, even the most distasteful. His insistence on promptitude at the courthouse for his clients as well as himself, was sometimes all he needed to convince a judge of the sincerity of his cause.
His mind rambled on, thinking about the investments he'd made to match the paltry college fund his daughter and her husband had started for Sarah Teresa. When he got back to Boston, he would have to talk to his brokers about setting up a similar fund for Ernest's coming child. Grandfatherhood became him well, he thought. He wished his own father had lived to see Ernest grow up, and to know about Cecily.
He remembered his mother, dead almost eight years. She'd always made such a fuss over the children, especially Cecily. Muriel wasn't the warmest parent, although he knew she loved him and her "little late-life dividend," as she called Julia. (Julia, he thought, had taken after their mother in some respects, being a little cold and remote, until recently.) But when Walter brought Cecily to see her grandmother, Muriel tolerated levels of activity and inanity she hadn't even enjoyed with Ernest. Cecily was always on her lap, at her side in the garden, poking through steamer trunks with her in the attic, looking over mementoes of Scotland and Germany.
Walter hoped he could be the same kind of grandparent to Sarah. Amazing how he'd come to love that baby, after the dreadful things he'd said, and thought, about Cecily's pregnancy. Amazing how his daughter had forgiven him, especially after he'd threatened to force her to undergo an abortion. He was glad she'd stood her ground, a true Fraser, defending her castle as the English invaders stormed up the hill....
Of course, it was easier, these days, to be a kinder, gentler man, since he'd met Maggie. His life was almost perfect, being a good Grandpa during the day, and being good to Maggie at night (while feeling not at all grandfatherly.) He'd missed her terribly over the last week, with the intensity rising every day. He remembered, that's why he'd come to this place, to find out what had happened to her, to help her relieve the frustration he knew she felt because she couldn't
remember much about what had happened to her during those weeks. Even if it was too late to punish anyone (Walter no longer had any intention of punishing Willie; the man had been punished enough, and Maggie wouldn't have approved, anyway), he believed she would have no true peace of mind until he played the hero and presented her with the truth.
The truth. The truth was that he would never leave this Hell-hole. The truth was that he would never see Maggie, or Cecily, or Sarah, or Ernest, or Julia again. He would never see Boston again, or the courtroom where he was, semi-affectionately, known as "Walter the Red". He would never take Maggie for a stroll through the gentrified neighborhood he'd told her about. He would never hold her again, and he would never take her to bed. He wondered if she would ever recover from his absence; if she would want to marry anyone else, or even see anyone else. At first, the thought of her pining away for him gave him a kind of satisfaction. Then he came to his senses again. He had worked too hard to loosen her up, to make her laugh, to get her to confide in him, to become, for the short time they'd known each other, the way she must have been before all her troubles had begun.
He began to weep, for the first time since he'd heard about Cecily's near-fatal assault. Tears never came easily to him, until recently. He was too much his mother's son in that way, he supposed. His father, August, had been the emotional one in the house, and Walter recalled times when he'd been embarrassed at his father's tears of joy, as well as sorrow. August had cried as much at his son's graduation from Harvard as he had during his parents' funerals. He cried at his grandson's christening. Of course, by then he was quite ill, and he was dead within a year. Walter was sad, then, but he didn't cry, not even with restrained sobs and sniffles like his mother. He was too busy, being angry at Julia and her twerpy ex-boyfriend, whose name he could no longer remember....
Walter wept for the lost years, being so busy building his success, he'd ignored the needs of his wife, his pretty Janice, whom he'd convinced to give up the rest of her college education to be his suburban hausfrau. Remorseful tears, for the time he'd left her for Madeline, and Janice had been reduced to such a level of dependency on tranquilizers as a result, that he'd consented to send his daughter to this alien place. Painful regret for the times he should have spent playing and talking with Ernest, encouraging him to be a little bolder. He grieved for the time he was about to lose with his daughter and grand-daughter. He was going to lose them to Barnabas, the author of so much misery for Maggie, and Willie, and that fellow lying in the dirt, and who-knows-who-else....
"What the devil kind of a thing is that for a man such as yourself to be doing? Weeping and sniveling about your situation like a damned baby? Like that twice-damned Willie? As if carrying on about what ye can't change, will fix things."
Walter lifted his head, and looked around. He looked at his watch. "Three o'clock," he thought, "I haven't been in here long enough to start hallucinating." He said this last, aloud.
"Oh, no, ye're not hallucinating, I'm so sorry to say," the voice answered, dripping with contempt, in a light Irish brogue.
"Who are you?" Walter called. "Are you a Collins? Are you that body---that fellow, buried in here?" He trained his flashlight beam on the skull, which appeared to be filling out with flesh, and more of that polished dark hair. The face wore a sardonic smirk. As Walter watched in increasing horror, the body seemed to rise up from its narrow bed, struggling against the cord which held the rotting curtain around its limbs.
