Chapter 10

If events in the Matherly house had seemed to describe a descending circle towards a distant point of terror ever since the attempt on Celia Tamlin's life, they plummeted toward that terror like a falling star on the evening of the third day. The night gradually evolved into something like a hideous dream which, at some of its worst moments, she was sure would never end for her.

It began gradually, at supper.

Dennis, immersed in his painting of Celia Tamlin, did not come to the table, but had his meal sent up. This seemed to please Lee, Jerry and Bess. They reacted as if his sudden intense interest in his work was an omen of a return to normality. Didn't they understand what sort of painting it was? Didn't his flamboyant fascination with madness make them ill at ease? How could they ever evidence pleasure at such a decadent preoccupation?

Anyway, whatever Dennis did to lift their spirits, Paul more than compensated for. He had not yet returned from his trip to town and was, apparently, still in some barroom squandering a sizeable sum of his trust check. From time to time, Lee Matherly cast a fretful glance at the empty chair, as if he hoped to look up once and miraculously find Paul there.

Celia Tamlin, they had learned, had come out of her coma but had not yet been questioned and would not be for at least another twenty- four hours. Her doctor was keeping her heavily sedated.

This last bit of news should, Elaine supposed, be cheering. But it only made her feel a greater, deeper tension. If the would-be killer was a member of the Matherly household, wouldn't the threat of Celia's soon-to-be-regained consciousness drive him closer to the brink? If he were frightened that she would point the finger at him, wouldn't his borderline madness become a berserk spree against which none of them were safe?

Dinner would have been a terribly depressing affair if Gordon had not been there. He engaged her in conversation, and he seemed able to draw from her things she would never ordinarily have talked about. His quiet, somewhat shy manner, so much like her own, gave her confidence.

They were finishing dessert-strawberries and peaches in heavy cream-when Paul Honneker returned home. He slammed the front door so hard the noise reverberated throughout the house like a cannon shot. Then, for a time, he stood in the vestibule, out of sight of the dining room, and cursed someone-perhaps himself-quite loudly.

“Will you excuse me?” Lee Matherly asked, wiping his lips with a napkin and rising. He was embarrassed for his brother-in-law.

Gordon stopped talking and listened closely to what was said in the vestibule, and Elaine pretended to be interested in the last of the fat red strawberries swimming in the cream in her dish.

“What the hell do you want?” Paul Honneker asked.

From the sound of his voice, the slight slur on his words, it was clear that he was very drunk indeed.

“Lower your voice,” Lee Matherly said. His own voice was calm, sympathetic, even.

“Why in hell should I? Why shouldn't I yell all I want? I've had an afternoon to make a man yell!”

“Come upstairs, and you can tell me about it, Paul.”

“I'll tell you now. Those damned townspeople-”

“Upstairs, Paul.”

“I want something to drink.”

“You seem to have had plenty.”

“I want another,” Paul said. His voice had gone whiny, but there was an underlying rage in it that Elaine had never heard before.

“You have a bottle in your room?” Lee asked.


“Let's go up, then. You can have a drink and tell me about it.”

There was quiet for a moment, as if the big man was considering the suggestion. Then, suddenly, there was an explosive sound of shattered glass. “Damned mirrors,” Honneker said. “I hate damned mirrors like that. You know I do, and still you have mirrors around. What the hell? Is everyone against me around here? Does everyone hate me?”

“Of course not,” Lee said.

“I'm going up to get a drink,” Honneker said.

He cursed and hollered the whole way up the steps, and his voice died slowly to a distant grumbling as they went into his room.

Gordon pushed his unfinished dessert aside. His face had gone white, his lips tight and angry. “I'm so sorry you had to be subjected to that.”

“It's all right, Gordon.”

“It really isn't all right,” he said. “He's a disgusting man, most of the time. I don't like people who don't achieve things. He's lazy and drinks too much. Despite mother's will, I think father ought to see about putting Paul on his own. It might do him good.”

She agreed, but she did not say anything, for she felt that it was a family affair which was none of her business.

Gordon said, “My brother's another who needs a bit of discipline. Living up there, doing nothing but his oils, dreaming about critical acclaim. It would be funny if it weren't that he reminds me, so much, of mother.”


“Yes. Flighty, excitable. Given to a lot of fantasy. Some of that's in Paul, too. It's terrible the way father does nothing to curb that attitude in both of them. It frightens me at times.”

