Chapter 8

Elaine closed the door to Jacob Matherly's room and leaned against it for support. She had managed to sit through the grisly story of the Christmas Eve murders and had waited with Jacob until the night's sedative had taken effect and he had fallen asleep. In all that time, she had tried to keep in mind that her own actions were not important. What mattered was making Jacob feel at ease and giving him no need to worry more than he had. He was, after all else was considered, her patient, her very reason for being here, the center of her new life. So she had commiserated with him and tried to soothe him, had done much tongue-clucking and hand-patting, all the while forcing her fear deep inside where he would not be able to see it. Now, out of the old man's sight at last, the fear rose up and bubbled through her darkly.

What was she doing in this house?

Oh, yes, there was the job, the money and the room and board-and the feeling that she was getting ahead for the first time in her life, standing on her own feet. But that was not enough to keep her here, was it? She could as easily obtain a job in a happier home, away from the brooding evil that hung like a pall over the Matherly place. First of all, there was that fifteen-year-old double-murder and all that such a nightmare left behind it, the residue of insanity which no one would ever be able to cleanse from these rooms or from the minds of those people who had lived through the aftermath of the killings. And, much closer to home, there was Paul Honneker's drinking, which disturbed her more than she had realized. She had never liked being around drunks, for they were unstable, cut off from reality, too prone to fantasize. And there was Dennis Matherly and his frivolity. He and the house, together, made her terribly uneasy. And there was, of course, the stabbing of Celia Tamlin. And, perhaps most frightening of all, Jacob Matherly's early insistence that one of his own family was the guilty party.


Go away.

Get another job.

But she could not do that. She could not, chiefly because that would be like running away from a problem, refusing to face up to reality. And she had never run away. Not from anything. There had been times, when she was yet a child and the coldness and inhumanity of the orphanage and its staff had bitten into her and made her afraid, that she had contemplated running. She had dreamed of being found by a wealthy couple and taken into their house and nourished and nurtured and given much love. But she had soon discarded those dreams and learned to cope with what really was. Now, so many years later, she could not give way to the childish impulses for escape which had plagued her then.

And other things held her here, she realized. There was Lee Matherly, whose fortitude throughout this ghastly affair of Celia Tamlin, had been indeed admirable. He was strong and tall, and he had borne the grim circumstances well, even if he had grown more pale and less cheerful through them. He was a father-image, she supposed. He was the stern, able father she had always longed for and never really known. And there was Gordon. She didn't like to think about that, because she was afraid that she was deluding herself. Yet, when they passed in the hallway or met for meals, they exchanged looks that made her certain he felt the affection for her which she, cautiously, was beginning to admit for him.

She tried to remember that Jacob Matherly had apparently given up the notion that one of the family was the guilty party in Celia Tamlin's case. The old man assured her that he no longer held to the notion that the madness which had infected Amelia Honneker-Matherly had also infected some other with her blood. He was subscribing, now, wholeheartedly to Captain Rand's theory about the hitchhiker. That should make her feel more at ease.

It did not.

She admitted to herself that she did not believe the old man's newfound optimism. He was too eager to accept Rand's proposal. He was too vocal in his support of the possibility of a stranger having committed the crime. Behind his expression of relief and his concern that this strange hitchhiker be found and punished, lay the doubts he had evidenced before, in times when he wished to be more honest with himself. Jacob Matherly still believed that either Dennis or Gordon or Paul had been responsible. He was frightened near to death, waiting for something to break.

And so was she, she realized.

“Have you been hired as a guard now?” Gordon Matherly asked. He had come up the stairs to the landing before she realized he was there.

She looked confused for a moment.

“Given up the nurse's duties for guarding grandfather's door?”

She smiled. “No. I was going to my room, but I seem to have run out of energy at this point.”

He said, drawing her away from the door, “How is he?”

“His angina seems not to be bothering him, despite the continued excitement. I'd say, all in all, he's doing well.”

“I worry about him,” Gordon said. “I don't want to lose him.”

She smiled. “He's a wonderful old man.”

Gordon agreed, enthusiastically, and then said, “I came up to ask if you'd like to come downstairs and play a few games of billiards with me.”