"Damn that Willie," the "corpse" said. "If only he had stayed out of here in the first place, years ago, neither of us would be in this predicament. As it is, he was, ye might say, paying his respects a few months ago, and went a bit wild with that dinky shovel. Knocked the old bones around. Turned out, though, he was looking for someone else. Someone named Cecily. At least, he kept whimpering that name, while he disturbed my hard-earned rest."
"He--he what? What did he do here? Why would he think Cecily--- Who are you, anyway? You knew Willie?"
"I'm ashamed to say I did. I was his friend, his mentor, his spiritual father, almost, until he found a substitute---"
"You're Jason McGuire? The one who, I've heard, was trying to blackmail Elizabeth Stoddard?"
"Now, now, 'blackmail' is a harsh word, stranger. I was merely receiving back-pay for services rendered. And don't speak about my former fiancée ! Her refusal to understand my methods and motives still sears my soul."
"You had a considerable list of allegations against you, at the time of your, ah, departure. It's hard to believe Elizabeth would even CONSIDER such an alliance!"
"Why shouldn't she have married me, stranger? I was worthy enough, in looks as well as brains. As I said, it was all a huge misunderstanding. But that was nothing, compared to the misunderstanding I had later, first with my former friend, Willie, and that possessive boss of his."
"Barnabas. I already figured he was responsible for you're being here."
"Ah, ye're acquainted with the estimable 'curmudgeon', the long-lost 'cousin' of dear Elizabeth, the 'redeemer' of Willie, the 'keeper' of dear Maggie Evans.... I could go on and on. The way things are going for ye, I'd say I could go on and on, indefinitely. God knows, you'll still be here."
"He did take Maggie prisoner, then!" Walter said, angrily. "What was he doing with her?"
"Oh, so ye know the lady. Having fantasies of avenging her misfortunes? Well, you can forget it, stranger. Even if, perhaps, there was some way for ye to escape this tomb, I can promise you, you'll never be able to come up against Barnabas Collins, alone, and survive. I know. I tried. Willie warned me, but I'd had it up to here, with the whiny, whimpering ways he took to, once Barnabas got his, shall we say, 'teeth' into him. And the bastard wouldn't, or maybe couldn't, help me, either. I'll never forget the way his mouth hung open, as he stood and watched that unnatural beast choke the life out of me!"
"Unnatural beast? What the Hell does that mean?"
"I mean, the reason Willie, and Maggie, and those girls, and those animals, got so sick from loss of blood. I mean, the reason Barnabas kept that coffin in his basement, until a couple of years ago. I mean, the reason I'm here. And I'll be glad to tell ye, stranger, but on one condition."
"First, ye have to understand the circumstances of my presence here. I'm bound to this room. I can keep track of time, but it's a means of torture, as my spirit can't be free. The only time I find out anything new, is when someone enters this room. So far, everyone who has come in here since my untimely demise, either managed to get out before I had an opportunity to even discuss my unhappy situation, or was totally unsuitable, like that brat David, or your dear Maggie Evans."
"So there's a way out. And you know it. And in return, you want a ride out of here, on my back."
"Not on your back, thank you. Inside your heart, and your mind. That's the only means of escape available to me."
"You would possess me? And then, what?"
"Why, I'd leave ye be, the instant we were out the door. I vow and swear, ye'd never be troubled with me again."
A young girl's voice rang out. "He lies! He lies! He would be inside you, and never let you go!" A white mist formed in the air, between Walter and McGuire's corpse. A small girl in a long white dress and a ruffled cap soon stood before the lawyer.
"Who are YOU, now?" Walter's fear, which had been held in abeyance while he distracted himself by questioning McGuire's ghost, returned in full force. Perhaps, more time had gone by than he believed, and he was really dying. That's why he was hearing these voices, and seeing these visions.
"I am Sarah. My time here is short. Another life depends on me, now."
"You're the girl the cabdriver saw! And I'll bet you're the girl who went around, a few years back, who knew where to find Maggie. You're the 'princess' my daughter named her baby after. The one whose christening Barnabas attended, two centuries ago."
"I'm Cecily's friend, and Maggie's, and Julia's. So, even though you are a nosy, foolish man, I have to help you, because they love you, and you really do love them. 'Specially Maggie. If you don't come back to her, she will be sad and lonely like she was before, if she even lives that long. But there's a condition."
"That you tell no-one about what you've discovered today."
"That's easy enough. I'll keep my mouth shut forever, if it means getting out of here."
"Don't listen to her, stranger. If ye take me up on my offer, I'll do what I promised. No conditions necessary!" McGuire's ghost sounded frantic. "I'll even help ye get even with Barnabas!"
The girl spoke again. "You must listen to me, and decide. You think it will be easy to keep the secret? Do you know how many have learned the secret and tried to keep quiet? Most of them ended up trying to tell. The ones who were believed, paid with their lives. The ones who weren't, were thought crazy. Even I paid the price of learning about my brother, and he didn't have to do anything to me. He loved me, and according to the curse, that was enough. Even though there is no more curse, the danger still exists. Those who know, now, have their own reasons for keeping the secret, and are loyal."
