Chapter 1

Elaine Sherred was ill-at-ease from the first moment she caught sight of the Matherly house, and she would later remember this doubt, and wonder if it had been a premonition of disaster.

The house stood on the brow of the hill, partially shielded from her by several huge Dutch elm trees, and it was sprawling, immense. That in itself was not what bothered Elaine, however; all of the houses in this exclusive suburb of Pittsburgh were extraordinarily large, and all of them stood on four and five acre estates which were carefully tended by the most professional of gardeners. What made the Matherly house different, and therefore disconcerting, was its rococo stonework. Beneath the deep eaves, under the thrusting, flat, black slate roof, a band of hand-carved story-stone ran across the entire facade and continued down the west wall as well. Indeed, those stone angels and stone satyrs, frozen nymphs and bas-relief urns, trees and flowers and planets and stars probably encircled the entire house, like a ribbon. The windows were set deep in thick stone walls and flanked by fretted black and silver shutters which contrasted starkly with the light stone of the walls. The main entrance was a door twice as large as any man could require, like the entrance to a cathedral, at least twelve feet high and five wide. Heavy brass handles adorned it, gleaming against the oak as did the brass hinges. The windows on either side of the door, unlike the other windows that she could see, were stained glass, in no particular pattern, the individual fragments worked together with lead. In the circle of the driveway, directly before the entrance, a white stone fountain, complete with three winsome cherubs whose wings were gloriously spread, sizzled and hissed like a griddle with oil spilled on it. The pavement immediately adjacent the fountain had been torn up and rich earth placed in its stead, banked by a second marble curb as white as the fountain itself. In this dark earth, a dozen varieties of flowers sprouted, blossoming in purples, reds, yellows and oranges. This dazzling splash was vaguely reflected on the white base of the fountain, giving the illusion that the marble itself shimmered and was somehow transparent so that you were looking through it to the flowers which bloomed on the other side.

It was all too fancy. It seemed more like a real estate office than like a private residence, constructed for display and not to be lived in and used.

Again, the uneasiness surfaced, an alarm that she could not place or define. Somehow, she knew, this place would be bad for her.

A house, Elaine was convinced, should be down-to-earth, as common and as serviceable as possible. Even if that house were the dwelling place of the wealthy. No one should throw away money on useless baubles like a story-stone and a marble fountain.

Besides, anything ornate generated an air of falseness. This elaborately bedecked house, Elaine thought, looked more like a carefully arranged array of cardboard stage flats nailed to wooden braces than like a sound structure. The lawn might have been a stage floor overlaid with a green felt cloth.

Elaine Sherred distrusted anything which was not simple and clean. The functional pleased her; the frivolous drew her scorn.

Such an attitude in a twenty-three-year-old girl might seem out of place. At least, nearly everyone she knew told her it was. In high school, she had not had many friends, for she had preferred not to engage in the games and pastimes of her generation. At the hospital, during her nurse's training, her fellow students and even a few of her instructors had chided her for her somewhat straight-laced ways. Elaine disagreed. Her view of life seemed the only correct one to her, not an aberrant one.

Elaine pulled her Volkswagen to the side of the quiet lane that wound up the hill to the Matherly house and parked it. She had been disconcerted by the magniloquent structure, and she wanted time to accept it. If she were going to work there-indeed, even live there as the full-time nurse to Jacob Matherly-she was going to have to suppress the instant dislike she had generated on first seeing the place.

How could anyone have paid architects to come up with such a fancy mess of jutting angles and shadowed nooks, fountains and ornate shutters? It was like spending a fortune on several tons of marshmallow sauce to feed a hungry man who would have preferred steak and potatoes.

She did not once think that her overreaction to the house might lie within her own character. She had lost her parents when she was four years old and had been raised in an unloving, uncaring institution thereafter. The defense mechanism against life which she had evolved was a stolid, no-nonsense outlook.

And the Matherly house was nonsense.

Still and all, it was a good-paying job. And if the people inside it were not as grandiose as their dwelling, she supposed she could put up with so much marshmallow.

She let off the footbrake and shifted gears as smoothly as a veteran driver-though she had only bought the car a month ago. She had trained herself in the use of a standard shift-having been used to an automatic-with the same devotion of purpose that she applied to everything she did. Two minutes later, she had parked in front of the fountain, by the immense oak door with its brass fixtures.