She knew just what he meant.

Once she had seen to Jacob Matherly's well being and had heard him promise that he would take a sedative when he was finished with the book he was reading, she went to her own room and dressed for bed. She intended to read something light, the comedy-adventure novel which was among those she had purchased before she came here. But the novel was a bit too silly for her tastes and, besides, Paul Honneker's periodic noisy ramblings would not allow her to settle in for more than a few pages without being disturbed. When it was clear she was not going to become absorbed in the story, she put the book down and busied herself with a number of small chores.

She washed out two pair of stockings in the bath attached to her room and hung them to dry.

Paul Honneker was still rambling.

She filed her nails and painted them with clear polish to keep them from chipping more than they usually did. She really did not care much about the appearance of her nails, but this was, at least, something to help pass the time.

She dusted her room and straightened things a bit-mostly things that did not need straightening.

She wrote a short letter to a girlfriend who had attended nurses training with her. They were not really that close, and Elaine had intended to let the friendship gradually wither once they had gone their separate ways. But now it was nice to be able to make even this limited contact with the outside world.

She watched a television documentary about the ecology movement. Ordinarily, she did not care for situation comedies or westerns, preferring those shows which she felt were educational. Tonight, however, she watched several intolerably ridiculous programs when the ecology hour was over. She watched, in fact, until she grew sleepy. At a few minutes past midnight, she turned off the set, rolled over, pulled the covers up around her and reached out for the shimmering aura of sleep which was close at hand.

She dreamed of a painting.

The painting was her face, so huge it filled all horizons. Her face, in that painting, was covered with droplets of blood. Her own blood. Her eyes stared sightlessly out of the universal canvas, her mouth parted in a wordless scream of pain…

She woke to the sound of the emergency buzzer and leaped out of bed, her professionalism taking precedence over her grogginess. She pulled on her robe and hurried down the corridor toward Jacob's room.

The door was standing ajar, but she did not stop to consider the importance of that. She went in, turning on the light as she passed the switch, and found the old man doubled over, retching, panting for breath, his angina as fierce as it had ever been.

She got two glycerine tablets from the medicine cabinet, poured a glass of water. She held his head while he swallowed the first pill and lowered him back onto his pillows again. His face was furiously red; perspiration dotted his forehead and streaked along his cheeks. His hair was damp, as was the pillowslip under it. She gave him the second glycerine tablet, then began filling a syringe with a charge of morphine.

“The key-” he wheezed.

His voice was thin and birdlike, all but unintelligible.


He pointed toward the top of the nightstand where a ring of keys lay, his long fingers shaking uncontrollably.

“The key… for this room,” he said.

“Relax,” she told him, working up a smile that she thought would soothe him.

“Lock me in… when you… when you go!”

“Please rest, Mr. Matherly. Relax, and we'll have you better in no time at all.”

“Swear… swear you'll… lock me in.”

“Let's just roll up your sleeve,” she said.

“Swear it!” He was purpling with fury. His whole body shook as if someone were repeatedly striking him. She saw that it was worse to ignore his rantings than to give in to them.

She said, “I will.”

He slumped back, his face quickly paling, his lips taking on the blue tint of death.

She rolled up his sleeve, swabbed the area on the inside of his elbow joint and administered the morphine.

Shortly, color returned to his cheeks. His eyes looked heavy, but they were devoid of the agony they had contained.

“Better?” she asked.

“Tired,” the old man said. “Very tired… so tired.”

She listened to his heart with a stethoscope, listened for a long while. At first the beat was so ragged it frightened her, and she had decided to call an ambulance if it did not soon subside into a more regular cadence. In a few moments, the beat did soften and fall into a steady rhythm.

Jacob's face was healthy again, both in color and tone-except, of course, for the damaged half-and his lips had lost the deathly pallor.

She filled a basin with water from the adjacent bath and wiped his forehead and face with a cold washcloth. That done, she changed his bedclothes and made him comfortable once more.

“Now?” she asked.


“I'll stay with you until you're asleep.”

“You won't forget your promise?”

“I'll lock the door,” she assured him, though she didn't know why she should.

“I don't want him getting in again.”


“I don't know who it was. All I saw-I saw the knife, in the light from the window.”

She felt her own heart beat faster. In her professional role, so deeply involved in carrying out her nurse's functions, she had momentarily forgotten the Matherly house and its legacy of madness.