"But Barnabas has to pay for what he did!" Walter shouted.
"That is for GOD to decide, not YOU. He has tried to make amends, to Maggie and Willie, and the rest. Your sister loves him. Let them be, for the time they may have together. Now, make your decision. As I said, I must not be away too long."
Walter said, "I'm going with Sarah. Sorry, McGuire. Better luck next time."
"Ye'll be the one who's sorry, stranger. Together, we could have trounced Barnabas. I predict ye'll not last the month out, sitting on the knowledge."
"Get me out of here!" Walter begged Sarah.
She bent, and pointed to the brick with the white smear across it. "Someone tried to mark the place, and told how to work it, but it got rubbed off when Willie came here in the summer."
"Why did he think Cecily was here? Did he think Barnabas killed her?"
Sarah ignored the question. She simply said, "You made your choice. You will have no-one but yourself to blame, and nothing but sorrow, if you don't stick to your promise." She laid her hand across the brick, and motioned to the left. "You pull the brick firmly, this way. It's very heavy."
"I tried to move it around, before," Walter protested. He tugged firmly, as she directed, and slid the brick away, to expose a lever. He jiggled it gently, lest it should break, until he heard the stone door creak on its hidden hinges. The door opened, moving toward him. He jumped back, until it stood still, exposing the late-afternoon light behind it. Before he walked out, he shone his flashlight on
McGuire's skeleton one more time. The skeleton lay, peacefully, as it was before, the skull bare once more, all traces of its smarmy grin vanished. It appeared as though the skeleton had never moved at all.
Walter worked the wrench, which still dangled from the chain, until the door closed. He turned around, to thank Sarah for her help, but he realized she must have vanished before he'd exited the secret room, returning to the life that depended on her, whatever that meant.
He wandered out of the front room, flinging the gate shut behind him. The light from the setting sun hurt his eyes. They prickled with tears, not just from the discomfort, but from gratitude at his release. He would keep the promise, he would. He would! He felt like jumping for joy at his second chance. He would see Cecily, and Sarah Teresa, and Ernest, and Julia, and Maggie. Maggie....
Depression suddenly overtook him. He knew all, or most of the truth, and he would never be able to tell the one person who would have benefitted from the knowledge. After all he'd been through, it seemed unjust. But he'd stick to his promise, even though he knew he'd have to look his brother-in-law in the eye, and lie, as Barnabas lied to him. He wondered if his daughter was one of those who knew the truth, and kept her counsel for her own reasons. Perhaps her apparent affection for her uncle was really a cover for fear and anxiety. And as for his sister, Walter could not imagine a circumstance that would have brought Julia to countenance such a situation. But, there she was, married to a man over two hundred years old, who'd lived most of those years as a bloodthirsty creature of the darkness. And now, she was attempting to create a child with him....
It was too much for Walter. He gave in to the tension he'd barely managed to control so far. He held his head, and screamed, and screamed. The sound bounced off the sides of Eagle Hill, and the marble mausoleum. The screams echoed in the stillness, causing a flock of whip-poor-wills to take flight, and the crickets to fall silent.
That was how Lester Arliss found him, a few minutes later. By this time, Walter's voice was ragged, but he didn't hear the police cruiser pull off the road. Lester jumped out of the car, and ran to Cellie's father. He shook him. "Walter! Where the Hell have you been? I've been looking all over for you. I just called for back-up, for God's sake!"
Walter stared at him blankly. "You were looking for me? I've been---I've been--" He looked at his watch. Four o'clock. "I've been here, I guess. I'm not sure," he said, dazedly.
"I found your car easily enough, but I searched this whole cemetery, and the swamp beyond, and the old Indian Grove across the street. I couldn't find you anywhere, though I was beginning to think you fell in the quicksand in the swamp. That is, if someone didn't abduct you, and dispose of you elsewhere. You act like you've been knocked on the head. Did someone attack you?"
"No, no. I just got out of the car to take a discreet, ah, bathroom break, and I sort of wandered around, after, reading the stones, and I guess I--I got lost. I don't remember where I've been, but we must just have kept missing each other."
The deputy looked skeptical. "You couldn't have missed hearing me call for you. Walter, tell me the truth. Did you see something, or hear something, that kept you in hiding? Or did you have a fainting spell, or one of those small strokes, anything? Did you see a ghost? Even that would be some kind of answer."
"I don't know," Walter whispered hoarsely. "Please, don't make me talk anymore. My throat hurts."
"Okay, Walter. We'll try again, later. I'm going to run you down to Collinsport General, and have Dr. Hurley look you over."
"I don't need a doctor, Les. Take me to the Cottage, to see my daughter and my Maggie." Walter began to cry again.
"I rather think you do need a doctor, sir. As for your daughter, and Maggie, you'll be more likely to see them at the hospital, anyway."
"What happened?" Walter whispered, anxiously.
