The London fog was all about me, thick and yellow, stifling at times, in which the faint echo of my heels sounded with uncanny clarity. It was as if I walked in a city of the dead; there was no sound other than that which I made myself as I strolled up York Road toward Addington. I had come to Waterloo Station, and finding no cab, I was now carrying the little portmanteau that had been my companion all the way from the Cotswold Hills in the West Country.
I was to meet my half-brother Michael, to accompany him across the Channel to Brittany, where he intended to make his researches. I was in a hurry, the cold wetness of the fog ate through my thick woolen pelerine, and my fast pace added to the warmth of my body.
At the intersection of Victoria Embankment and Bridge Street, I hesitated, not quite certain of direction. It was then that I heard the cry, the scuffling of feet. I paused there, scarcely breathing. My hands clenched the handle of the portmanteau more tightly.
Then I heard the gunshot.
It was unmistakable. I cried out weakly, unintelligibly. It was no more than a squeak of sound, for my vocal chords seemed paralyzed.
The wind sprang up as mysteriously as it had died down. There was a salt tang in the air that parted the fog, that brushed away those yellowish clouds of mist and showed me the little tableau before my eyes.
A man lay crumpled on the ground—dead, I was sure, killed by that single gunshot I had heard. Standing over him was a tall, dark man in fashionable frock coat that looked as though it had come from the House of Worth. His face was distorted, twisted grotesquely. At another time, it might have been handsome. There was a black mustache, high cheekbones and an oval face, with a trace of sideburns showing beneath his velour fedora.
The breeze died down and the yellow fog closed in between us, very much like the shutting of a door. My legs began to tremble in reaction, my mouth opened to cry out, but my tongue would make no sound, glued as it was to the roof of my mouth.
A hand gripped my elbow.
I am not the fainting sort, but I came near to collapsing right then. For an insane moment, I believed the murderer had seen me, had come to kill me, to remove a witness to his crime. I tried to move my numb legs, but they would not respond, they could do nothing but quiver.
"I must say, you've led me a pretty chase."
I turned my head, not quite believing what I was hearing. In the fog, dimly, I saw the face of my half-brother Michael. I almost did faint, then. I let the tension ooze out of me and leaned my weight against him.
"Here, here! Brace up, Del," he muttered gruffly with his inbred dislike of any show of weakness. "Not yourself, eh? Walk's been too much for you, eh? Well, now, you're safe enough with me."
''The murderer," I whispered through dry lips.
His black eyes studied my face coolly. Michael is almost twenty years older than I. We had the same father, but my mother had married Derek Putnam when Michael was eighteen years old and a student at Cambridge. As a result, my brother was almost like a father himself, to me.
"Not romanticizing again, are you, Del?" he asked sharply. "Making up one of your spooky stories?"
"No, Michael—no! I swear it!"
His lips curved into an indulgent smile. "Very well, then, come along. This fog is enough to make even a sensible person see things in it, let alone a giddy young woman."
"But I did see him, I tell you. A man crouching over a dead body, with a smoking pistol in his hand."
"Save your breath for walking, Adele."
Now my brother only calls me Adele in moments of great distress, or when he is irritated with me. I decided that Michael, who is something of a dreamer himself, even though he is regarded very highly in the field of anthropology, might be annoyed with me.
"Talk about it later, eh? Over a cup of Bohea."
It was his peace offering, and I accepted it as such. We had a longish walk to Grosvenor Street, just off the Square. Ordinarily, I would never have attempted it, but the London pea-souper is no respecter of persons. When one cannot find a cab, what is one to do? As a result, I was very tired when we finally came to the townhouse built of Comish granite, with Welsh slate for its roof tiles, that my brother called home.
The jingle of keys on his ring told me we would soon be out of this unseasonably cold fog and inside under gas lamps. I went up the steps with him, waited while he inserted the key. He ushered me inside to the welcome warmth, a thick hall carpet, and the hurrying figure of his housekeeper, Florence Arnold.
"Oh, it's good to see you, Miss Del," she enthused, smiling and helping me off with my shoulder cape. "Tea is warming. Master went out for you earlier, seeing how bad the fog was and afraid of what might happen to you, shouldn't you be able to find a cab."
"Only relative I have," Michael growled. "Can't have you wandering around the city like a lost soul. But come, there's a fire going and you can sit before it and warm yourself."