As she was getting out of the small car, the low, purple clouds which had been threatening rain all morning suddenly broke open with lightning. A brief moment later, the ear-splitting crack of thunder followed, slamming against the high walls of the mansion and rebounding like something tangible.

Elaine did not flinch. She was not frightened of thunder. She knew all about storms, their cause and effect, and no deeply imbedded superstition hampered her dealing with them.

At the door, she lifted the heavy knocker, which she now saw was shaped like a wolfs head and nearly half the size of the real article. It dropped with a loud, hollow booming that could hardly fail to bring an answer. She did not use it again.

A few droplets of rain spattered the flagstone promenade upon which she stood, but she didn't try to shelter herself.

A minute passed before someone turned the knob on the inside of the door and drew the thick portal open. In the dimly lighted foyer stood an elderly man, stoop shouldered and white-haired, his face wizened by a heavy tracery of lines that radiated from the corners of his eyes, nose and lips. His face looked like aged vellum.

“Yes?” he inquired.

“Elaine Sherred to see Lee Matherly,” she said.

“Our new nurse,” the man said, nodding his head. He had a slightly obsequious manner which marked him as a family servant, though-Elaine felt-he had very likely been in the Matherly employee for a great many years, perhaps since he had been as young as she.

He said, “Won't you come in? Mr. Matherly the younger is now in the den; he's expecting you.”

She stepped out of the rain which had just begun to fall in earnest and shook her mane of long, black hair. It spread out, over the collar of the tan, linen coat she wore, framing her like a dark halo.

“I trust you had no trouble finding our place,” the old man said. The “our” seemed to clinch her certainty that he had been here for many years. He looked upon the frothy mansion as being as much his home as his master's.

“None at all,” she said. “Mr. Matherly gave me directions which were easy to follow.”

“I'm Jerry Hoffman,” the old man said. “I'm the butler and the Mr. Fix-It, the general, all-around man Friday of the house. My wife, Bess, cooks for us.”

“I'm pleased to meet you,” she said. It was a mere pleasantry, that response. Although she had hardly met Jerry Hoffman, she thought she was not going to like him a great deal. There was something in his manner which suggested he was a gossip, or a man whose interests were so varied as to be useless in any one area. He seemed nervous, quick, and too eager to smile.

He led her down the long, paneled corridor, through the main drawing room to the den where he announced her and left her with Lee Matherly.

She had met the man before, of course. He had come to the Presbyterian University Hospital in the city, shortly before graduation, and had interviewed a number of girls for this post. He was tall and thin, yet a powerful man whose sportcoats needed no shoulder padding. He looked more like a trim lumberjack than like the restaurateur he actually was. At forty-five, he might have passed as ten years younger, handsome in a rugged sort of way, blue-eyed but with dark hair graying at the temples. He was a very canny businessman. He had not wasted time when he had interviewed her, and he did not waste time now-a character trait she admired.

“A room has been prepared for you,” Matherly said. “If you give your car keys to Jerry when we're finished here, he'll see that your bags are moved from the car.”

“He seems somewhat frail-” she began.

“He isn't, believe me,” Matherly said. “That old goat will probably last longer than I will-and he was butler here when I was barely able to walk! But, if it suits you better, you can help him. My sons are out this morning, or I would have one of them help you. Paul is home, my dead wife's brother, and he might be willing to offer a hand.”

“I'm sure I'll manage.”

“I am also sure,” he said. He tore a check out of the book on his desk, one which he had filled out in expectation of her arrival. “I imagine you'll be rather low on funds. I've written out four weeks pay in advance to help you get started. A hundred a week, plus room and board, as agreed.”

She accepted the check, thanked him, folded it and put it in the flat, utilitarian purse she carried.

“Now,” Lee Matherly said, rising, smiling perfunctorily, “shall we go see your patient?”

“I'm looking forward to meeting him,” Elaine said.

“You must understand that he is not the man he was. The stroke took quite a toll.” The expression on his handsome face said that his father's illness had also taken a heavy toll on Lee Matherly.

At the top of the stairs, they entered the first room on the right. It was, Elaine thought, more like a study than a bedroom. The walls and ceiling were paneled in rich, dark wood that smelled ever so slightly of lemon polish. Two walls contained built-in bookcases which were stuffed full of cloth-bound volumes. A mammoth desk was the main piece of furniture, dominating even the hospital bed along the far wall. A globe stood by the desk on a brass stand. Two easy chairs were positioned so that one might sit in them and drink brandy and talk, just like in the movies or novels by Conan Doyle. Beside the bed was another chair: a wheelchair.

