The wind rose again during the afternoon, and the weather steadily deteriorated, until 3:00, with heavy thunderstorms splattering against the wheelhouse windows, and the waves starting to dance. Winston Smith called Michael and Emil up from the bottom, and told them to call it a day.363Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8TPRnmlMoR
They had searched the area beneath them intensively and systemically, but found nothing, not even a scour-pit that might have told them that a wreck was lying beneath the mud. Winston told Harold that any obstruction to the normal tidal stream causes the water to speed up as it flows around it, and that the whirls and eddies which this speeding-up creates leave a natural excavation in the ocean floor. Because of this tidal scouring, even a wreck which has been totally buried in mud leaves an unmistakable trace of its presence: a ghostly image in the ooze.
But today, there was nothing. Only the sloping mud-bank which gradually and smoothly descended into the deeper roads of Salem Harbor. Only fishing-tackle, and nets, and rusted automobiles, and dinghies that had fallen apart into firewood.
Michael came up on deck and peeled off his wetsuit. His lips were blue against his beard, and he was shivering with cold.
"No joy?" Harold asked him.
He shook his head. "None whatsoever. But we can come out again tomorrow. We still have all of this eastern vector to cover."
Hubert, who'd given up diving about an hour earlier, and now sat in the wheelhouse in a polo-neck sweater and jeans, said, "I don't think we're making any progress at all, Michael. I think it's time we did some echo-soundings."
"Echo-soundings aren't going to tell us anything unless we have a rough idea where the wreck is located," said Michael. "Besides, you're dreaming, Hubert. It could take us six, maybe seven months to get any results, and we can barely afford to rent the equipment for two months."
"I can help financially," Harold told him. "Will a couple of hundred dollars cover everything you need."
"I suppose so," said Michael. But the problem is one of time, more than anything else. We can only dive on weekends, and at this rate it could take us forever to find the George Badger. We've been at it for over a year now."
"Isn't there some record of where she might have gone down?"
"You know what happened. Ahab Marsh made sure that ever single mention of the George Badger was cut out of the record books.
"Do you think there might be something in the Knight Library?"
"The Knight library? You can't be serious!"
"I am serious."
"Well, let me tell you something about old man Colin Knight. He must be about 81 years old now. I've only seen him once, and these days he never comes out of that house of his. What's more, he won't let anybody else in. He lives with a Pawtucket Indian servant and a girl who may or may not be his granddaughter. They all have their groceries delivered, and left at the lodge at the end of the driveway. It drives me batty to think of all the incredible historical material that one old man is sitting on, but what the hell can I do about it?"
"Sounds like you've tried to get in there," said Harold.
"Boy, have I! I've written, phoned, and visited up there five or six times. Each time: a polite refusal. Mr. Knight regrets that his library is private, and not open for viewing."
The Julia was puttering back toward Salem Harbor now, her diving-flag struck and packed away, her stern rising and falling as the tide surged in. Winston was singing a sea chanty about Nanny Free and Easy, who "took a sailor's loving...for a nursery game."
Harold said to Michael. "I think you've been approaching Knight the wrong way. Maybe you should offer him something, rather than asking for something."
"What can I possible offer a guy like Knight?"
"He's a collector, right? Maybe you can offer him an antique. I've got a portable writing-case in the shop that was supposed to have belonged to one of the members of the jury during the witchcraft trials, Elias Scott. It's engraved with the initials ES, anyway."
"I think you've got a point there," put in Emil. "It's worth a try, at least. People like Knight hide themselves away because they think that everybody wants to lay their hands on their stuff. Look at the way he sells his picture----anonymously, in case anybody finds out where they came from."
Michael seemed a little put out that he hadn't thought of tempting old man Knight with a bribe. But he said, as graciously as he could manage. "Let's go up there this afternoon, okay? It's only a half-hour's drive. Maybe it is a good idea."
"I'm too tired to make it today," Harold told him. "Besides, I've got my parents-in-law coming over to the cottage. How about tomorrow morning, about ten?"
