It was raining cats and dogs when they drove out Dracut County to talk to old man Colin Knight. The sky was an unrelenting gray, like layers of sodden flannel, and the rain just kept on pouring and pouring until Harold thought it would never end all year; that Massachusetts would never be dry again.367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡqid5zL6rGh
The three of them went in his car----Harold (himself), Michael and Hubert Orr. Emil Bryce wanted to come, but at the last moment his mother had come, but at the last moment his mother had insisted that he go over to Cambridge for Sunday lunch to meet his cousins from New Mexico. "Emil's mother is one of those ladies who won't take no for an answer," explained Hubert, as they drove through the rain.
"Show a mother who will," replied Michael; and Harold thought, with sadness and regret, of Gloria Wildman. Bruce had called Harold this morning and told him that she was still in intensive care, and that the doctors at Ol' Spithead Clinic were being extremely reticent about her chances of survival. "Overwhelming psychological and physiological trauma," they had diagnosed.
So far, Harold hadn't told Michael or Hubert about the gruesome events of the night before. He needed to think them all out for himself before he discussed them with anybody, especially with anybody as opinionated as Michael. He would tell them, later today or early tomorrow, but at the moment his mind was still a clamor of rushing ghosts, opening graves and shattered eyeballs. He couldn't make any sense of what had happened, and he didn't want to confused himself any further by attempting to rationalize it. This had all gone way beyond Dr. Lockwood's "post-bereavement hysteria." This was another world, another existence, more mystical and more powerful than anything that doctors or psychiatrists could handle; and if he was going to be able to do anything at all for Nancy or Wilbur Price or any of those hundreds of restless ghosts who had pursued him last night, then he was going to have to understand it clearly, without prejudice or easy assumptions.
"Entry into the region of the dead is by succession...." The way Nancy had said that, it was almost as if she had been reading from a book. "You are always called by the loved one who died immediately before you." Those words reinforced Harold's earlier opinion that the deaths that had been taking place in Ol' Spithead were a summoning, the dead beckoning the living, a kind of séance in reverse, with tragic and often gruesome consequences.
At least Harold knew one thing now; that he himself was charmed and protected by his unborn son. Maybe not against the full power of the force which lay within the George Badger, but certainly against Nancy.
Harold felt bitter, as he drove; bitter and tired. He also had a terrible sense of impotence and defeat, a fear that nothing he was able to do would help put Nancy to rest. Knowing that her spirit was trapped in that hideous limbo with all those rotting and skeletal apparitions was far worse than accepting that she was dead. The pain was greater, his feeling of loss heightened by a feeling of helplessness and despair.
Harold played Brahms on the car's tapedeck to calm his nerves, and talked with Michael and Hubert about Pauline Champion, and music, and the George Badger, and Pauline Champion.
"Is she stuck on you," asked Michael, as they drove into the outskirts of Burlington.
"Who are you talking about? Pauline?"
"I don't know," said Harold. "I suppose we do share a kind of vague rapport."
"You hear that?" said Hubert. "A kind of vague rapport. That's educated talk for 'we're just good friends.'"
Michael took off his glasses and polished them with a scrumpled-up Kleenex. "I have to admire your speed, Harold. When you want something, you certainly go straight in there and get it."
"She's an attractive girl," Harold replied.
"Well, sure she is," said Michael, and Harold thought he detected a hint of jealousy in his voice.
Hubert, leaning forward in the back seat, gripped Michael affably on the shoulder. "Don't you worry about Michael," he said. "Michael's been in love with Pauline Champion ever since he first laid eyes on her.
They took a right at Burlington, turning off I-95 and heading northwest on I-93. The car splashed through sheets of puddles, and sloughed through roadside floods. The windshield wipers kept up a steady, rubbery protest and raindrops hovered on the side windows like persistent memories that refused to let go.
They reached Tewksbury five or ten minutes after noon. It was just a small community, and Michael was quite certain that could remember where the Knight house was, but all the same they spent another ten minutes driving round and round the green, looking for the front gates. An old man was standing by the side of the green in a full-length waterproof cape and a fisherman's sou'wester, and he watched them gravely as they passed him for the third time.
