Before she could button her robe and reach the door, someone knocked on it and called her name. She took the last few steps and opened it Gordon Matherly stood in the corridor, his face creased by anxiety, breathing rather heavily.
Did you scream? he asked.
No. I thought it was Celia.
What room did Dennis give her? Do you know?
She didn't and said so.
Dennis appeared at the head of the stairs. Is everyone all right up here?
It wasn't Elaine, Gordon said.
Lee Matherly's door opened. He had been in bed but had taken the time to dress now. He said, It sounded as if it came from outside the house. I can see Celia's car halfway down the drive.
Dennis turned and went down the steps two at a time.
When Elaine made to follow, Gordon said, Maybe you had better wait here until we know what's happened.
If she's had an accident, she might need my help. She smiled at him, pleased with his concern for her. And don't worry-I'm used to helping victims of accidents.
She followed the boys' father, Lee, down the steps, with Gordon thumping close behind her. They walked down the darkened main hall and through the open front door. The air was chilly for June; she was glad she wore a quilted robe.
As they hurried toward the Buick which Celia had been driving, they could see Dennis standing by the front fender, looking alongside the car. He was so still that he might have been a statue. When they were almost upon him, he turned around, trembling like a man with the ague. His face was chalky, and his eyes were very wide. He looked, to Elaine, as if he were suffering from mild shock.
He said, Don't look.
Lee Matherly grabbed his shoulders. What?
Don't look at her.
His father released him and stepped around the car. He halted as if a brick wall had been placed in front of him, and his entire body jerked with the blow. Gordon went to his side and said, just loud enough to be heard: Oh, Christ, Christ, Christ.
What happened to her? she asked Dennis.
Someone-someone stabbed her. The words were thick in his mouth, as if he had been drinking. She knew that could not be the case, for even if he had been drunk he would have been shocked into sobriety.
Before anyone could stop her, she went and looked at the body. Celia was lying on her side, one hand clutching her stomach, the other thrown out by her head, as if she were grasping for some handhold on life. The ground around her was thick with blood, so much blood that she could hardly have been alive.
Get away from her, Miss Sherred, Lee ordered.
She may be alive.
She isn't, Dennis said, his voice weak. She couldn't be.
Have any of you checked?
No, Lee said. He seemed resigned, as if none of this were very unexpected, as if he had been preparing himself to face a similar scene at some future date, had been preparing himself for years.
You should have. Maybe there's something I can do.
She stepped between them, to the body, and knelt beside the girl. Careful not to disturb the one or two wounds she could see, she rolled Celia onto her back.
Two other wounds were centered in her abdomen. But when Elaine felt for a heartbeat, she discovered there was one. Feeble, but regular.
Someone call an ambulance, she said.
No one moved. The rain had stopped, now sprinkled them with fat droplets, a new prelude.
Hurry! Elaine snapped.
You mean she's alive? Dennis asked.
Gordon turned and ran for the house to call the hospital.
Although she was a trained nurse and supposedly accustomed to grisly scenes, as she had told them, she wanted to get away from this place, this body, this spreading crimson puddle. She had encountered bloody illnesses while in training; she had even dealt with beating victims and gunshot wounds. But this was something else again. This was the work of a sadist, not the violence of heated passions. The wounds- five, she now saw-had been carefully placed where they would do the most damage. Too, Elaine could see that Celia had not screamed when the first one or two thrusts of the blade had been delivered; she must have stood dumbly while the murderer worked on her, too surprised to scream as soon as she should have. Her assailant had, therefore, gotten in a few more blows.
The ambulance arrived in less than ten minutes. The attendents were efficient and gentle. In two more minutes, they had bundled her inside the white van and lurched back down the drive with Dennis accompanying them in the patient area in the back of the vehicle.
You'd better see about my father, Lee Matherly said. He appeared to have aged ten years in less than an hour. His face was lined, his eyes weary, his complexion sallow and unhealthy.
Of course, she said. Anything to get away from that red puddle and the memory of Celia's wounds.