Michael shrugged. "Okay by me. How about you, Pauline. You want to come?" He wouldn't normally have asked her, but Harold sensed that he was trying to find out just what it was between them, if anything. Pauline looked at Harold with a direct expression on her face, and said, "No thanks. I've got to work in the shop tomorrow. It's like that for us independent businesswomen, you know. Can't relax for a minute."
"Whatever turns you on," said Michael.
They reached the harbor and tied up. As they stowed the diving gear away in the back of Winston Smith's station wagon, Hubert came over and clapped a friendly hand on Harold's shoulder. "You did well, this morning, for a first dive. If you want to put in some training, come on up to the Sub-Aqua Club Monday evening. When we find that bloody bastard, you'll want to be down there to see it."
"We'd better go tell the cops and the Coastguard about Mrs. Lennox," he reminded him.
"Winston will do that. They know him over at police headquarters. The diving club is always coming up with suicidal mothers and drowned babies and unwanted puppies in rucksacks full of rocks."
"Seems like the sea hides a multitude of sins," Harold remarked.
"Damn straight," said Hubert, and he was serious.
Pauline came over to Harold's car as he was about to leave. She leaned in at the open window, he hair blown about in the breeze, and said, "You're not going back to that cottage tonight?"
"No choice. I live there."
She looked at Harold without saying anything, then raised her face against the window. "Please don't," she said.
"Well, there's no point in running away from it. I've got to face up to what's going on, and I have to find some way of sorting it out. I'm not going through another night like last night. Sooner or later, one or the other of us, hell both of us, are going to get hurt. I haven't gotten over what happened to poor old Mrs. Donald Baylor. I don't want anything like that happening to you. Or me, for that matter."
"Boy," she said, with a sad and philosophical smile, "that was a whirlwind romance that whirled itself in and whirled itself out again."
"I hope you don't think it's over," Harold told her.
"It's not, not as far as I'm concerned. Not unless you want it to be."
Harold held out his hand, and Pauline took it, and squeezed it.
"Can I call you later?" Harold asked her.
She nodded, and said, "I'd like that," and caressed him with her eyes.
As he drove off, Harold glanced in his rearview mirror and saw her standing there on the dock, her hands in the pockets of her parka. She hadn't made him forget Nancy. He didn't think any girl could have done that. But for the first time since Nancy had died, he felt alive again, and that the world might be worth living in, after all. He thought how odd it was that human optimism is rarely invested in hoped-for-events, or the fateful course of future history; but rather in other people, each of them as unsure and confused as they were. There is no stronger courage than the courage of knowing that someone loves you, and that you are not alone.
Harold drove back to Harvest Mills. At the bottom of the hill, fixing his fence, he saw Tracker Miller, and he pulled the Toronado to a halt and climbed out.
"How are you doing, Tracker?" Harold asked him.
He stood up, wiping his creosote-stained hands on his Oshkosh coveralls. "I heard they dropped the charges against you," he said. He was trying to be direct, but Harold could sense the latter's embarrassment.
"Insufficient evidence," Harold told him. "Besides which, I didn't do it."
"Who said you did?" said Tracker, hastily.
"Who said I didn't? But somebody said that I was rambling that evening, and not in my right mind."
"To be fair, ol' buddy----you wasn't yourself."
Harold thrust his hands into his pants pockets and looked at him with a grin. "You're right, Tracker. I wasn't myself. But then who would have been, if they'd seen what I'd seen?"
Tracker looked at him narrowly, one eye half-shut, as though trying to weigh Harold up. "Now, look----you really did see Nancy, swinging on the swing?"
"Yes," Harold said. "And I've seen her again since.
Tracker was silent for a long time, thinking. It was cold out there, in the front garden, and he wiped his nose with his hand. Harold stayed where he was, hands in his pockets, watching him.
At last he said, "Andy Curtis didn't believe you. But then, Andy don't like to believe anybody when it comes to haunts and spooks."
"What's that got to...."
It was then that Harold noticed something odd about the way Tracker was looking at him, something scared and unsure and deeply impressionable, something that could mean only one thing.....
"My God!" Harold cried. "You've seen one!"
Tracker, ashamed, nodded. "Um, yeah," he said, in a throat-dry voice. "My brother, Huff."