She giggled, and immediately she was amazed at hearing herself do so. She blushed and said, “I can't play. I never have.”

“I'll teach you,” Gordon said.

It was one of the most enjoyable evenings of her life. Bess brought them soda and snacks halfway through the evening, but they were otherwise left alone in the game room. Ordinarily, Elaine would not have been much interested in games, for she thought them a waste of time. But Gordon was careful to explain that pool, unlike many other games, was beneficial, since it tested the players' mathematical judgment and sense of relationships. He proceeded to teach her the game as if it were a puzzle to be solved, explaining bank shots and how to hit a ball to make it go left or right. It was all very fascinating, and his company made it doubly rewarding.

When she went to bed around 11:30, she felt elated. Despite what had happened to Celia, despite the gloom that hung over the house, despite everything and anything, she felt fine.

Because of Gordon.

When she dreamed, it was of Gordon. They were walking together in an endless garden, where all the grass was mown and all the shrubs tended to. Wild fruit grew on many of the trees. Birds sang overhead and followed them, like special servants, wherever they went. The sky was blue, the air warm, and the rest of the world a million-billion years away.

She woke up to thunder that exploded like a bomb on the roof…

At first, she did not recognize the source of the noise or, indeed, the room in which she had awakened. The thunder shattered the flat, gray sky again and again, slammed ethereal fists upon the Matherly house, rattled the windows in their mountings and set the very air itself into sympathetic vibration. Lightning, coaxed from another dimension by the heavenly cannonade, played yellow-white fingers on the glass and thrust brittle shards of ghostly light across the floor and over the spread on the bed in which she lay. When half a dozen bursts of that strobe-like illumination had stabbed into the dimly lighted room, she remembered the Matherly house, her job, her patient, the attack on Celia Tamlin, the story of Christmas Eve…

Her dream of peace was gone.

Her dream of Gordon had evaporated.

She rose and went to the window.

The morning was intensely black, the low sky heavy with sheets of cold rain which swept through the trees and across the tidy grounds of the estate. The storm was so fierce, the rain so dense, that she could not even see the colonial Bradshaw house which was usually visible from her window, even at dusk.

A particularly violent thunderclap made her start and jump backwards. When it was gone, she was angry. There was a time-of very recent vintage- when she would never have been frightened of thunder, when she would have thought of it only as noise, harmless noise. This house was changing her, and she was not offering enough of a battle against it.

She turned away from the storm, showered, dressed, and checked on Jacob. He was still filled with a false certainty that the would-be killer of Celia Tamlin was a stranger.

Downstairs, the rooms were dark, lighted only by the cloud- filtered sun which shone dimly through the deep-set, rain-streaked windows. In the kitchen, she found dirty dishes stacked in the sink. Bess was neither clearing up the morning's debris nor preparing the afternoon meal, though it was now a few minutes before ten o'clock. That meant, she decided, that the old couple had the day off and were away shopping or visiting. Bess was too compulsively neat to have left work to be done.

She fixed herself toast and coffee, finished them at the kitchen table where she had a view of the back lawn, the scudding clouds, the willows whipped by the wind. She was dawdling over a second cup of coffee when the kitchen door opened, and Dennis Matherly entered the room. His face was flecked with red paint along the left cheek, and his hands were stained with green. He wore tattered jeans and a work shirt, quite a less affected costume than what she was used to seeing him in.

“Good morning!” he said, cheery despite the rain and the mood of this old house.

Uneasily, she said, “Good morning, Denny.”

“I see you made coffee.”

“I didn't fill the pot,” she said. “But there should be another cup or two.”

He poured a cup, added sugar and cream in doses she found excessive, then sat down at the table, directly across from her, sipping cautiously at the steaming brew.

“Have you heard about Celia?” he asked.

She found she did not want to look directly at him. She said, still staring past his shoulder at the rain, “I haven't, no.”

“She's past the crisis,” Dennis said.

She looked at him. “Out of the coma?”