"I got a call, while on the road," the deputy began. "Apparently, the baby got sick, while they were waiting for you, so her parents went to the emergency room with her, and Maggie followed them up, after a while. Evidently, it occurred to her that, by this time, if you WERE found, that's where we'd have to take you in any case. As far as I know, they're all still there."
"Get me there A.S.A.P., then."
* * * * * * * * * * *
At Cellie's call, Willie ran into the bedroom, followed by Maggie. He leaned over the bed.
"Will, she's not--she's not breathing...." Cellie's voice was wobbly with her terror. "How can this happen? A minute ago, she was crying again, and now she's just staring into space...."
Willie picked up the still infant. He tired to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, like he'd seen on T.V. a few times. She wasn't turning blue, at least not yet, but she still wasn't breathing. Then he said, "We're going to the hospital." He clutched his daughter to his chest, tears coursing down his face, as he ran downstairs. Cellie rose quickly, and Maggie helped her down the stairs, and into the station wagon. Willie gave her the baby as he started the car. "You stay here,
and wait for Walter," he shouted to Maggie as he peeled out of the short driveway.
Three minutes later, just as Willie sped down Widow's Hill Road, Cellie suddenly announced, "Will, you can turn back. She's okay now."
Willie hit the brakes. The station wagon squealed to a stop, very close to a guardrail set over a gully. "What do you mean, she's okay? The kid wasn't breathing for almost ten whole minutes, and now, she's 'okay'? I'm still taking her to the hospital. She must have had SOMETHING wrong with her. It might happen again!"
Cellie sighed. "Go on, then, Will. But I have a feeling she's really alright, now."
He drove, more slowly, now, down the hill. "What makes you think so?"
"I had the sudden sense that Sarah---you know which Sarah---must have left her for a short time, and now, she's back. You see, the baby never turned blue at all, and she's moving and acting like nothing was ever wrong." It was true. Sarah Teresa waved, and kicked. When Willie bent to look at her, she smiled, and blew a spit bubble at him. Cellie continued, "Sarah wouldn't abandon her for a trivial reason."
Willie was relieved, but skeptical. "Well, I still want her checked out. I hope Dr. Hurley is on duty, and not that nosy Dr. Heard."
They were in luck. Dr. Hurley was working that shift on Emergency. Fortunately, it was a slow night, and the Loomises were immediately attended to. "She didn't breathe for almost ten minutes, but she didn't develop cyanosis, and she behaves as though there's no brain damage whatsoever," the doctor said, puzzled. "Well, we should keep her for observation overnight, anyway. There are some brain-wave tests we can do."
"Doctor Hurley," Cellie began. "If you do those tests, don't be too surprised if the results seem awfully familiar."
"What do you mean, Cellie? That the baby is exhibiting signs of empathism?"
"That, and maybe a touch of telepathy. It seems to be hereditary."
"But your gift didn't emerge until you became a teenager. And Pavlos's, when he turned eleven. How would you know if this were so?"
"Aside from a mother's instincts, which even I know aren't always reliable, I can tune in to her inner workings. We've all been very anxious about my Dad being missing, and she may have picked up on that, but there were two occasionswhen I feel she may have sensed whatever terrible thing he's been going through. She simply shrieked loudly, and inexplicably, the first time. The cessation of respiration was the second sign."
"So, what do YOU make of her sudden miraculous recovery?"
"That my father has been intercepted, and is alive and well."
"But he hasn't shown up yet."
"Oh yes, he has," Willie said, pulling the curtain of the examining cubicle wide open, and revealing Walter, who stood right behind him.
Cellie looked at him. He had changed, somehow. He was wan, and had a wary look in his red-rimmed eyes. His nose was red in spots, too, as though he'd been crying. But he spoke calmly. "Princess. I thought I'd never see you again...." His voice trailed off, but he held out his arms. Cellie rushed into them.
"Daddy, Daddy," she wept. "Where were you? We were so worried, and then Sarah Teresa got 'sick'...."
"I'm not really sure. I stopped the car, to look at something, and I got lost. But, like they say in that hymn, 'Now I'm found.' How our special little Princess?"
Cellie had sensed the tension in him, and knew at once he wasn't telling the truth when he said he didn't know where he'd been. But she figured, maybe he had a good reason for not telling her just then, and, in any case, someday she would surely find out, like she'd found out so many other things, before. She was just happy to have him back. "The baby is going to be fine. She missed you, too."
"What was wrong with her?"
"It's kind of hard to explain. She wasn't breathing for about ten minutes."
"Ten minutes? How could she stop breathing, and then, suddenly, be well?"
"It seems to have been a form of suspended animation," Dr. Hurley replied. "I have no other explanation at this point."
Walter became lost in thought. Ten minutes. That was about how long the "spirit" Sarah had spent with him, convincing him to follow her advice, and showing him how to open the secret room. She
said she was Cecily's friend, and kept telling him she had to hurry, that another life hung in the balance....