Harold pull in to the side of the road. "Pardon me, sir. Can you direct me to a house called Summerworth?"
The old man came forward, and stared into the car like a country policeman who suspected them of being hippies, or radicals, or big-city insurance salesman.
"The Knight place. That what you want?"
"Yes, sir. We have an appointment to see Mr. Colin Knight at 12:00."
The old man reached under his raincape and produced a pocketwatch. He opened the case and peered at it through the lower half of his bifocals. "In that case, you're going to be late. It's thirteen minutes after."
"Could you just direct us, please?" asked MIchael.
"Well, it's simple enough," said the old man. "Follow this road around to the other side of the green, then take a left by that maple."
"Thanks," Harold told him.
"Don't thank me," the old man said. "I wouldn't go there if you paid me."
"The Knight place? Why not?"
"That place is bad fortune, that's what that place is. Bad fortune, and ill luck; and if I had my way I'd see it burned down to the cellars."
"Oh, give us a break," said Michael, obviously trying to coax the old man to tell them more. "Mr. Knight's a recluse, that's all. That doesn't mean that there's anything spooky about his house."
"Spooky? Spooky! Let me tell you something, son, if you want to see anything spooky, you ought to go past the Knight place one summer night, that's what you ought to do. And if you don't hear the strangest noises you ever heard, groanings and roarings and the like, and if you don't see the oddest lights dancing around on the rooftops, then you can come back to me and I'll give you dinner, free of charge, and your fare back to wherever it is you came from."
"Salem," said Hubert."
"Salem, is it?" asked the old man. "Well, if you're Salem folks, you'll know what kind of thing it is that I'm talking about."
"Groanings and roarings?" asked Michael.
"Groanings and roaring," the old man affirmed, without explaining anything more.
Michael looked at Harold and Harold looked back at Michael. "Everybody still game, I hope?" Harold asked. Michael said, "Sure. Hubert?" And Hubert replied, "I'm game. What's a little groaning and roaring?" Michael said, "You forgot the odd lights."
They thanked the old man, put up the car windows again, and drove around the green. Past the spreading maple tree, almost hidden by creepers and unkempt bushes, they found the high wrought-iron gates of Summerworth, the house in which the Knight family had lived ever since 1774. Michael said, "There is it. I don't know how I could have forgotten where it was. I could have sworn it was farther along the green the last time I came here."
"Spookier and spookier," grinned Hubert.
Harold stopped the car outside the gates and climbed out. Beyond the gates, there was a wide gravel driveway, and then a fine white 18th-century mansion, with a pillared doorway, green-painted shutters, and a gray-shingled mansard roof with three dormer windows. Most of the shutters on the first floor were closed, and Harold wasn't exactly gratified to see a brindled Doberman standing not far away from the steps which led up to the front door, watching him closely with its ears pricked up.
"The bell-pull's over here," said Michael, and tugged at a black iron handle which protruded from one of the gateposts. They heard a very faint jangling sound inside the house, and the Doberman trotted a little way towards the gates, and then stopped again, and stared at them ferociously.
"Are you good with dogs?" Michael asked him.
"I'm wonderful with dogs," Harold assured him. "I just lie there and cower and let them eat me alive. Nobody's ever complained to the ASPCA about the way I've treated dogs."
Michael glanced at Harold acutely. "Something on your mind?" he asked the latter.
"Am I that transparent?"
"If you're not making flippant remarks, you're totally silent. Did you see your wife again last night?"
"That bad, huh?" Michael asked Harold.
Michael came over and unexpectedly took hold of his hand. "I'm sure you'll tell us when you're ready," he said. "Just remember that you don't have to carry this thing on your own. You've got friends now, people who understand what's going on."
"Thanks," Harold said, meaning it. "Let's see where we get with old man Knight first. Then we'll go get drunk, and I'll tell you what happened."
They waited for almost five minutes. Hubert got out of the car, too, and lit a cigarette. Michael rang the bell again, and the Doberman came a little closer, and yelped and yawned all in a single breath.
"Maybe they're not home," suggested Hubert.
"The guy's a hermit, he never goes out," said Michael. "He's probably peering at us through a crack in one of the shutters, sizing us up."