I needed no second invitation. My arm hooked around that of my brother, I paced with him onto the thick Bokhara rug that adorned his upstairs parlor and sank gratefully into an upholstered chair that seemed to close about me comfortingly.
My eyes went around the room, settling with remembered affection on a decorated clay vase he had brought home from Malta and on a stone image, mounted on a basalt block, which Michael insisted was that of the Mater Magna. A kylix from Greece, a bronze sword from Egypt hanging on the wall, a row of colored vases in a glass display case-these were the memorabilia of the places Michael visited in his work. I myself had gone to many of them in the past few years.
My brother seated himself on a big hassock and stretched out his legs.
"No hitches? No delays? The sale of the old homestead went off smoothly?"
"Ever so much so. No trouble at all. The Wilsons were delighted with it, they can hardly wait to take up residence." I sighed, filled with the memories of childhood and of my growing-up years.
Mrs. Arnold came in with the tea wagon and some biscuits. The fragrance of the Bohea made my mouth water.
After our first few sips, I said, "Your letter came while I was in the midst of packing, Michael. You mentioned something about Brittany, I wasn't sure just what"
His eyes gleamed as he sat on the edge of the hassock, balancing his teacup so precariously that I took it from him and put it on the wagon. In his more intense moments, my brother is given to energetic moves and jumps that threaten destruction to anything as delicate as Longshaw china.
"I've decided to go to Carnac to study the menhirs there," he said with a rush. "You've known for a long time my theory about those megaliths that abound in Malta, Sardinia, in England at Stonehenge, even in Ireland at New Grange. The ones at Carnac are especially interesting."
"Brittany. I've never been to Brittany."
"Don't let your romantic notions get the better of you, Del," he scolded, with a sharp glance. "It means work, a lot of work. If I'm right in my beliefs. . ."
His voice trailed off. Oh, I knew his theory-it was an old story to me, but Michael never tired of telling it. He wanted to write a book about it eventually, a book such as those others we had done together, a tome that would trace his work along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, up the coast of France to Brittany, across the Channel to England and Ireland. Michael would furnish the anthropological proofs, I would do the writing. This was the way we had worked before, and would again.
"Michael, I wouldn't miss it for worlds. I'll buy notebooks and tons of ink and be at your elbow for any chance remark you might have to make, so I can record it for posterity."
"Oh, come now, Del."
"Besides, Lysette is in Brittany-quite near Carnac, I do believe."
Michael looked surprised. "Lysette Reynolds? I'd forgotten all about her. She's in Brittany, you say?"
"Oh, Michael. You never think of anything but these clay pots and stone statues of yours. Honestly! You were quite smitten with Lysette yourself, upon a time."
"She was a child, scarcely older than yourself."
"But beautiful, Michael. And besides, she was all of five years older than I. She was married—how long ago was it?"—fully nine or ten years ago, when I was only sixteen or perhaps seventeen."
"She'll never remember you."
"Indeed she will. We've corresponded, over the years."
My eyes sought the flames in the hearth, recalling those letters and how they had changed from sheer happiness to utter terror during those years. She had been Lysette Reynolds, now she was the Countess de Kerceval. I wondered how time had changed her. She had been very beautiful.
Michael stood up, saying, "You look sad; that's always an indication of an empty stomach. Mrs. Arnold is ringing the bell for us to worship at her table. Come and be comforted." At the dinner table Michael laughed at me when I finally leaned back in my chair and sighed. "Full up, are you? Not cold any more?”
I smiled back at him. "I'm about ready for bed, to tell the truth. But you've made me remember that scene in the fog, Michael. If you hadn't hurried me away, we might have intercepted that murderer."
"And been shot for our pains."
He leaned across the table to fix me with his black eyes. "Assuming we had been able to overpower the killer and hold him for the police, we'd be held as material witnesses."
He paused to let that sink in, making a little gesture with his hand. "You can guess what that would mean. We'd have to stay here, we'd be unable to go to Brittany. And my researches must come first."
He shrugged. "The man's dead, and that's that. Nothing we can do for him. As for his killer-who knows? Maybe the man deserved killing."
After a time I said weakly, "They may not demand that I stay in London, Michael. After all, they have to catch the man before I would be able to testify against him."
His face lighted. "I hope so, Del. I should miss you more than I can say. After all, you've been with me at my research sites for many' years now. I lean on you, I really do."
