Charles Grant - Night Songs

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Charles Grant - Night Songs
Название: Night Songs
Автор: Charles Grant
Издательство: неизвестно
ISBN: нет данных
Год: неизвестен
Дата добавления: 29 август 2018
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Night Songs - читать бесплатно онлайн , автор Charles Grant

And in time Gran knew he would never be rich.

Why he had believed money would fall into his hands no one knew; why he refused to visit the mainland was a mystery as well. But he did, and he did, and eventually he turned to drinking, to the children, and to his carving.

In time his younger self was totally forgotten.

It was tought that Warren Harcourt had tried to get Gran to bring back his dead wife, that it was Gran who had murdered a beachcomber eight years ago as a sacrifice to his gods. A lot of things were thought about the shriveled old man, but in the full light of the sun Colin knew most people felt foolish about these ideas.

"Well?" Matt said.

He blinked and scratched at his chest. "I guess so. He was a hard man to know."

"Well, I think he was spooky." Matt sniffed and wiped a hasty sleeve under his nose. "Y'know, just before he got sick like that he used to stand outside the school and watch the kids come out."

Colin frowned. "He did?"

"Sure! I thought sometimes he wanted to take me to his shack on the beach and cook me or something." He shuddered and scratched his head. "Y'know, he told me last summer I was his favorite because I never laughed at him." A pause for confession. "I never laughed at him because I thought he was spooky and would cook me or something. I mean, he was okay and we had a good time, but he got spooky, y'know? Like those statues he made."

Nearly every family on the island had at least one of Gran's carvings, the school a large collection, and Colin a half dozen. They were fashioned from driftwood and fallen boughs, graceful and disturbing renditions of what Gran called his island dreams. From the Caribbean, not Haven's End. But that's all he would ever say. Several times over the years, Colin had attempted to discover if the carvings represented gods or real people, and the old man told him they were only notions, nothing more.

One day he had shown up at the studio behind Colin's cottage, boldly walking in as if on standing invitation, placing something he called The Screaming Woman on the workbench. Colin had been finishing an oil of the fishing fleet as it struggled back to the marina-a difficult piece because the only heroism or romance he wanted was in the faces of the men working the nets. He'd not relished the intrusion, but Gran had never cared; when he was sober he moved about the small island as if it belonged to him, and the people-year-round or seasonal-his loyal, loving subjects. Most called him good-natured because of his time spent with the children, and blithely excused the sometimes haughty attitude he displayed. But Colin and a few others detected behind the crooked, yellow-toothed smile a rippling of disdain whenever he laughed with anyone other than the kids. A suspicion never proved, however, and for that all the more disturbing.

He had examined the offering impatiently (feeling guilty for the impatience), and when he complained that he didn't really much care for wood sculptures of obscure monsters, the old man's hands had almost curved into fists, straightened as he took a deep breath and touched the smooth wood with the tip of one finger.

"See?" Gran had said, eyes squinting, head bobbing. "This not be snake here, it is tail. She is sea woman. Eye cut out? No, no, Colin, it is shadow. You put a light here, the eye come back. You want a big monster, you stick it in the closet; you want a beautiful woman, put it on the television." A laugh like a crackle. "Jesus damn, Colin, you got no imagination."

Colin had apologized, Gran had accepted with a shaking of hands, and left as he always did-without bothering to look at or comment on Colin's latest work.

"Mr. Ross?"

He waited.

"When Gran's gone, do you think Lilla will stop her singing?"

"I don't know," he said. "I would imagine so."

"She didn't used to be that way, y'know. She was really neat. She used to give me extra scoops on my cones and stuff. She called me Little Matt, but that was okay because she was fun. But she really got spooky, y'know? Just like Gran."

Colin felt he should say something in Lilla's defense, but the boy was right. When her grandfather fell ill at summer's end, Lilla had begun a withdrawal so gradual no one had noticed until it was too late to reach her. Her eyes dulled, her tongue fell silent, she moved very much as if she were walking in her sleep. Yet there were occasional days when the old Lilla was back without warning-laughing, smiling, walking down the street with the verve of an eighteen-year-old out to conquer the world.

The old Lilla, as she crept into adolescence, took Peg as a friend, since her own mother was reluctant to talk of things beyond the store. Peg loved her as a daughter, tried to show her what she could, and teach her the difference between listening to an adult and experiencing things herself.

And when she was sixteen she latched onto Colin. He knew it was a crush because Peg laughingly told him so, knew he had to be careful because Lilla wanted to know the man's side of men. She would find him walking on the beach, join him, ask him how to deal with the boys she thought were flirting. When he told her to ask Peg, she only laughed and grabbed his hand, dropped it with a giggle and made him feel like blushing.

Despite the potential problem, however, he was taken by her energy, her wit, by the way she took each day as if it were created just for her. So he walked with her, and talked, and when Gran began souring, Colin comforted her whenever Peg could not.

Like the day on the beach when she wept because Gran had started ranting about the whites, how they conspired to steal his work and cheat him of his money. He was old, Colin told her, and the dreams he'd brought with him simply hadn't happened, and when she wept ever harder he slipped an arm around her shoulder and held her. For ten minutes they stood there, until Peg stepped out from among the trees and saw them, and left.