"Dad, are you okay? Maybe Dr. Hurley should have a look at you." Cellie had discovered a new color in her father, a burnished shade of silver. She'd seen that color in both her husband and, most notably, in Barnabas, when they were in church for the christening. Could that be the color of awe, of a profound gratitude, reverence? She wished her father would tell her where he'd been.
"I'm fine now, Cecily. I really don't need a doctor. I just wish I could scoop Sarah Teresa up, and kiss her, but I'm kind of grubby, right now. If she's staying the night anyway, I'll run back to the Inn, shower, and come back so I can hold her."
"What about Maggie?"
"She was overjoyed to see me. I felt so bad about my stupid curiosity when she held me, and cried. I missed her terribly, and you, and little Sarah...."
"You remember you missed us, but you don't remember where you were?"
"Princess, please. Don't press me, Cecily."
Willie watched the exchange. He thought, "The Hell you don't know where you were. And I'll be sure to tell Cecily, too."
Cellie sensed a touch of anger in her husband. She looked up at him. Willie turned away. He said, "Maggie's waiting to say good-bye."
Walter broke away from his daughter. "Maggie's going home now, but I promised I'd see her later. I hope you don't mind, Cecily. I'll definitely be back here to spend time with my grand-daughter before I trek up to Ellsworth." He kissed Cellie, and she clung to him again.
"You go on ahead, Dad," she sighed. "I'll be staying the night here, anyway, and visiting hours end at eight. You'll be around tomorrow also, right?"
"All day, until five P.M. If the baby's released in the morning, I promise that you and she will have my full and undivided attention, until I have to catch my train."
"Good enough for me. Wave to Grandpa, angel-face." The baby bounced up and down on the examining table, under the minatory eye of Dr. Hurley.
"Amazing," she commented. "Truly amazing. I wish Julia was here."
"Don't we all," Walter smiled. "Gotta run. I'll be back." He walked back to the waiting room with his son-in-law.
Before they went to join Maggie, Willie whispered, "You can talk circles around my wife, and around Maggie, but you can't fool me. I tried to get Lester to tell me, but you got him on your side. But that's okay. I know just where you were."
"Oh, and where would that be, Loomis?" Walter said.
"At the Eagle Hill Cemetery. You could say, I got a sixth sense about what goes on in that place."
"Believe what you want. All I can say is, I got lost." He got that wary look again. "Please, Loomis. I can't say any more. And for God's sake, don't tell Cecily. I don't want her to think I'm on a witch-hunt, so to speak."
"You'd damn well better not be. Good things don't happen to people who spend a lot of time hanging around at Eagle Hill, at least in certain parts of the place."
"You won't tell my daughter, will you?"
"If she doesn't ask, I won't tell. That's all I can promise. She has a way of finding out what she needs to know, anyway. But I CAN promise you, I won't tell a Certain Someone. I think you know who I mean. Even though I don't like you, any more than you like me, I don't ever want anything to happen to anyone, especially you, like what happened to---"
"Enough said. I've been sworn not to tell anyone, but you already know, so it probably doesn't count. But I will adhere to the rest of it. Thanks for keeping your counsel, Loomis."
Willie shrugged. "You're my wife's father and my daughter's grandfather. And Maggie loves you, more than she probably ever loved any guy, except that Joe. What the hell else could I do?"
Walter kept his word, but as he showered and changed, for his return to the hospital, the burden seemed to grow heavier and heavier, by the minute. Sarah's and McGuire's spirits were right about how difficult it would be to keep this secret. The knowledge followed him, and depressed him, even when he held his grand-daughter, who was fretful after undergoing a couple of simple, non-invasive tests. As he rocked her to sleep, he studied her face, the knowing look in her large blue-grey eyes. Cecily pulled her chair close to him, and leaned against his shoulder. In a few minutes, she was asleep. Walter took this opportunity to test the baby. "Sarah," he whispered. "Sarah Collins. I know you're in there, somewhere." The infant seemed to snuggle closer when he'd said this a few times.
So, what kind of a grandchild did he have? She was possessed, by a benign and loving entity, to be sure, but still, it was an unnatural condition. Or was it? Walter thought about babies and small children who'd survived near-fatal experiences, and were as good as new afterwards. He wondered what agency, divine or otherwise, was at work in these cases. Was it, after all, just chance that some little ones lived, and prospered, while others died, or were left in grievous condition if they survived?
He wondered how much of the baby's original personality was left. Only time would tell, he knew. If Sarah Teresa started acting like her father, then he'd know for sure she was herself, but he didn't think he'd like that very much. Then she grinned at him, exposing her pink gums. She scrunched her face, like her father, but in a moment she relaxed, and suddenly resembled Cecily. Walter gave it up. He loved, and was grateful for, his grand-daughter, no matter what it had taken to keep her going. He kissed the baby, who had closed her eyes. He pulled the hospital bassinet close, and placed her in it. Then he lifted his daughter's heavy head, and helped her lie down on the cot an orderly had wheeled into the baby's room. He tucked her in with the hospital blanket, and kissed her. "Daddy...." she whispered in her sleep.