I Walked upstairs thoughtfully, a candle in my hand. The flickering flame cast weird shadows on the walls, on the paintings that lined the staircase. This townhouse was very much like a museum; it held artifacts from far across the world, across centuries upon centuries of time. Even the paintings were related to my brother's anthropological interests.
My room had been lighted for me. I stood in the doorway, studying the fourposter bed, the washstand, the huge clothes closet. Two windows looked out over Grosvenor Street as far as a corner of the square. I had seen that street with autumn leaves on it, covered by snow, and green with the leafage of spring. This little room had been a temporary home in the past; now it was to be my permanent one.
Such garments as I possessed were already in the big cupboard and the drawers of the mirrored bureau. Mostly they were sturdy things, for when one works out of doors, as I did so often with Michael, one needs no silk stockings or frilly Medici blouses. Oh, I had clothes for city wear, but not too many of them.
I would have to pack these garments, make certain they were clean, and check my stronger clothes such as the thick tweed skirts, my riding outfit, and my shirts of heavy material for those hours I would spend in the open at the menhir alignments.
But this would wait upon tomorrow.
The sight of the bed drove all thoughts of anything but sleep from my mind. I undressed by candlelight and donned a muslin nightgown. It was while I was searching through my chatelaine bag that I found the letter from Lysette, crumpled and slightly torn.
My fingers smoothed it out, I caught a few words, and my heart began to beat faster. It was the last letter I had received from Lysette, dated two months ago. Its tone had disturbed me oddly when I first read it; I still felt troubled as I stared down at it now.
As I write this, I am actually shaking with terror. You will recall how happy I was, at first, in Brittany at Chateau Kerceval, how delirious with joy I had been at the birth of my two children: Florian, who so much resembles his father, and little Yvette, who looks like me. Now-all this has changed.
I saw the legendary creature-a man, perhaps, or even a spectral figure as the natives claim him to be- known as Yann an Od, which means in our own dear language, John of the Dunes. It was a misty night. I had been riding, I had paused to study the sloping beach and the sea. I saw the boat, with its solitary occupant leaning on an oar. It was shawled or cowled, I couldn't tell which, and it was eerie.
Something out of those horror stories you delighted in telling, years ago. Do you remember them? I sat my saddle, frozen in fear. The Yann an Od supposedly appears only to those who are about to die! Such a ghastly thought! I am still young, only five years older than you, dearest Adele. I have a long time yet to live, or so I trust.
And yet I find myself vaguely disturbed, frightened at times so that I needs must tremble even in the full rays of the sun. My dear Yves laughs at me, telling me that the Bretons are as superstitious as the Cornish folk, and that they see hob-gobs where there is nothing but mist.
Still, I saw something out on those waters. A fisherman? I do not think so; he was the oddest :fisherman I have ever seen-if indeed it was a fisherman.
I find much comfort in writing of this to you; it brings me peace of a sort. Perhaps, like yourself, I am gifted with an overactive imagination. Let us hope so! There have been other strange things happening to me. I saw the death cart one night as I rode my Sun King-a noble horse, by the way-and Sun King saw it, too. He snorted and shook and couldn't run away fast enough. There have been warnings given to me—a bit of mandrake root shaped like a woman and with a pin thrust through it, the death card from a Tarot pack, a bit of black ribbon cut and shaped to resemble that crepe which is placed on •a door when a person has recently died within a house-and I feel that some malevolent force is gathering its power to hurl itself against me.
I shall continue to live my life 'as though nothing were happening. I owe this to Yves and to my children. Yet I am frightened, Del-so frightened! I wish we were back together on those dusty lanes of Sussex, walking between the hedgerows, laughing and carefree. How dear those days are to me! I often think about them. Yes, and long for their return!
I must stop now, I am in the midst of dressing for dinner and have found just a few seconds in which to make this scrawl. Just remember to say a prayer for—
My eyes were wet when I finished reading that letter. Indeed, I had brushed away those tears more than once when the words tended to blur before my eyes. Her words were bringing back old memories of days when Lysette and I had been carefree girls together. Despite the difference in our ages, we bad been great friends.
We lived in Sussex, of course, close to the Downs. My father was very wealthy, but I believe now that he was not quite so much so as Lysette's father, who was rich with inherited lands and properties, and was a much younger man. My father was a widower when he married my mother; his son Michael, as I have mentioned, was already in University. We inhabited a lovely old manor house named The Larches, with a big stable in back and many servants.