He was about to ring the bell for the third time when the front door of the house suddenly opened, and a tall broad-shouldered man in a gray morning dress appeared. He whistled sharply to the dog, which turned its head, hesitated, and then loped disconsolately away from the gates, as if it was deeply disappointed that it wouldn't get chance to sink its teeth into their calf-muscles.
The broad-shouldered man approached the gates with the slightly-rolling walk of a 60-year-old body builder. The same way that Charles Atlas used to walk. When he came close, Harold could see that he was an Indian; with a magnificent fleshy nose and a face as coppery and wrinkled as a fallen maple-leaf. Although he wore full morning-dress, with a high white collar and a bow-tie, he also wore a long necklace of painted nuts or beads, from which was suspended a silver medallion and a brush of wild turkey feathers. The shoulders of his jacket sparkled with rain.
"Go now," the Indian said. "You are not welcome here."
"That's too bad," Harold told him. "The fact of the matter is, I've got a little something that Mr. Knight may be interested in."
"There is no one of that name here. Go now," the Indian repeated.
"Would you just tell Mr. Knight that my name is Harold Winstanley, that I'm an antique-dealer from Ol' Spithead, and that I have with me a writing case that used to belong to Henry Herrick, Sr. who was one of the jurors at the Salem Witch Trials."
"There is no-one called Knight here."
"Come on, pal," Harold coaxed him. "All you have to do is say 'Henry Herrick's writing case.' If Mr. Knight still doesn't want to see us after you've said that, well, we'll call it quits. But at least give him the chance to take a look at it. It's a very rare antique, and I just know that Mr. Knight would be interested."
The Indian thought this over for so long that Michael and Harold started to look at one another worriedly. But at last he said, "Stay here, please, gentlemen. I will speak to him."
"Speak," said Hubert, pretending to be impressed. "They don't pow-wow anymore. They speak. Next thing you know, they'll be using 'aggressively-oriented cosmetic,' instead of war-paint."
"Can it, Hubert," said Michael.
They waited outside the gates for a further five minutes, maybe longer. The rain had settled down to a fine drizzle by now, but it was still heavy enough to plaster their hair against their heads, and bedraggled Michael's beard. Every now and then, the Doberman, which was waiting for them just out of savaging range, gave itself a brisk and anticipatory shake.
Eventually, the tall Indian emerged from the house again, and without a word, unlocked the gates and opened them up. Harold went to the back of the car, and took out the Herrick writing-case, tucking it under his raincoat so that it wouldn't get wet. The Indian waited until they were all inside the grounds, and then locked the gates behind them. The Doberman quivered as they passed, torn between the command it'd been given and its natural bloodlust. Hubert said, "Throw it a leg, Michael. It looks hungry."
They climbed the stone steps to the front door, and the Indian ushered them inside. The hallway was paneled in dark oak; with a dark hand-carved staircase on the right-hand side, leading to a galleried landing. On the walls were oil paintings of all the Knights, from Joshua Knight in 1676 to Colin Knight in 1948. They were serious, oval-faced, without a smile between them.
The Indian said, "Upstairs. I shall take your coats."
They handed him their raincoats, and after he had hung them up on a huge and hideous hallstand, they followed him up the uncarpeted stairs. On the walls of the landing there were halberds and pikes, fowling-pieces and strange arrangements of metal that looked like torture instruments. There was also a glass case, almost impenetrably dusty, which contained something that could have been a mummified human head.
Throughout the house, there was a smell of staleness and closeness, as if the windows hadn't been opened for twenty years. Yet there were always noises, squeaks and bangings, as if unseen people were moving from room to room, opening and closing doors. There was supposedly nobody here but old man Knight, his alleged granddaughter, and his Indian manservant, but it sounded as if there were a score of other people around. Once, Harold even thought he heard a man laughing.
The Indian took them along an uncarpeted corridor, with a polished boarded floor, and then into an anteroom, sparsely furnished with English-looking antiques and a broken celestial globe. Above the empty fireplace was an oddly incompetent painting of five or six cats, American shorthairs by the look of them.