“You don't mean that someone tried to kill you, again?”

He nodded his head affirmatively.

She knew that she should drop the subject, but she could not. She said, “But why couldn't you see who it was? The nightlight would have-”

“There was no nightlight when I woke up.”

She knew, then, that he must have dreamed the entire affair, for there was always a nightlight burning here, at his own insistence. She clearly remembered seeing to it before she left the room earlier in the night.

He continued: “I was awakened when he stumbled against the chair in the dark. When I opened my eyes, there was no nightlight. Just the dim light from the window. I reached for the cord and pulled the buzzer to get your attention, because I found I couldn't build the lung power to scream.”

“There's no one here now,” she said. “When the buzzer sounded, he fled.”

“You rest now,” she said. “He's gone and can't hurt you.”

“Do you believe me?” he asked, fighting the drugs that worked on him.

“Of course,” she lied.

He leaned back, exhausted, and soon found sleep.

Elaine listened to his heartbeat again, took his pulse. Satisfied that the attack had passed, she turned to leave-and saw the small, blue bulb of the night-light. It was lying on the floor where someone had dropped it after unscrewing it from its baseboard fixture.

Numbly, she picked it up and threaded it into its socket again; it lighted and glowed against the palm of her hand. When she had entered the room and switched on the main lights, she had been too concerned with Jacob's condition to notice that the night-light was out. The old man had not been dreaming, after all. When she left his room, she carefully locked his door as he had requested.

In the corridor, she stood in darkness, holding the ring of keys and wondering what her next move should be. Back to bed? Or should she wake Lee Matherly and tell him what had happened? The darkness seemed to close in, like a living thing, and it made clear thought impossible.

She hurried down the corridor to her room, closed and locked her door behind.

She could not sleep.

The storm had begun again, complete with rolling thunder and the heavy patter of rain on the roof and against the windows. Lightning snapped open the clouds and peeled back the darkness for brief moments, then gave way to the thunderclaps again.

But it was not the storm which kept her awake. She could have slept through a hurricane if only she had not had to cope with the certainty that a madman roamed the night in Matherly house.

Perhaps she should not have left Jacob alone. She doubted that the killer would force the door. But if she had remained with the old man, she would not be alone now…

Elaine remembered the dream from which the buzzer had awakened her, remembered the mammoth canvas that filled the universe with a skillfully rendered portrait of her blood-stained countenance. And that did not help her state of mind at all. It so disturbed her, in fact, that when she first heard the noise at the door of her room, she thought it was nothing more than a figment of her overworked imagination, generated by these unpleasant memories. She tried to turn away from the door and concentrate on regaining sleep.

But the noise continued.

It sounded as if someone were testing the lock.

Finally, unable to ignore it any longer, she rolled over. In the light of the bedside lamp, which she had not been able to bring herself to extinguish, she looked at the door. The brass knob moved slightly. It turned first to the left-then to the right.

She sat up in bed.

Someone, on the other side of the door, turned the knob as far to the left as possible, then cautiously put their weight against the panel. She could see the oak bulge slightly against its frame, and she was thankful that the door was as thick as an old tabletop.

She slid out of bed and stepped into her slippers.

A shattering blast of thunder swept against the house and made her gasp and whirl, as if her unseen enemy had somehow abandoned the door and come in through the window, behind her.

At the door, the would-be intruder twisted the knob back, all the way to the right and, again, applied pressure to see if the lock could be snapped.

She considered screaming for help and realized that might not be the wisest move. How could she, after all, be certain that her scream would be heard by anyone but the man who was trying to force the door to her room? The walls of the old house were thick; the storm further served to cut the effectiveness of a scream. And if a familiar voice answered her scream and told her that everything was fine, how could she be sure that, when she opened the door, he would not turn out to be the killer-holding a knife and smiling at her?

The movement of the door knob ceased.

For a time, there was not the slightest sound to betray any furtive activity.

Elaine stepped up to the door, treading softly, hopeful that whoever it was had given up and gone away. It did not occur to her, at that moment of intense fear, that-if the killer had departed-he might very likely have gone to attack someone else in the house. She never once considered that her own safety might be at the expense of another life. All that mattered was that, for whatever reason, he should leave her in peace.

The roll of thunder was somewhat more distant than it had been, though still loud enough to set her nerves on edge.