As they entered, the old man in the bed turned his head towards them and watched them with bright, blue eyes as clear as his son's.

“Father, this is Elaine Sherred, the girl I told you about. She'll be your nurse from now on.”

The old man did not smile, nor speak. The right side of his face was drawn tight, as if he were grimacing, while the other half appeared normal. There were other signs of the stroke. His right arm was drawn up, cradled against his chest, strangely twisted. His leg, beneath the thin sheet, appeared normal, though it most likely was not, judging from the wheelchair. Perhaps the entire right side of his body was paralyzed.

“His medicines are kept here,” Lee said, taking her to a cabinet beside the bed. “Glycerine pills for his angina if it should act up. And if they don't relieve the pain well enough-we've a dozen ampoules of morphine here-and here, the syringe and alcohol and gauze. It will be your duty to keep Dr. Reece aware of our supply and to be certain we never run low on anything that Father might require.”

“I understand,” she said.

Matherly seemed to forget about her as he approached the bed. He leaned over and kissed the old man on the cheek, the ruined cheek. Old Jacob Matherly smiled now-a distorted and ugly expression on his ruined face-and took his son's hand.

“I'm sure you'll like Miss Sherred, Father.”

The old man did not take his eyes from his son's face. He nodded affirmatively.

“Good enough,” Lee said. “Then I'll leave you two to get acquainted.” He walked to the door, turned. “I'll see, Miss Sherred, that your bags are moved. I'm sure Paul will help Jerry with the chore. Your room is at the end of the hall, on the right. Dinner is at seven this evening. You will be able to meet the rest of the household then.” And he was gone.

“He's a good boy,” Jacob said.

His voice startled her. For one thing, she had supposed that he was unable to speak, since he had been so quiet up till this moment. For another, his voice was weak, whispered, the croak of a frog who parroted English. It sent a chill through her for reasons she could not define.

“He's very efficient,” she said.

“And he… loves his father,” the old man added.

She stood beside his bed, looking down at him, aware that he had once been as formidable a man as Lee, though illness had wasted him now.

She said, wearing a professional smile that was not completely automatic, for she liked this old man already, “I could see that he does.”

“He does well with the restaurants.”

“More than one?” she asked.

“Four,” he said. “And three of them… are the best in the city.”

“I'll have to try them out,” she said.

He took her hand, as he had grasped his son's. His flesh was hot and dry, like leather well-tanned and left in the sun.

He said, “Do you think I'm crazy?”

She was a bit confused by the abrupt change in the topic of conversation, but she tried not to let it show. “Whyever should I think that?”

“I'm not crazy.”

“Of course not.”

“I had a cerebral hemorrhage, you know. And I have a bad heart. But besides some muscular control… I haven't been hurt. My mind-my mind is perfect yet.”

He had worn himself out speaking so hurriedly and insistently. His dry, dusty voice faded in the last few words until she could barely hear it, like the call of a dream, unreal.

“Many people recover completely from cerebral hemorrhaging.”

“Lee doesn't think so.”

“Excuse me?”

He said, “Lee thinks I'm crazy.”

“Oh, I'm sure he doesn't!”

“He does. He won't believe me when I tell him things.”

She smiled more brightly, concerned for him, and patted his hand which still lay in hers. “Surely, if your son felt that way, he would have told me when he hired me. I can assure you that he didn't mention it.”

He looked at her closely, probing her with his eyes, as if he might be able to read her mind, satisfied himself that she was telling the truth. There was nothing crazy about this old man; he was cunning and quite observant.

“But he won't believe me about the knife,” he said.

Outside, the storm descended on the house with the full measure of its ferocity, exploding with thunderclaps, ripping open the darkness with sharp-edged lightning that made the windows milky for an instant. The rain came twice as hard, a veritable deluge that made her feel, for a fleeting instant, as if she were in an ark, preparing for the worst.

“What knife is that?” she asked.

He looked at her for a long time, without speaking, and she was almost ready to repeat the question or- better yet-change the subject, when he said, “I don't want to be pitied again. If I tell you and you don't believe it, I'll have to face that same expression that Lee gave me. Pity. It sickens me!”