He walked out to the waiting room, where his ex-wife was talking quietly with Willie. Janice looked up at Walter. "How did it go?"
"I got them both to sleep," he boasted.
"You look like Hell, after whatever you went through," his ex-wife commented. "You should go back to the Inn and sleep, yourself."
"It's still only seven o'clock, and I promised Maggie I'd visit her for a while. Tomorrow is going to belong to Cecily and Sarah Teresa, before I head back to Beantown."
"Well," Janice said, as she rose, and headed toward her grand-daughter's room, "Just remember, no more side trips."
"Good-night, Janice," Walter called. To his son-in-law, he said, "Thanks for letting me have this time with them."
"Try not to give us a scare like that, again," Willie implored.
"I know what happened to my little girl had something to do with where you were, and how you got out of it. But, for God's sake, Walter! I almost lost her once. If that spirit--if Sarah Teresa gets like that, again, and it goes on too long, she could die. And if she dies, I know our Cecily will want to die. You should have seen her, when the baby first went into that fit, or whatever you call it. I never saw her that scared in all the time I've known her, except for the time she had that bad dream. That may be the only thing that does scare her, because she can't have any more kids. And that means, no more kids for me, either, because I would never leave her over that."
"I don't know what to say, Loomis. I didn't realize you cared for Cecily to that extent. I'm sorry. I guess I learned a couple of lessons today, the hard way. Loomis, can I ask you something?"
"Maybe, if you stop calling me by my last name all the time, like you're my drill sergeant, or the guard on my cell-block. Call me 'Willie', or 'Will', like Cecily does, or 'William'. Not 'Bill', though."
"Alright, Willie. How do you cope? I mean, how do you stop yourself from thinking about what you know, about, well--"
"That place? I don't. I can't. But, then, it's different for me, than for you, or anyone else who knows. When it gets too awful, I stay close to my Cecily, and now, my Sarah Teresa. If anyone takes them away from me...." His eyes, already red-rimmed, became wet, again. "You're lucky something worse didn't happen to you. You'd better get along, now, to Maggie. She was in a bad way herself, today. She needs you something fierce, like I need my girls. But you can't tell her about where you were. There's a lot of good reasons why."
"I know, already."
"Oh, yeah, I almost forgot." Willie spoke in almost normal tones, now. He pointed to a paper bag on a chair. "Cecily wanted you and Maggie to have some of the food we were going to have for dinner, so I ran home, and divvied it up. We'd never be able to finish it ourselves, what with her staying at the hospital tonight, and me, going back to Collinwood."
"Thanks, Willie," Walter said, looking into the bag. There were neatly-packed plastic cannisters inside.
"Cecily has Hallie get jars like that from the Superette deli," Willie explained. "They'd just throw them away, otherwise. What a waste, huh?"
"Yes. It's never a good idea to waste anything. Especially time. Thanks again. I'll be seeing you, Willie."
* * * * * * * * * * *
It was eight o'clock by the time Walter reached "Sam's Place." He glimpsed at the well-lit sign as he parked his car in front of the closed store. He saw one light on upstairs, in what he knew was Maggie's bedroom. He knew he was late, and knew he should have called first, to remind her that he was still coming. Maybe she was so tired by now, she wouldn't feel up to seeing him. Well, it was too late to turn back now. Maybe he could persuade her to let him in for a cup of coffee, at least. Maybe they could still go out to some quiet place for an hour or so. The important thing was, he had to see her. The craving to see her, and hold her, that he'd felt when he was trapped in the mausoleum, came back in a rush.
He jumped out of the car, carrying the bag full of food, and ran up the wooden stairs that wound around the side of the old, two-story building. He rang the doorbell, his heart pounding. Three minutes later, she finally answered the bell. She stood before him, in a flannel granny-style nightgown, and terry-cloth robe. "Hello, Walter," she said, mildly. "I didn't think you were going to come, so I got ready for bed. I was so tired. You should have called, first."
"Maggie...." he began. "I'm sorry I'm so late, but I was with Cellie and Sarah until they both fell asleep. I came as soon as I could." He held up the bag. "I even brought us dinner. A CARE package from my daughter and my son-in-law."
"Well, come in, then. I DID want to see you. I'll put on coffee. You want me to heat that stuff up, now?"
"If you don't mind very much. Did you eat at all?"
"I picked a little when I was still at the cottage, putting everything in the fridge for Cellie and Willie, after they took the baby to the hospital. But I was so worried about you, and Sarah---" she choked off a sob. "Now that you're here, and the baby's better, I'm famished."
"That makes two of us. I'll help you get things ready." They sat, and ate the roast beef and potato casserole, plus the salad with the homemade dressing, and the angel-cake the Loomises had provided. "My daughter said her husband cooked most of the food," Walter said.
"Willie can cook pretty well, when he has to," Maggie said. "I'm sure he doesn't mind doing it for Cellie. He has a way of going a little overboard when he has responsibility."