Lilla, lovely, and bright, and little different from any other child who faced growing up.

But then she was… gone.

And now the nights were filled with the sound of her singing; words no one could catch, words almost like chanting, all over the island as she followed the shoreline. Each night. Every night. As though erecting a barrier against death with her singing.

Grieving before the dying was the excuse people gave her, and the excuse they gave themselves for wishing Gran quickly buried. With him at last under the water, Lilla once again would be the young woman they loved.

Suddenly, Matt dropped the hamper and began rummaging through it furiously. "Nuts, the shovel! Aw, Mom's gonna kill me if I forget it again."

The plea was almost comical in the puppylike look the boy gave him, and Colin granted him a knowing lift of his eyebrow. "AH right, you wait right here. I'll be back in a minute."

"You sure it's okay?"

"I'm sure," he said, with a surge of affection that startled him to blinking. "Yeah, it's okay. I won't be long."

He trotted along the boardwalk until he reached the beach, muttering an abrupt oath under his breath when he saw a man by the castle, hands clasped before him as if he were praying. He was tall and heavy set, most of his weight settled in a paunch; he was clean-shaven, with a classic lantern jaw and leonine sweep of white hair, and his eyes were so bloodshot they seemed almost red. He wore a charcoal-gray suit, matching light topcoat and felt hat, and in one hand he held a pair of gleaming black shoes.

"A magnificent edifice here, Colin," he said in a slightly quavering voice.

Colin circled the castle and its moat, frowning until he remembered Matt's threat to bury the shovel in the walls. He knelt with a weary sigh, averting his face when he smelled the lawyer's stale, liquored breath.

"A palace, yes?" said Warren Harcourt.

"A castle, as a matter of fact." His hands plunged.

"Ah. Yes, A castle."

Damn, he thought; where the hell is it? "Some of my students did it. Half day today. I sort of helped out. You know how it is."

"Indeed." Harcourt swiveled ponderously to face south, toward the faint line of the last jetty and the private beach that lay beyond, stretching to the cliffs. "I imagine you'll be at the funeral this evening." A languid, dismissing wave; no need to reply. "I have not been invited. I was not Gran's attorney of record, of course, but I did do some small work for the child's parents before they passed on. He, the old man, never wanted me. There was one, small matter"-a careful belch-"but I didn't go through with it, actually." He frowned nervously. "I don't think Lilla likes me very much."

Colin stifled an obscenity when his palm caught the blade's jagged edge. He yanked the toy shovel free, noting as he did that the man wore no socks.

"Never did like me," the lawyer repeated, and he placed a manicured hand at his waist to cushion another belch. Then he pulled a scarlet handkerchief from his jacket pocket and blew his nose loudly. A deft flick of his wrist and the handkerchief was gone. An eyebrow arched. "I note that you and Peg Fletcher are seeing quite a lot of each other lately. A stunning woman. Stunning and smart."

Colin couldn't help a smile. "Now how the hell do you know that, Warren?"

"I perambulate, Colin, I perambulate." A palm smoothed his waistcoat meticulously. "I may be a drunk, but I'm not blind. Ah, the stories I could tell you…"

Colin believed it. Harcourt was everywhere, but no one thought him a snoop. Four years ago he and his estranged wife were returning from a mainland party. Both had been drinking, though neither was completely drunk. According to Warren, there was an argument, and his eyes left the road. Too late he discovered his car plunging down the ramp toward the ferry's dock-and the ferry was on the other side. Harcourt survived; his wife did not. And he had confessed one evening when he was very nearly sober that it wasn't guilt at her dying that kept liquor his company; it was guilt that he didn't miss her as much as he thought he should.

So he drank, and wandered, and once a year told Colin he could bring the woman back if only he had the nerve.

A gull shrieked, and Harcourt looked up, startled. "Damned things. Damned… things." Suddenly he seemed deflated. "Lilla is an odd child, actually," he said, sniffing, hiccuping. "Not like she used to be, not at all. I do like her singing, though. I gather it's grated on some people's nerves, but I rather like it." He turned his head, his eyes hidden by the hat's sagging brim. "If you should find an opportunity at the ceremonies, please tell her I enjoy her singing."

Colin could think of nothing else to do but nod; Warren was gone, the drunk had returned. Then: "Hey, look, I got poor Matt waiting for me back there. See you around, okay? Take care."

He trotted off without waiting for a response, stopping only once, at the foot of the boardwalk. The lawyer was already strolling down the beach, oblivious to the waves soaking his trousers. At one point he turned, held his shoes close to his eyes and stared at them. He shrugged vaguely before lowering them and moved on, topcoat flapping about his shins, hat trembling in the sea breeze riding in with the tide.

Colin shook his head slowly with a faint, sad smile, then remembered the mutilated gull, and spun around and raced back to Matt.

* * *

They came out of the trees onto a small blacktop parking lot sandwiched between the extended log cabin of the Anchor Inn and a battered deserted cottage. Matt headed directly for the street; Colin, however, slowed as he was struck by an unbidden memory of his first visit to Haven's End:

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