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datatime: 2022-09-29 23:02:07 Author:sfKnKmjW

How sad he sounded. It was as if he had seen something confirmed that he did not quite believe. And to think how that name had struck her when Ellie said it in the final weeks of fever and delirium. 'Stella in the coffin.'

But she couldn't shake the evil spell. It seemed to be part of the sky and the giant tree looming over her head, and the glittering water down deep in the rank and wild grass. But it was not part of any one place. It was in her, part of her. And she realized, her head lying still against his chest, that this wasn't only the remembrance of the old woman and her brittle and personal malice, but a foreboding. Ellie's efforts had been in vain, for Rowan had known this foreboding long ago. Maybe even all her life, she'd known that a dread and dark secret lay ahead, and that it was a great and immense and greedy and multilayered secret, which once opened would continue to unfold forever. It was a secret that would become the world, its revelations crowding out the very light of ordinary life.

'Stella built this,' he said. 'She built it over fifty years ago. It wasn't meant to be like this at all. It was a swimming pool. And now the garden's got it. The earth has taken it back.'

She pressed herself more closely against Michael. She locked her hands behind his back, resting her weight against him.

She pressed herself more closely against Michael. She locked her hands behind his back, resting her weight against him.

The soft heavy smell of that flower came again, the one the old woman had called the night jasmine.

And it draws its strength, this big secret, from the same root from which I draw my strength, both the good and the bad, because in the end, they cannot be separated.

'What is it, darlin'?' he asked. A low rumble from his chest.

This long day in the balmy tropical city of old-fashioned courtesies and rituals had merely been the first unfolding. Even the secrets of the old woman were the mere beginning.

This long day in the balmy tropical city of old-fashioned courtesies and rituals had merely been the first unfolding. Even the secrets of the old woman were the mere beginning.

'That's the smell of summer nights in New Orleans,' he answered. 'Of walking alone, and whistling, and beating the iron pickets with a twig.' She loved the deep vibration of his voice coming from his chest. 'That's the smell of walking all through these streets.'

A rank green smell rose, like the smell of a swamp, and Rowan realized that she was looking out at a long pool of water. They stood on the flagstone lip of this great black pool. It was so heavily overgrown that the surface of the water showed only in dim flashes. The water lilies gleamed boldly in the faintest light from the far-off sky. Insects hummed thickly and invisibly. The frogs sang, and things stirred the water so that the light skittered on the surface suddenly, even deep among the high weeds. There came a busy trickling sound as though the pond were fed by fountains, and when she narrowed her eyes, she saw the spouts, pouring forth their thin sparkling streams.

They turned and walked deeper into the garden, finding the flags in spite of the weeds that pressed against them, and the bananas that grew so thick and low that the great bladelike leaves brushed their faces.

And it draws its strength, this big secret, from the same root from which I draw my strength, both the good and the bad, because in the end, they cannot be separated.

How sad he sounded. It was as if he had seen something confirmed that he did not quite believe. And to think how that name had struck her when Ellie said it in the final weeks of fever and delirium. 'Stella in the coffin.'

He looked down at her, struggling to make out her face, it seemed. 'Rowan, whatever happens, don't let this house go. Even if you have to go away from it and never see it again, even if you come to hate it. Don't let it go. Don't let it ever fall into the hands of anyone who wouldn't love it. It's too beautiful. It has to survive all this, just as we do.'

'What is it, darlin'?' he asked. A low rumble from his chest.

'I've loved it ever since I was a kid,' he said. 'I loved it when I saw it two nights ago. I love it now even though I know all kinds of things that happened in it, even what happened to that guy in the attic. I love it because it's your house. And because... because it's beautiful no matter what anybody has done in it, or to it. It was beautiful when it was built. It will be beautiful a hundred years from now.'

He put his arm around her again, and she clung to him, nestling against him, and feeling him kiss her hair again. His gloved fingers touched her cheek. She wanted to rip off the gloves. But she didn't say so.

She didn't answer. She didn't confess this dark fear that they weren't going to survive, that somehow everything that had ever given her consolation would be lost. And then she remembered the old woman's face, upstairs in the death room where the man had died years and years ago, and the old woman saying to her, 'You can choose. You can break the chain' The old woman, trying to break through her own crust of malice and viciousness and coldness. Trying to offer Rowan something which she herself perceived to be shining and pure. And in the same room with that man who had died, bound helplessly in that rug, while life went on in the rooms below.

And it draws its strength, this big secret, from the same root from which I draw my strength, both the good and the bad, because in the end, they cannot be separated.

'I love you, Michael,' she whispered. 'I do. I love you.'

'Ah, do you smell it, Michael?' She looked at the white water lilies glowing in the dark.

They turned and walked deeper into the garden, finding the flags in spite of the weeds that pressed against them, and the bananas that grew so thick and low that the great bladelike leaves brushed their faces.

The soft heavy smell of that flower came again, the one the old woman had called the night jasmine.

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