"Well, she's gone overboard for him, that's for certain." Walter had finished, and took his plate to the sink, to wash. "Hand me yours, when you're through," he said.
"My prayers have been answered," Maggie laughed. "At long last, a man who doesn't mind doing the dishes."
"Thank my late mother. She taught me everything I know---about washing dishes."
They sat together on Maggie's couch, drinking coffee, and watching a boring made-for-T.V. movie, something about a man being chased down the highway by an insane, unseen truck driver. "I never can get the hang of these newer movies," Walter commented. "Say, Maggie, why don't you put on a dress, and we'll go out for a little while? We'll head out to that Lakeside Tavern we went to, once."
"Oh, please, and run into that loudmouth, "Bangor Bob" Rutland? He may be the greatest deejay in Maine, but he's pure Hell, when he's up close and personal to his devoted fans." Maggie snuggled closer to Walter. "What's wrong with staying here? Afraid I might take advantage of you, on my home turf?"
"Perhaps. You ARE wearing my favorite flannel pattern. I find that ruffled collar very alluring." He kissed her.
"Sorry it isn't one of my summer gowns. But it was chilly, before."
"I admit, I once had an interesting dream about you in a see-through number. But you look good in anything, Maggie. You were so beautiful at the christening, it almost hurt to look at you. That silver-blue dress--"
"And that exquisite silver rose you and Cellie gave me. You were mighty good-looking yourself, Walter. But there's more than good looks to you, that's the best part. I love you so much, and if you hadn't come back today.... I don't know what I would have done."
He pulled her close. "You know, Maggie, when I was 'lost' today, all I could think about was how my life has been, the things I've done to hurt people, and what I would have liked to do with my life, what I'd like to do before it's too late. It almost was too late, for a while, there."
"Where were you, Walter? Did someone try to hurt you? You can tell me. I'll understand. I've been in some tight spots myself, you know?" She held his face in her hands, and looked into his eyes. She saw a similar expression to the one she'd once worn, constantly, back during those days at Collinwood. Back then, it had seemed as though danger jumped on one with every turn down a corridor, or a woodland path.
"I can't tell you...." he whispered. "Maybe I didn't go anywhere. Maybe the place I was lost, was in my mind. All I can really remember about it is what I took from there. I thought about what I would like to do with my life, and all I wanted was to join my life with yours." He kissed her, hard. When he pulled away, she drew him back, with that almost convulsive embrace. "Maggie....my Maggie. You're all I wanted, except for seeing my family again."
"Walter.... please...." She pulled him down on the couch with her. As always, Walter wondered why she was almost desperately eager. He looked down at her face, and saw a reflection of the expression he'd seen in his own mirror, just before he'd come here. Even though she seemed to have no conscious memory of some of her traumatic experiences, they were just under the surface. They impelled her to smother herself in his embrace, to force them to stay in that prison, never to be faced. He realized he felt the same. All he had to do was conjure up a mental picture of that corpse....
Walter had unbuttoned the "alluring" ruffled collar, and kissed Maggie's neck and shoulders, as she pulled his head closer to her breast. Then he stood, picked her up, and carried her into her bedroom. He pulled the robe from her shoulders after he laid her on the bed. She wore a familiar, slightly bewildered expression. He couldn't bear that look, so he turned off the bedside lamp, before he proceeded further. He noticed that, frantic as her desire seemed to be, she let him lead the way, allowing him to undo the few remaining buttons, before she reciprocated. A suspicion began to grow in him, but he was too far gone to think much about it, until she dug her nails into his back.
Afterward, Maggie pulled away from him, shivering, and panting. Walter reached for her. She resisted for a minute, then collapsed on his shoulder. He pulled her so close, he could feel her nose and ear crumple into his neck. He spread her auburn hair, a darker shade than his, over her shoulders and across his chest, like an extra blanket. He whispered, "Maggie, sweetheart, why didn't you tell me you were still a virgin?"
"I don't know," she whimpered. "Does it bother you, Walter?"
"I don't know who should be bothered, sweetheart. It's just that, I assumed--- I mean---I figured, you're a mature woman, you've never married, but you've had relationships...."
"It's the way I was brought up, I guess. Even though my father was an artist, and my mother was his model, neither of them were Bohemians, and they raised me with some of those rock-ribbed New England values. I even went to Sunday school, for goodness' sake. When I was younger, and I had some hopes of living an ordinary life, I conformed, for what it was worth." She sighed, dispiritedly.
"Still, after you were--you were--"
"I wasn't sexually assaulted during my abductions, if that's what you're thinking. My doctors confirmed that much. I don't remember the first time too well, but it seems to me, now, that sex wasn't the main purpose, at least, not until, well, there was something that had to happen first. A ritual of some kind---that's all I can remember. And then, the second time, with Willie alone, well, I don't know how that would have ended up if it had lasted much longer. We were both pretty confused, then. There was always trouble around Collinwood and Collinsport in those days, so there was probably some reason Willie acted as he did. Only, I don't remember the details, any more than I can about the first time....