"Did you see as well as hear him?"
Tracker lowered his head and looked down at the ground. Then he raised his head again, and said, "Come on inside. I got something to show you."
Harold followed him into the house. As he closed the door behind him, the first rumble of thunder sounded in the distance, out to sea, and the wind suddenly rose, and banged Tracker's garden gate. Tracker led him into the living-room, which he opened up and rummaged around inside. At last he produced a framed photograph, quite a large one, which he solemnly handed to Harold, as if he was presenting him with an honorary degree.
Harold carefully examined the photograph, even turning the frame around and looked at the back of it. It was a black-and-white picture of a highway, somewhere local by the way it looked, with trees in the background, and a parked car a little way off by the roadside. That was it. It was one of the dullest photographs Harold thought he'd ever seen in his life.
"It would help if you told me what I'm supposed to be looking for," said Harold.
Tracker took off his glasses and folded him. "My brother," he said, pointing to the picture.
Harold peered more closely. "Where? There's nobody in this picture, Tracker."
"That's just it," said Tracker. "This used to be a photograph of my brother, standing right in the front. Then, two or three weeks ago, I saw that he'd moved back a ways, no more than six, maybe eight feet, but back. I didn't credit it at first, thought I was making a mistake, but the next week he moved even further back, and last week he disappeared back down the highway altogether. That's why I took the picture down from the shelf. My brother's gone from that picture, and that's that. I don't know how, or why, but he's gone."
Harold handed back the photograph. "Yeah. The same thing's been happening to my pictures of Nancy," he told the other man. "They've been moving, changing. Nearly the same, but not quite."
"What in the hell is going on here?" asked Tracker. He grasped Harold's arm anxiously, and looked him right in the face. "Some kind of, I dunno, sorcery?"
"Well, that's one way of putting it," Harold said. "It's hard to tell. The good news is that there are people from the Peabody Museum looking into it. They might find a way of putting your brother to rest. Nancy, too. And all the other ghosts that have been stalking Ol' Spithead. Or so I hope."
Tracker put his glasses back on again. "I heard Huff crying," he said, staring sadly at the vacant highway in the photograph. "Night after night, in the spare room upstairs, I heard him crying. There was nobody there, nobody that I could see, anyway. But this sobbing and weeping went on and on, like a man in horrible despair. I can't tell you how much that got to me, Harold."
Harold gripped his shoulder as reassuringly as he could. "Don't worry about it, Tracker. It may sound like Huff's unhappy, but maybe he isn't. Maybe you're only hearing the most stressful side of what he feels like, now that he's dead. It's possible that people's personalities split up, when they die, and that somewhere there's a happy Huff, as well as a sad one."
Tracker frowned. "I don't buy it, Harold. Something's happening to him. Something---bad."
"What else can I tell you?" Harold shrugged. "Hell, neighbor, I don't know any more about this than you do, except that these people from the Peabody think that they may have guessed what's causing all these hauntings."
"What is it? Radiation, or some such shit."
"Not quite. But, hey, when I know more, I'll come down and tell you. Cross my heart. One condition: you have to give me that game of stud you promised."
They shook hands, although Harold wasn't quite sure why. Then he left Tracker to fix up his fence, got back in his car, and drove up the uneven roadway to Harvest Mills Cottage.
Harold had been dreading returning to the cottage ever since he drove away from the dock at Salem. He had dawdled along West Beach Drive at less than twenty miles an hour, much to the chagrin of a truck driver behind him. But here it was at last, at the top of the hill, looking gray and old and oddly squalid under the threatening sky. He made up his mind as he turned around and parked in front of it that this was going to be the final night he was going to sleep there. The cottage seemed so cold and hostile that there wasn't any reason for him to stay.
He climbed out of the car and approached the cottage with a terrible sense of foreboding. A stray shuttered clapped at an upstairs window: the hook had been pulled free from the outside wall during the high winds of the past few days, and unless he wanted to bang all night, I was going to have to go up on a ladder and fix it. He opened the front door, and went into the house, and it was just the same as when he had left it. Chilly, stale-smelling, without warmth or atmosphere or any sense of contentment.