"Mr. Knight will be with you by and by," said the Indian, and left them alone.
"Well," said Michael, "we're in. That's an achievement in its own right."
"It doesn't necessarily mean that he's going to let us see his library," Harold said.
"That Indian's kind of weird," said Hubert. "He looks so Indian. I haven't seen a face like that outside of an 1860s photograph album."
They made nervous smalltalk for a while, and then the anteroom door opened, and a girl came in. They all stood up like territory boys at an Oklahoman weeding, and nodded their heads to her, and chorused, "How do you do, miss."
She stood by the door, one hand on the knob, and looked at us in remote and hostile appraisal. She was quite petite, no more than five-feet-two, with a thin, sharply-cut face, large dark eyes, and straight black hair that fell brushed and glossy halfway down her back. She wore a black linen daydress, simply cut, and yet it appeared from where Harold was standing that she wore nothing underneath. Her shoes were black and shiny with dagger-like toes and extravagantly high heels.
"Mr. Knight has asked me to escort you into the library," she said, in a clipped Bostonian accent. Michael raised an eyebrow in his direction. This was definitely chic. But what was she doing here, shuttered up in Tewksbury with an eccentric old hermit and an Indian dressed like William Randolph Hearst? Especially if she wasn't Knight's granddaughter?
The girl disappeared, and they had to hurry to follow her through to the next room. She led them across a hallway, her heels clicking on the hardwood floors, and as she passed one of the unshuttered windows, and the gray afternoon light fell through the fine linen of her dress, Harold saw that he had been right. He could even see a mole on the right cheek of her bare butt. He knew that Hubert had noticed, too, because he loudly cleared his throat.
At last they were admitted to the library. It was a vast, long room, which must have taken up nearly half of the upper floor of the house. At the far end of it, there was an arched window of stained-glass, and the colored light which strained through its amber-and-green panes illuminated the serried spines of thousands and thousands of leather-bound books, as well as huge bound volumes of prints and paintings.
Seated at a wide oak table in the middle of the library, with open books spread all around him, sat a white-haired old man, with a face that had shrunken like a monkey's from age and lack of sunlight. It was still possible to recognize him as a Knight, however----he had kept in old age the same oval features as his portrait downstairs, and the downward-drooping eyelids that had distinguished his forebears.
He had been reading with a magnifying-glass. As they came in, he laid it down, and removed his glasses, and examined them long-sightedly. He was wearing a worn-out white shirt, a black cardigan, and black fingerless mittens on his hands. Harold thought he looked rather like an irascible crow.
"You had best introduce yourself," he said, dryly. "It is not often that I permit visitors to interrupt my work, so I had better know who they are."
"I'm Harold Winstanley; I'm an antique dealer from Ol' Spithead. This is Michael Trotter and Hubert Orr, both from the Peabody Museum."
Colin Knight sniffed in one nostril, and put his glasses back on his nose. "Does it take the three of you to show me a writing-case?"
Harold laid the Herrick writing-case down on the table. "It's a fine piece, Mr. Knight. Surely a man of history like yourself is interested in it?"
"But that's not why you came. Not the main reason. Don't play games with me, sir!"
Harold looked up. The girl in black had stepped away from them, and was standing with her back to one of the bookshelves, watching them closely, almost as closely and almost as carnally as the Doberman had watched them. Harold couldn't tell whether she wanted to rape them or bite their necks, but the look in her eyes was certainly intent, and unswervingly avaricious. In the shadows, her black dress had become opaque again, but the thought of her nudity beneath it was curiously erotic; and somehow dangerous, too.
Michael said. "You're right, Mr. Knight. We didn't really come here to show you this case, although it's a very rare antique, and I hope you take some pleasure out of seeing it. The real reason we're here is because we very badly need the use of your library."
Old man Knight sucked at his dentures, and said nothing.
Michael went on, uncertainly, "The truth is, Mr. Knight, we have a very tricky historical problem, and even though the Peabody has quite a stock of literature and charts and so forth, it doesn't have the relevant material we need to solve this problem. I was hoping---- we were all hoping----that we might find it here."