The lightning flashed intermittently, like some lone, forgotten, guttering candle.

As she leaned against the door to better listen to whatever was transpiring in the corridor, the thin blade of a wickedly long knife was thrust through the crack between the oak panel and the frame, inches from her face, almost as if the killer had seen her and knew where to strike! As if he might have been watching her through two inches of solid oak!

She leaped back, too terrified even to cry out. She might as well have been a mute, for her lips moved and her throat worked without producing a sound.

The blade withdrew.

And came back.

It worked up and down the tiny slit where the door met the jam, clicking audibly against the mechanism of the lock. She realized, then, that the killer had not seen her, but was merely trying to spring the lock with the blade.

She leaned closer to the door now and said, in a small voice which sounded utterly unlike her, “Who is it?”

The blade continued to work.

“Who is it?” This time, she hissed the request louder.

The blade stopped.

It withdrew.


“Are you still there.”

More silence.

She waited what seemed like hours, though only ten minutes passed according to the bedside clock. Even with her ear pressed to the door, she could not hear anything in the corridor beyond.

Had he left?

Should she open the door and see?

As if in warning, the thunder's greatest rage returned, smashing the stillness of the air. In its booming voice, she seemed to hear it cautioning her against unlocking the door.

She retreated to the bed and sat on the edge of the rumpled sheets, leaning against the old-fashioned footboard. Aware that the danger might not yet have passed, she fixed her gaze on the oaken door.

Long minutes passed, and her mind rambled over dozens of memories, as if seeking escape from this ugly moment. She recalled her first look at the Matherly house from the road and the first premonitions of unpleasantness which had possessed her. She remembered, earlier than that, graduation from the University Hospital and the eagerness with which she had packed to leave the dormitory for this job and a new future. And before that: the orphange, the changing nurses and house mothers, the children she had rarely gotten along with. Before that: the social workers bringing word of the accident, trying to break the news of her parents' deaths with the least amount of nasty detail…

Abruptly, she looked up, aware that she had drifted into sleep, slumped against the footboard in an uncomfortable position.

At the door, the intruder was working the knife in the jam again, intent on springing the lock.

She required all her strength to rise up and go to the door and lean against it while he worked, trying to hear some other telltale sound. All she could hear was his heavy breathing which only frightened her more. He sounded like some sort of crazed animal.

“Go away,” she said.

The knife stopped moving but remained thrust through the crack.

“Go away.”

He said nothing.

“I never did anything to you,” she said.

For a moment, she felt as if she would go mad herself, driven into insanity by the simplest of things:

-the silence, deep and foreboding;

-the persistent wind, howling at the windows, pressing on the glass and driving the rain like fingers on the panes;

-the sound of her heart, pounding so fiercely and so loudly that it must surely burst;

-the gleaming blade of the knife, still most of the time but now and then jiggling as his hand twitched…

Minutes passed as if they were cast of lead and given a minim of life, crawling minutes that eventually brought a withdrawal of the knife blade from the door. And then, thank God, the passing minutes also brought the sound of his footsteps as he retreated down the hall. He walked quietly and was soon gone.

She almost laughed, but managed to choke the urge down. She was afraid that, if she once gave in to laughter, she would be unable to stop. She was on the edge of hysteria.

She went back to the bed and crawled onto it and began to lift the sheets to wrap around her. But she saw that was no good. She dare not fall asleep again this night, lest the killer have another change of heart and come back after her. “I never did anything to you,” she said to him. And he had been satisfied with that, apparently. But he might not remain satisfied for very long.

Her hands were sweating. She wiped them on her pajamas.

Her mouth was as dry as sand, but she was afraid even a glass of water would make her ill.

Twenty minutes later, she found herself standing in the middle of the room, swaying back and forth, staring at nothing, thinking of nothing. For a third of an hour, she had lost track of the world, slipped into a self-protective shell.

That was dangerous.

She shook herself, figuratively and literally, and she angrily berated herself for being unable to control her fear. There was nothing to fear. Nothing concrete. Not until he returned, if he did. She had always believed in keeping things as simple as possible, hadn't she? All right, then. The danger had passed. Relax. Don't let your imagination run away with you.

She drew the easy chair to a spot ten feet away from the door, and she sat down in it, facing the only entrance to the room. She would maintain a vigil. And she did. Until she fell asleep, utterly exhausted, two hours later.

Legacy Of Terror
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