I was five when Lysette and her family came to the neigh boring estate-a huge edifice of Yorkshire stone, with iron gates and iron fencing running almost all the way around it-and took up residence. Lysette was ten, but a very young ten. Neither of us had ever been to school; we'd had tutors to educate us.
We were very lonely; there were only the village children to play with, and these were forbidden us. Naturally, we turned to each other. We first met on either side of the iron fence that ran around most of Long-acres, which was the Reynolds estate. We stared at each other solemnly in the manner of strange, shy girls. One of us smiled, I think it was Lysette; she is sure it was I.
Then we began to talk. I told Lysette about my doll Amanda; she informed me she was going to get a pony and pony-cart all for herself on her next birthday. Ah, that pony-cart and Johnny Jump-up, the pony. How many fine rides we had in that little cart!
I found an interest in literature, early on. Perhaps it was the short stories of an American writer named Edgar Allan Poe that first attracted me, or it may have been the novel Frankenstein by Mary Godwin Shelley. A delight in the written word and the macabre went hand in glove with me, it seemed. I was a precocious child, I read anything on which I could get my hands, and by the age of twelve was well versed in what Jan, our housekeeper, used to call those spooky tales.”
Lysette and I would go for long rides in the pony-cart and later, as we grew older, on horses from her stables and my own. We grew to know the Downs by heart, those stretches of gently rolling flatlands covered with green grass and bright wild flowers.
But the nights! Ah, then I could indulge my imagination. I culled terrifying tales from my long reading; I held Lysette enthralled by my spoken pictures of clanking chains and prisoners left manacled in dark dungeons without a light to see by, with tales of horror (filched cheerfully enough from Edgar Allan Poe) that brought the little golden hairs at the base of her pale white neck standing upright.
We spent much time at each other's homes. I believe my father and mother and her parents were very active socially; they seemed to be dining out every other night, which threw Lysette and me closer together than ever. We slept in the same bed, we wore each other's clothes, we eventually shared the same tutor when her Mr. Sanderson—quite old, as I always recall him-finally retired and went to live with his daughter in Devon.
One afternoon in my twelfth summer, my half-brother Michael came home from Cambridge. In my eyes he was a hero, like King Arthur and the "Iron Duke." He was tall and very strong, with dark brown hair and piercing black eyes. He was a marvelous horseman, and he joined us on our rides across the Downs.
Lysette was smitten by him, and for the first time in my life, I knew the sting of jealousy. My Lysette was being stolen from me-unwittingly, of course-by my own brother. However, in those days I did not think of him as a brother, but simply as a young god who was rather remote from my tiny little world.
It was Michael who did the talking, telling us of the discoveries of Belzoni, who had first explored the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, of Mariette at Memphis, of Flinders Petrie, of Gaston Maspero. Michael was as fascinated by the story of man as I was by the outre in his make-up; he held Lysette spellbound as he discussed the Piltdown Man and the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. I sat and listened-rather sullenly, I am afraid-but something inside me thrilled to what he was saying.
Michael was not interested so much in archaeology as he was in anthropology. His eyes were turned away from the stone temples and cities to the shadowy figures who must at one time have walked their tiled floors and paving-stones. He read omnivorously, even more than I, and he had an amazing memory.
"Some day I'll study the history of mankind's migrations,"
he told us as we sat on a fiat stone on a summer afternoon. "There have been so many, out of Asia and, I believe, out of India as well. Myths and legends of the races-that's where the true prehistory is to be found. Everybody thought that the Trojan War was only a fairy tale, right?"
Neither Lysette nor I had ever heard of Homer and his fabled war until Michael had told us about them, yet we nodded solemnly as though we were bearded professors. By this time, against my will, Michael had drawn me into the web of his learning. I found myself fascinated.
"Yet Heinrich Schliemann found Troy right where he figured it ought to be, from reading Homer." He looked at us triumphantly, as though he himself had done the digging. He smiled—and my brother has a charming smile. "Schliemann took a myth and turned it into reality. This is what I mean by saying that a lot of history is wrapped up in myths and legends."
He leaned back, hands clasped about his knees. "Some day I will prove a theory, as he did. I will write, or try to write, a book like Ilios: the City and Country of the Trojans. "
Then Michael made a face. "I'm not a very good writer, I shall probably botch the job."
"Del writes very well," Lysette murmured. "Does she?"
His eyes touched me, lifted me up and turned me around for inspection, then dropped me with a thud. He turned to look at Lysette, and their eyes held for a long time.
I thought then that they might be in love.