There was a very long silence, and then Colin Knight pushed his chair back, and stood up, and walked slowly and thoughtfully around the other side of the table, running his hand along the edge of it to keep his balance.
"You realize what a massive impertinence this is?" he asked them.
"It's not really an impertinence, Mr. Knight," Harold put in. "There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of lives at stake. There are some souls at stake, too."
Colin Knight stiffly raised his head, and stared at Harold with one keenly-focused eye. "Souls, sir?"
"That's right. Souls."
"Well, now," he said. He approached the writing-case, and touched the initials on the top of it with his chalk-dry fingertips. "Well, now, this is indeed a very fine case. Herrick's you say?"
"Henry Herrick, Senior. The 12th juror at the Salem Witch Trials."
"Hm. Appropriate that you should bribe your way into my library with such an item. What's your price?"
"No price, sir."
"No price? Are you insane?"
"No, Mr. Knight, not insane. What I mean is, I don't want any money for it. All I want is access to your books."
"I see," said Colin Knight. He had opened up the lid of the writing-case a little way, but now he closed it again. "Well, that's not too easy a request for me to grant you. I'm working here, you see. I'm trying to finish my history of 17th-century religion in Massachusetts. The definitive work. I estimate that it will take me another year to finish, and I daren't waste a minute. I could be writing now, you see, rather than talking to you. Supposing I were ten minutes away from finishing my book when I died? Wouldn't I regret this conversation then!"
"Mr. Knight, we know exactly what we're looking for," said Michael. "If your library is clearly indexed, we shouldn't have to disturb you for more than a day or so. And we could always come at night, when you're asleep."
"Hmmm," said Colin Knight. "I never sleep at night. I take three hours during the afternoon; and that I find quite sufficient for my needs."
"In that case, may we please come here during the afternoons?"
Colin Knight touched the writing-case again. "This actually belonged to Henry Herrick? You have evidence?"
"There are three short letters in it, in Herrick's authenticated handwriting," Harold told him. "What's more, one of the accounts of the Witch Trials specifically mentioned 'Herrick's letter-box.'"
"I see." Old man Knight opened the case up again, and let his hand stray over the silver-topped inkpots, the sand-shaker, and the ivory-stemmed pens. There was even a piece of green sealing-wax, which must at the latest have been Victorian. "You certainly do tempt me," he said. "I could find considerable inspiration in an item like this."
The girl in the black dress said, "Maybe your visitors would like some sherry, Colin."
Colin Knight looked up at her, surprised; but then nodded, "Yes, Sarah. Maybe they would. Sherry, gentlemen?"
They accepted, rather uncomfortably, but then Colin Knight beckoned them down to the far end of the library, by the stained-glass window, and offered them a seat on a large leather-upholstered sofa. When they sat down on it, it made a loud noise of escaping air, and clouds of dust surrounded them, like the clouds of battle. Colin Knight eased himself into a brocade armchair, right before them. The green light from the stained-glass window illuminated his face and made him look as if he were dead and moldering already. But there was plenty of intelligence and animation in his eyes, and when he spoke he was both novel and alert.
"I should like to know, of course, what it is that you're looking for. I may be able to help. In fact, if you are looking for anything at all that is here, I am sure to be able to help. I have spent the past fifteen years cataloging and indexing this entire collection, as well as adding to it, from time to time, and selling off some of the less worthwhile prints and books. A library is a living thing, gentlemen. It should never be allowed to become complacent, otherwise its usefulness will wither; and its information become inaccessible to anyone without a pick or a jackhammer. Of course, you don't really understand what I'm talking about, not at this time, but when you start to use this library, if I agree to let you, you will discover at once how human it is. It lives and breathes, as I do; it is at least as alive as I do; it is at least as alive as Sarah and Tyee."
"Tyee? That's your Indian manservant? The one who showed us in?"
"Indeed. He used to work for the Robbins family, years ago, out at New Dunwich; but when the last of them passed away, he came here. No introduction, you know. Just appeared on the doorstep, with his suitcase. Sarah thinks he's a wizard."
"A wizard?" laughed Hubert.