"When I was younger," she continued, "I was always able to keep up with the slightest hint of local news, and downright gossip. My memories, even the worst, about my mother's final illness, were always clear. Something about those incidents must have finally activated some kind of shield in my brain. All I can tell you, really, is what I have come to believe--- that Willie was torn between protecting me, and, maybe wanting to keep me for himself. That would never have worked out. Thank God, he finally realized it. It took quite a while. It's as though he lost a part of himself and was always looking for someone to make him complete again. I would say, he didn't find what he was looking for, until he met Cellie."
"You may be right about that," Walter replied. "But about US.... Maggie, you were so intense, like you knew what you wanted. Not in a bad way, don't ever think that. Did you really know what you were getting into? How did you know I could be trusted in that way?"
"I only knew that I wanted the same thing Willie wanted. To be whole, again. To not have to be careful, all the time. I love you, Walter. Do you still love me?"
"Of course I do, sweetheart." He stroked her face. "If you'd told me, I could have made things a little easier for you, for both of us."
"I'm sorry I hurt your back," Maggie whispered. "I didn't realize I would be that uncomfortable."
"Some of that could have been from fear, from tension. You won't be so 'uncomfortable' the next time." Walter looked at her, now, with concern. "Maggie, in your headlong rush to be a whole person, did you remember the facts of life? Are you using birth control? I'm sorry I didn't stop to consider it, myself, but I was sort of taken by surprise. Again, it's something we'll be prepared for, the next time, unless it's already too late. Not that I wouldn't be delighted to have a child with
you. If you want, I'll get you pregnant on our honeymoon. I still fully intend to do the honorable thing by you."
She went very still. "No, Walter. I didn't use anything. But then, I don't really have to, I guess."
He pulled himself up on his elbow, and forced her to look directly at him. "What happened, Maggie?"
She flinched a little, but she answered calmly enough. "It--it goes back to when I was abducted the first time. I already had something wrong with my blood, from that. The local doctor was on the verge of figuring out what was wrong, when he died suddenly. Julia took over testing me from time to time. She said I had--I had dead blood cells sticking to my blood cells, and that they damaged my insides. But, after I had a few transfusions, and a couple of years went by, she said my blood was normal. I even asked about having children, and she assured me there would be no problem, though there was a possibility that some of my eggs would be affected. I was between relationships at that time. By the time I was involved in the next one, I no longer had to worry about pregnancies, planned or unplanned."
"Did you have yourself sterilized?"
"No, I wouldn't have done that! I went into premature menopause. I take hormones and vitamins to keep the symptoms to a minimum, but that's it. For almost two years, already."
"And you believe it was caused by that condition you suffered from. I wonder why Willie wasn't similarly affected."
"Julia and Dr. Hurley explained it to me. Women are stuck with the same set of egg cells, from cradle to grave, while men produce new sperm all the time. My supply was damaged and depleted. Willie could have ended up sterile, or had a defective child, but he had better odds on his side, and a healthy woman to make a baby with." Maggie began to weep bitterly. "You know, I don't resent that he had a child and I can't. I love Sarah Teresa, and it's sweet of him to want to share her with me. It's just hard. I know Cellie feels the same way now. I noticed how she reacted to Ernest and Lillian's announcement. But she had, at least, the one opportunity."
"Maggie, I love you. Don't cry, anymore," Walter said, lowering his face to hers. He ran his fingers through her hair, as he kissed her. "It'll be okay. I still want to marry you." He smiled mischievously. "No matter how hard you try to discourage me." Beneath his easy smile, his own heart was full of bitterness. Here was still ANOTHER crime for which Barnabas had to answer.
Julia and Barnabas returned the next day. They dropped off their luggage at the Old House, and headed to Abijah's Cottage, where Willie had just brought Cellie and Sarah Teresa back from the hospital. They were already surrounded by the other Collinses, as well as Janice and Walter, all of whom tried to convince the Loomises to go back to the Great House.
Barnabas entered the cottage first, unnoticed, at first, in the din. After listening to the cacophony of concerned voices, he asked why everyone appeared to be hounding the Loomises.
Roger, who was more surprised than anyone else at his own anxiety, said, "Barnabas. Julia. You must get your niece and her husband to do the sensible thing, and come back to Collinwood, or at least move into the Old House. They had such a terrible scare, yesterday, with the baby becoming suddenly and inexplicably ill, and Walter disappearing off the face of the earth for a couple of hours. Everything is back to normal, thank God, but Elizabeth and Mrs. Johnson would feel better if Cellie and Sarah were in a place where they could be monitored more closely."
"I rather think that's up to Cellie and Willie, Roger," Barnabas said calmly. "After all, babies get sick from time to time, and most of their parents cope well enough on their own. I presume Willie followed the correct procedures during the emergency, getting his daughter to the hospital in time, and so forth?"