As a nurse, Elaine had always been fascinated by the ease with which people could overcome adversity which a moment earlier seemed to be suffocating them. Even the weakest people eventually stood up and faced whatever had been put in their path-a serious illness, the death of a loved one-and went on with their lives as best they could, eventually returning to normal. From the common laborer to the fanciful society matron, each human being seemed blessed with this resiliency. As she was, herself. Despite the long days of anxiety, despite the man who had hurt her with the rock, despite the long night of sleepless, fearful anticipation, she fell asleep in the easy chair shortly after dawn.
When she woke, she did not know where she was. For a long minute, she stared about her, perplexed, looked at the unrumpled bed, at the sun trying to cut through the amber drapes over the window, at the door with its alarm system still balanced precariously on the straight-backed chair. And then she knew where she was, and she was angry with herself.
She got up, weaving slightly with exhaustion, and stumbled toward the bathroom. She splashed cold water in her face until her eyes no longer tried to slide shut, then looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes looked sunken, her face pale. There were worry lines around her mouth. It had been a very bad week indeed. And a long and tiring night. She supposed she could not blame herself for falling asleep, and she decided that self-recrimination was only a waste of time.
Dawn had seemed like such a blessing, a release from the dangers of the night, and she had succumbed to its symbolic safety. Now that daylight had returned and she had recovered some of her energy through the short nap in the chair, she knew the danger remained. The only way it would be dispelled was through her own initiative. Just like everything else in this life.
The time was 9:07, which meant that Lee would already have departed for the city, Gordon with him. Bess would be washing the morning's dishes and puttering around in the kitchen, while Jerry would either be engaged in dusting the furniture downstairs or attending to some bit of maintenance in the large house. Jacob would be finishing his breakfast tray and perusing the morning paper. Paul Honneker would be- probably-sleeping off some binge he had indulged in the night before. And what of Dennis? Would he be watching the door of her room, waiting for her to come out?
She remembered that Amelia Matherly had not required darkness to engage in bloody murder, and she knew that Dennis might wield the knife as easily in the light of morning as in the glow of the moon.
It didn't matter. No matter what awaited her, she could not remain in her room indefinitely. If she did not call Captain Rand before he went off duty this evening, and if the psychiatrist did not manage to induce Celia to remember the identity of her attacker, then she would have to spend another night here, sitting up, tense, waiting for the knife blade to slip through the door frame and pry at the lock.
She wouldn't be able to tolerate that again.
She dressed simply, brushed her long, rich hair which fell over her shoulders like silken darkness. She removed the bottles from the chair that braced the door and replaced them on the dresser, taking time to arrange them as she liked them. As she was removing the chair from beneath the knob, someone knocked on the door, lightly but insistently.
She could not hope to pretend that she was not here. For one thing, her door was locked from the inside, which he would discover if and when he tried it. For another, he must have heard her removing the bottles which had served as an alarm and taking the chair out from beneath the knob.
Who is it? she asked.
Gordon? It did sound like his voice, through the thick door, but she could hardly believe it. She had thought that he would be in the city, at work, and that she would be alone.
Are you all right, Elaine?
She quickly unlatched the door and opened it.
Gordon stood there, looking a bit haggard himself, as though he had spent a night more tiring than hers. She was pleased to note that, despite this, he was shaved and neatly dressed, as always.
I thought you'd be in the city with your father, he said.
He said, I couldn't go today. It's the first day I've missed in some time. But I was up most of the night, listening for the sounds of trouble. I worried about you, and I couldn't sleep. Now and then, when I thought I heard someone moving about, I came out into the corridor to see if anyone was bothering your door, but I never caught anyone.
Oh, Gordon! she said, leaning against him with a suddenness and a dependency that surprised both of them. She was relieved by his show of concern, as if his interest in her safety insured that safety.
Were you bothered during the night? he asked.
His arm went around her, encircled her shoulders, firm and manly, protective. He gave her a sense of freedom that she had never experienced before. He made her feel that, as long as he were at hand, she no longer had to be so sober and alert and careful of her own interests. He would take care of her. He would be her hands to hold off the world.
Tell me about it, he said.
And she did-most of it, anyway.
When she was finished, he said, I have the feeling that you're holding something back, keeping something from me.
She couldn't look directly at Mm, and she couldn't answer him, for he was right.
What is it, Elaine?
I don't want to anger you.
You can't. Is it something to do with the family? Do you think you know who it was who threw that rock last night?
Well, he said. He seemed to be trembling just the slightest, but he forced down his fear and faced up to the very thing his father refused to believe. Which one of the family was it?
Last night, you didn't know whether to believe that it was someone in this house. What changed your mind so suddenly?