Colin Knight gave a twisted, humorless smile. "Stranger things have been known, round and about this part of Massachusetts. Magical country, of its kind. At least it was, before the old families died out, and the old ways were all but forgotten. The first settlers, you see, had to learn what the Indians already knew, that to survive, in this country, you had to come to terms with the native spirits and gods. They didn't have any trouble, of course, accepting the existence of such things. In those days, in the 17th century, they believed without doubt in God and his angels; and in Satan and his demons. So to believe in a few more supernatural forces wasn't a difficult mental jump for them; not like it would be today. They had to rely on the Indians a very great deal, especially in those first hard winters; and many of them came to know the Pawtuckets and the Narragansetts immediately. Some settlers, they say, were more adept at summoning up the Indian spirits than the Indians themselves. It was said that the Robbins could do it; and one of the Knights was supposed to have had a hand in it, too."
"Mr. Knight," said Michael, very anxious that they shouldn't be sidetracked, "what we're really trying to discover, not to beat around the bush, is the precise location fo the wreck of the George Badger."
As if right on cue, Sarah came into the library with a small silver tray of sherry. She came click-clacking over to them, and handed it around. For one strangely tantalizing second, she leaned across in front of Harold, and he glimpsed her small bare breasts through her dress. Harold accepted his sherry from her with a smile, but the look she gave him in return was one of pure cold indifference.
When she had gone, and closed the library door behind her, Colin Knight said, in a phlegm-thickened voice, "The George Badger? What the devil do you know about her?"
"Only that she used to belong to Ahab Marsh, who had christened her after George Badger the evangelist preacher," said Michael. "Only that she set sail from Salem in a terrible storm in 1693 and was never seen again. At least, that's what the history books say. But they also say that every single reference to her was cut from every single logbook and broadsheet, and that Ahab Marsh forbade anyone ever to mention her again. And the inference is that she foundered, quite soon after departing Salem, and was driven back into Lobster Bay by a strong northeasterly wind, and finally went down off Ol' Spithead Neck."
Colin Knight sucked in his cheeks, and regarded them thoughtfully. "She sank over 291 years ago," he said, carefully choosing his words. "The likelihood pf there being anything salvageable left of her is slim to nonexistent, wouldn't you say?"
"Not if she really did go down where we think she did," Michael argued. "On the west side of Ol' Spithead peninsula, the bottom is very soft mud, and if the George Badger behaved like every other sinking ship of the time, which we have no reason to doubt that she did, she would have plunged into that mud right up to her waterline, maybe higher, and buried herself within a matter of weeks."
"So?" asked Colin Knight.367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡQOvD5om4Nq
"If that happened, then the George Badger will still be there. Preserved, right up to the orlop deck, at least. But that means that whatever she was carrying in her hold will be preserved, too."367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3bO0fCz7Cl
"You know she was carrying?"
"No, not really," said Hubert. "All we know is that the people of Salem were in a hell of a hurry to get rid of it; and that it was contained in a specially-made copper vessel, or could have been."367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡTNGDJv7CGD
Michael added: "We've been diving in the area, looking for the wreck, for over a year now. I'm sure it's there; I'm convinced of it. But unless we can find some documentary evidence of where she might have sunk, it's going to take us the rest of our lives to locate her. It's not even worth doing echo-soundings until we have a pretty good idea of where she is. There are so many small boats and so many heaps of trawl-nets down there, we'd be forever picking up likely-looking signals, and of course we'd have to dive down and investigate them all."367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡULqJQo2XLI
Old man Knight was sipping his sherry all this time; but when Michael had finished, he set down his glass on the table beside him and gave a dry, thin sniff.
"I simply don't understand why you want to find the wreck of the George Badger?" Colin Knight told them. "What is so desperately urgent about it?"367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡFIzd5GIn7V
Harold looked at him carefully. "You know what's in it, don't you?" he asked the old man. "You know what's down there, and why they tried to get rid of it?"367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡUBxnUAB5NX
Colin Knight looked back at Harold, just as shrewdly, and smiled. "Yes," he admitted. "I know her dirty little secret. And if you can convince me that you have a strong enough reason for salvaging it, and that you know what dangers you may be up against, I'll tell you what it is."ns 188.8.131.52da2