He frowned and pulled at his lip. “Not yet. But the doctors say that her chances are very good for a complete recovery. They're intent on keeping her under heavy sedation whenever she does regain consciousness, so we probably won't know for some time who was responsible.”

She did not know what to say in response. She did not want to talk to him at all, and especially not about the stabbing of the young girl he had originally brought to this house. Looking at him, somewhat entranced by the perfection of his good looks, she saw something behind his eyes that she did not want to face and could not clearly identify, something that frightened her more than a little.

“Is it Bess and Jerry's day off?” she asked, hoping the conversation would quickly extinguish itself in trivialities.

“Yes,” he said. “And Bess will shout the roof down when she sees the dishes stacked here.” He chuckled and sipped the last of his coffee.

She finished hers, too, and put her cup in the sink after she rinsed it out.

He came up next to her, put his cup with hers, and said, “Would you like to come up to my studio and see the last few 'masterpieces' I've been working on so diligently?”


But she said, “Well, I have things to do and-”

“Come on,” he said. “Father's away on business in town. Gordon's gone with him. I don't have anyone to admire a miniature I just finished. And I am utterly lost without admirers.”

“Your Uncle Paul seems to be your greatest admirer,” she said.

“Yes, but he's gone as well. It's that day of the month when he collects his trust check from his portion of mother's estate. He'll have picked it up at the bank by now-but he won't be home till supper. He likes to celebrate the receipt of each check in one or another of his favorite bars.” He smiled as he said it, and she saw there was no anger or recrimination in his face or voice. He didn't seem to mind, at all, that his uncle was a drunkard.

Then it occurred to her that, but for Jacob Matherly, they were alone in the house.

And Jacob was a cripple, incapable of helping her If-

If what?

“Come on,” he said. “You've not been up to see my work yet, and it's high time you were.”

He took her hand.

His hand was warm, large, dry and firm. She did not know why she should have expected anything else, but when she felt his hand and found it was not cold, she was surprised.

“I actually should look in on your grandfather and see-”

“He'll be fine! Only for a few minutes,” he said, leading her from the kitchen, into the downstairs corridor.

She did not see any way that she might gracefully refuse his invitation, and she did not want to make him angry. He was, after all, his father's favorite son. And he had Honneker blood…

“I want an honest opinion,” he said, as they started up the stairs to the second floor.

She did not reply. She could not reply, because her throat had constricted, and the ability to speak seemed to have left her.

“I hate people who say they like everything. Uncle Paul is my best critic, because he's honest. He never fails to point out my failures and to criticize mistakes in my technique. He had a bit of art training himself- among many other things.”

Elaine remembered Paul Honneker's honesty at the supper table that first night, when Celia had been expounding on her notions for a complete rebirth of the mansion. She wished she could be as truthful herself. She wished she could overcome her fear of Dennis and her reluctance to risk insulting him. If only she could say: “I am afraid of you. I don't want to go up there with you while we are alone in this house. Let me go!” If only… if only she could run.

At the end of the second floor corridor, they opened a door and went up steep, narrow wooden steps to a second door which opened on the attic. They walked into a large room where Dennis Matherly slept and worked. The walls were intensely white and hung over with perhaps twenty of his paintings and drawings. The floor was polished hardwood and softened to the tread, on one half, by a tattered oriental rug. The ceiling was open-beamed and polished until it gleamed darkly. A skylight broke the wooden arches and shed sunlight on the large drafting table and swivel stool which occupied the center of the room. There was a great deal of other furniture, though it was all utilitarian. There was a bed, an easy chair, a desk and chair, bookshelves crammed full of art texts, four easels, a cabinet of supplies, a xerox machine, a mounted camera for photographic enlargement, and a small refrigerator where cold drinks might be kept.

“Not much, but it's home for me,” he said.

“I like it,” she said.

She meant that. She had been prepared for a room full of plush and expensive furniture, deep pile carpeting, senseless knicknacks, a playboy's notion of what a working artist's studio was like. This was more the sort of place she could feel at ease in, utilitarian, sensible.

“I'm glad you like it,” he said.

He closed the door to the stairs so that they were, more than ever, completely alone.

Legacy Of Terror
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