The first task was to light the living-room fire. When that was blazing, he poured himself a drink, and walked into the kitchen, still wearing his raincoat, to see what he could make himself for supper. There was a Salisbury steak; or chicken-in-gravy; or hot tamales in a can. He didn't feel like any of those. What he really had a hankering for was one of Nancy's chili-con-carnes, fiery with pepper and thick with beans. He felt very sad for her then, and sad for himself. The flickering ghost of her which had been haunting him these past three nights had half-distorted his real loving memory of her, and when he thought of her now he couldn't help picturing that horrified electrical face.
"Nancy," He whispered to himself; maybe a little bit to her, too. Dante had written "nussun maggior delore che ricordarsi del tiempo felice nella miseria"---there is no greater sorrow than to remember a time of happiness when you are in misery. Harold's old boss at Transosis Chemical Bonding had taught him that one.
"I'm here, Harold," a voice whispered back.
She was there, in the cottage. Harold knew she was there. In the wind that sighed down the chimneys, in the beams and the woodwork and the lath-and-plaster walls. There was no way of exorcising her, because she had become the cottage, and in an extraordinary way she had become Harold, too. He knew intuitively that however far he traveled; even if he went back to Ferguson, or across to the West Coast; Nancy would always be there, whispering, cajoling him to make love to her, drawing him deeper and deeper into the half-world of electrical purgatory, and making it impossible for him to continue to lead his life. He had loved her when she had died, but if she kept on haunting him he knew that he would end up hating her. Maybe that was what had happened to Mrs. Donald Baylor. She had refused to submit to her dead husband's demands, and he had killed her. How long would it take before that happened to Harold Winstanley.
It seemed to him that the dead were jealously possessive of the living. Wilbur Price's marriage had been ruined by the ghostly appearance of his dead son. Tracker Miller was growing increasingly anxious about his brother. His relationship with Pauline was in suspense until he could lay Nancy's ghost to rest. How many other bereaved people in Ol' Spithead and Salem were finding that the overwhelming demands of their dead loved ones were making the impossible for them to give affection and attention to the living?
The other night Harold had wondered whether he would meet Nancy again if he were to die. What had she whispered to him, as he struggled under the water this morning? "Don't leave me," as if she wanted him to die, too, so that they could be together again. He wondered if the same thing had happened to Mrs. Lennox. Had she been called by her recently-dead mother? Had she felt that the only way in which she could possibly be happy was to commit suicide, and join her mother in that flickering, restless world of ghosts?
Maybe he was being too dramatic, like Michael. But he began to believe that all of those hauntings had the same purpose: to alienate the people whom the dead had loved from the real and physical world, to encourage them to believe that death would be their only chance of contentment and happiness. It was as if the dead were trying to exorcise the living, instead of the other way around. And whether or not it had anything to do with the George Badger, Harold believed that Michael was right, and that some powerful and malevolent influence was at work.
He finished his drink and walked back into the living-room to pour himself another. The long-case clock in the hallway whirred, and then struck six. It was later than he had thought; time seemed to have jumped, the way it sometimes does after 4:00 P.M. The fire was crackling and popping, and he stacked on another couple of logs.
It was then that he glanced across at the painting of the George Badger, which Michael had left propped up against the side of his armchair. It was somehow different; he couldn't immediately understand why. He picked it up, and examined it under the lamplight. It seemed to be gloomier, in a way, as if the sun had gone in. And he was sure that when he had first looked at it, there hadn't been such a menacing buildup of clouds on the right-hand side of the painting.363Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡCF57hqr2Ev
Maybe this painting was like spiritual litmus. When dangerous events were in the air, it darkened, and grew more threatening. Even the painted waves seemed to be rougher, and the painted trees were bending in an unseen wind.
He put the picture down again. He was beginning to think that tonight was going to prove to be something of a showdown: a scary confrontation between him and the Wildmans and the ghosts of Ol' Spithead. A squall of rain lashed against the leaded window, as if in temper, and he stood where he was, chilled despite the fire, and wished to God that he knew how to bring this grotesque, terrifying dream to an end.363Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9njYkeonytns 22.214.171.124da2