He said, I guess I've known all along that there was no hitchhiker involved. Celia might have picked up someone riding to Philadelphia, but he did not try to kill her. I didn't want to face the truth. Just like father, I did not have the courage for it. Now I do. I saw, last night when I couldn't sleep, that I would have no peace of mind until I did accept this burden.
She found herself laying her head against his shoulder, listening to the rapid beat of his heart, finding comfort in the crook of his arm.
Well? he asked.
Dennis, she said.
He was quiet for a long time.
Do you believe me?
I think I do. But I want to hear why you suspect my brother. I want to know everything you have seen which points to him.
She told him all of it, from the paintings which Dennis worked on, to the way he had held a palette knife and seemed vaguely to threaten her. She mentioned Dennis' concern, at the supper table, when Lee reported that Celia was out of her coma. She reminded him of Dennis' problems, as a boy, when his mother had killed the twins and then herself. And, finally, she told him about last night, about Dennis' catching her on the phone and about the way the man beneath the willow had reacted to Dennis' name.
My God! he said when she was done. He had aged ten years in the time it took her to tell her story.
I'm sorry, she said.
You aren't responsible for anything, he said. The trouble is not with you, but with our family, with the blood we carry in our veins and with the way we've tried to hide our history. The trouble is with father for letting Denny grow up as he has, without responsibility, frivolous.
She nodded, in full agreement with his assessment of Denny's character. What can we do?
He thought a moment, then said, You'll have to stay here, in your room, Elaine. I'll go up to Denny's studio, by myself. I'll simply confront him with all this.
It's the best way.
Call the police, Gordon!
I couldn't do that, he said.
I feel it's my responsibility, he said. He's my brother. Despite what he may have done, if he did do it, I cannot just call Captain Rand. I can't just let Dennis be treated like a common criminal.
But if he is mad-
Then he's still my brother. Nothing can ever change that.
She was frightened for him. He was too good, too considerate, and he would end up paying for his consideration if she did not stop him from going through with this foolish plan.
Elaine, you don't understand how-
I won't let you do it, Gordon!
She pushed him aside, spun by him, pushing away his hand as he reached for her. She ran down the hallway as fast as her legs would carry her and took the stairs two at a time. Downstairs, she hurried into the main drawing room and picked up the telephone. She began to dial the seven digits in the police number that she had gotten from the operator last night, and she had dialed the fifth number before she realized that she had never heard the dial tone. She hung up and tried again.
The line was dead.
Elaine, what are you doing? Gordon asked, running into the drawing room and coming to stand beside her at the phone.
It isn't working, she said.
He took it from her and listened.
She lifted the cord, drew on it, and found no resist-ence. It came through her hands until she was holding the cut end.
Someone has cut the line, Gordon said.
Gordon, we must get out of here!
Let me go up and talk to him.
He knows, Gordon, she said. She felt cold, clammy, as if she were standing in the middle of a very old, dew-slimed tomb. He knows that I suspect him, and he's taken steps to see I don't call the police. Don't you see what I mean? If he has done this much, he won't stop at trying to kill us all, this morning, before we can get help.
But if we can't call the police, what else is there to do but let me talk to him, see if I can get him settled down? He might give himself up.
I'll get my car, and we'll drive in to the police station, she said. She turned and ran past him, hurrying into the hallway.
Hurry! she said.
She turned and ran for the kitchen, not bothering to see whether he was following her. Neither Bess nor Jerry was in the empty, quiet kitchen, and she did not see any sign of them outside, on her way to the garage. She lifted the white, windowless door over the garage stall which Lee Matherly had said was for her use and hurried to the Volkswagen. She opened the door, slid behind the wheel, and only then realized that she did not have her keys.
For a moment, she froze as she considered returning to that house, climbing that dark staircase again, returning to her room, so close to the studio where Dennis worked.
She couldn't do that.
She'd rather stay here and-
And what? Die?
No, she couldn't give up so easily. Her whole life had been geared to survival, to learning to cope. She had early understood that the world was a hard place, and that had never gotten her down. She had stood up to it, a little mite of a girl with long black hair, and she had bested it time and time again. She was sober and serious and not at all frivolous, and she would not sit here and do nothing.
Besides, there was Gordon. Dennis could hardly harm both of them, if they got the keys together. The advantages would be with them. And, most likely, they would not even be bothered. Dennis might still be sleeping.
She slid out of the car, closed the door, and stopped cold.
She looked, for the first time, into the rear seat of the car, stared hard at what had caught her eye. It was the gleam of a wristwatch. The wristwatch was attached to a wrist. The wrist to a shoulder. The shoulder to a body.
She opened the front door.
In the overhead light, she looked at the face of the dead man, and she saw that it was Captain Rand. He had been stabbed several times.