“I don't think anyone could genuinely pity you,” she said, meaning it. “You're fighting back admirably well against a biological infirmity that you had no control over.”

“Not a mental infirmity?” he asked.

“It certainly doesn't appear to be,” she said.

He seemed to decide he could trust her, for he nodded his head affirmatively and said, “Someone tried to stab me with a kitchen knife.”

She said, “When was that?”

“Only three weeks ago.”

She wondered why Lee Matherly had not told her. It was plainly still weighing upon the patient's mind, and it would have too be taken into consideration when treating him.

She said, “Where did this take place?”

“Here, of course.”

“In this house?”


She began to feel uneasy as she considered the possibility that the old man might actually be experiencing illusions.

She said, “Perhaps it was a dream.”

He was adamant that it could not have been. “I saw the serrated edge of it. I screamed. I don't have much volume, and I had only been back from the hospital for about two weeks. I frightened the killer, whoever he was. He ran… but I saw… saw that serrated edge of the knife in a glimmer of moonlight from the windows.”

He had exhausted himself again.

“It was at night?”

“Yes,” he said. “I couldn't sleep, despite the sedative I take very evening.” He wrinkled his face in disgust. “I absolutely hate taking medicine to make me sleep.”

She decided that cool, careful logic was the best way to handle the old man's accusations against the household. “But you haven't got any enemies here,” she said. She had been in contact with the victims of strokes before, and she knew that disagreeing with them only caused them to be more nervous and more positive in their delusions. But why hadn't the younger Matherly told her about this? She was a competent medical nurse, but she could not be expected to recognize minor mental impairment so quickly. If Jacob Matherly had not told her what Lee thought about the story of a knife, she might have even placed a bit of trust in the notion.

“No enemies,” he agreed. “But there are those who don't require a reason to kill.” He said it with such a flat tone of voice that he had bled most of the preposterousness from the idea.

“Living here?” she asked.



“You'll meet everyone at the supper table,” Jacob said. “Watch all of them closely.”

He went abruptly uncommunicative, for he had recognized the tone of disbelief in her voice, no matter how cultivated was her professional good cheer and comradeship.

She did not know what to say to re-engage him in pleasant conversation. She could not continue to humor him as she might a child, for he was old enough to be her grandfather. Yet she was so rattled by his fantasy of madness and murder that she could not think how to rechannel him into more acceptable topics of conversation.

A patient who lived in illusions, misinterpreting reality, was not her favorite sort. So closely linked to reality herself, she could not cope with someone who attempted to escape from life through daydreams and night dreams, sleeping and awake. She rarely had dreams herself. Or, if she did, she rarely remembered what they had been about.

“Well,” she said, “if you won't be needing me for a while, I think I'll go freshen up and unpack.” She nodded to the bell cord attached to the head of the bed. “Is that linked to my room?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Then you can call me if you need me.”

“Wait a moment, Elaine.”

She had turned and taken a few steps towards the door, but she stopped now and turned back to him. She cocked her head inquisitively, waiting for him to speak.

“Do you know about Christmas Eve?” he asked.

It was the sort of nonsensical question she had feared, and she felt uncomfortable standing here. She said, “What about it?”

“You don't know anything about what happened in this house on that Christmas Eve?”

He had risen off his pillows a few inches. His body trembled, his neck was strained so that the veins all bulged and the pulse in the main artery was clearly visible.

“I'm afraid I don't know,” she said.

“Until you've heard of it-and you will, soon enough-don't judge me. Don't count me off as a babbling old man… old man with brain damage. Don't count me off like Lee has… not until you know what happened that night before Christmas.”

“What happened?” she asked, intrigued despite herself.

But he had spoken more than he wanted to, and he was perturbed by her reluctance to believe him. He would not respond. She left the room and walked down the corridor to her room, listening to the storm scream across the roof of the mansion and wondering, uneasily, what sort of storm was brewing within the lives of these people.

By the time she had reached the end of the hall, she had shrugged it off. Jacob was only an old man, seriously ill. It was not wise to give credence to his ramblings, even for a moment. There was nothing at all brewing. Inside her purse was a check for four hundred dollars. This was a new life, her first truly independent existence, away from orphanage officials and nursing-college instructors and deans with their rules and regulations. If she faced this squarely and did her job, nothing could go wrong.

Legacy Of Terror
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