It was as if the house lay miles and miles away rather than just a few hundred yards. All the shadows had assumed sinister proportions. Each wind-shaken branch of a tree or shrub was like a thrusting hand that made her jump and then walk faster. She tried to shame herself out of her fear, but she could not. Perhaps that was because the source of the terror was irrationality, a murder of whim. And whims were things which she had never developed an understanding of. You could lump them under the term insanity, but that did not explain them.
Old Jacob Matherly was awake, sitting up in his bed; he had turned the lights on. He looked at her with evident relief and said, I was afraid it was your scream.
It was Celia, she said.
Then she realized that she should not have said anything. What had come over her? She was losing control of her common sense and bothering her patient with bad news when it would have been best to pass the incident off as meaningless for as long as possible. Until he could be prepared for it, anyway.
Is she dead? he asked. Clearly, he expected that she would be.
Elaine stammered over her answer. Not yet, she said at last.
Chances don't look good, eh?
She made her way to the nearest chair, by the bed, and sat down.
How often was she stabbed?
She said, How could you know she had been stabbed?
He made an impatient gesture with his good hand. I told you that someone was in my room with a knife three weeks ago. I told you and Lee, and neither one of you would believe me. Besides, there's Christmas Eve. I can never forget knives after that.
His voice had suddenly become tight, stretched like a rubber band. Although she wanted to know, more than ever, what the Christmas tragedy was all about, she knew it would be a mistake to broach the subject now. Even hinting at it, before the excitement tonight, he had suffered an attack of angina. Her duty was to keep him calm.
I think, he continued, you should pay especially close attention to those three I mentioned earlier.
You think it was someone in this house? Couldn't it have been a prowler, or a hitchhiker or-
He smiled, but it was an awful smile, even though she could not see the frozen half of his face. My dear Elaine, it could hardly be anyone else.
Someone lurking in the drive, Elaine offered. Someone who saw her go out and thought she might be back.
But she did not live here, he said. Why should she return? Only the people in this house knew she was to spend the weekend.
Elaine said, A madman, seeing her leave, wouldn't have had to know that she was a stranger. He might have thought she lived here, waited, and struck it lucky-or unlucky.
Simpler answers are better, Jacob said.
It was one of her own axioms too, but she did not see that it applied to this. She told him as much. It is far more complicated to ever imagine that one of the people in this house did it. None of them are capable of such a thing!
Several are, he said.
She was suddenly angered by his pessimism and paranoia. The events of the night had broken down her defenses to the point where she could forget her training and speak rather harshly to him. I don't see how you can say that about your own people!
It isn't easy, he agreed. Elaine, I grieve terribly at the thought of it, but I cannot let emotion overrule what I know.
You can't know. Did you see who did it? No.
He said, One cannot evade the truth for very long. Life makes certain that it comes home again and again. And if you choose to ignore it, it only hurts you worse in the end. I've been expecting this for a decade and a half.
Neither Dennis nor Gordon-and not Paul, for that matter-is capable of murder. And, certainly, none of them is capable of such an awful, bloody murder like this. She corrected herself, superstitiously. Celia Tamlin was not yet dead; it wasn't right to speak of her like that. Thus far, the crime was only intended murder.
It is all part of their legacy, Elaine. Jacob had managed to pull himself up against the headboard, sitting as straight as he could manage, rigid as iron, the feather pillows jammed down between the headboard and the mattress.
The Honneker legacy, the one I tried to tell you about earlier in the day.
I don't understand, she said.
And that was true. And, being true, it frightened her, because she was accustomed to understanding things. Confusion and doubt were always to be cast out as quickly as possible.
Madness, Jacob Matherly said. Their mother's grandfather, their own great-grandfather, went out of his mind when he was only thirty-four and was thereafter institutionalized for the remainder of his life. And, more recently, their mother was affected.
Amelia, he affirmed.
You can't mean that she was mad, Elaine said. But she knew quite well what he meant.
Oh, yes, Jacob said. Mad. Very mad. She was a beautiful woman, tall and stately with a face like a goddess. Lee thought that her flights of fancy and her sometimes hot temperament were intriguing, spice to her otherwise steady personality. At first, he thought that. Later, he learned they were symptoms of a deeper and more dangerous malady.
Are you all right? she asked. His color was bad, and he was trembling.
I'm fine, he croaked. But he had begun, ever so silently, to weep, tears glistening on his leathery cheeks