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He was looking off towards the front of the house, and when she followed his gaze, she saw the high gable of the third floor with its twin chimneys floating against the sky, and the glint of the moon or the stars, she didn't know which, in the square windows high up there, in the room where the man had died, and where Antha had fled Carlotta. All the way down past those iron porches she had fallen - all the way down to the flags, before her cranium cracked on the flags, and the soft tissue of the brain was crushed, the blood oozing out of it.

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.

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.

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.

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.

'No, it doesn't matter, leaving here,' she whispered. 'I like it here. It doesn't matter where I go, so why not stay here where it's dark and quiet and beautiful?'

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.

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

The shrubs closed out the kitchen light behind them as they climbed the low flagstone steps. Dark it was here, dark as the rural dark.

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

'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.'

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

The frogs were singing here, that loud grinding woodland song, and far away a bird cried in the night. Impossible to believe that streets lay near at hand, and that people lived beyond the trees, that the distant tiny yellow lights twinkling here and there through the glossy leaves were the lights of other people's houses.

'No, it doesn't matter, leaving here,' she whispered. 'I like it here. It doesn't matter where I go, so why not stay here where it's dark and quiet and beautiful?'

She looked straight up at the pale sky and its few scattered yet vivid stars, and then the memory of the old woman came back again, and it was like the evil cloud wouldn't let go of her. She thought of the look on the old woman's face as she'd died. She thought of the words. And the face of her mother in the casket, slumbering forever on white satin.

She looked straight up at the pale sky and its few scattered yet vivid stars, and then the memory of the old woman came back again, and it was like the evil cloud wouldn't let go of her. She thought of the look on the old woman's face as she'd died. She thought of the words. And the face of her mother in the casket, slumbering forever on white satin.

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.

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.

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

'No, it doesn't matter, leaving here,' she whispered. 'I like it here. It doesn't matter where I go, so why not stay here where it's dark and quiet and beautiful?'

The frogs were singing here, that loud grinding woodland song, and far away a bird cried in the night. Impossible to believe that streets lay near at hand, and that people lived beyond the trees, that the distant tiny yellow lights twinkling here and there through the glossy leaves were the lights of other people's houses.

'You know, it's a funny thing,' he said. 'In all my years in California, I worked on many a house. And I loved them all. But none of them ever made me feel my mortality. They never made me feel small. This house makes me feel that. It makes me feel it because it is going to be here when I'm gone.'

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.

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

He was looking off towards the front of the house, and when she followed his gaze, she saw the high gable of the third floor with its twin chimneys floating against the sky, and the glint of the moon or the stars, she didn't know which, in the square windows high up there, in the room where the man had died, and where Antha had fled Carlotta. All the way down past those iron porches she had fallen - all the way down to the flags, before her cranium cracked on the flags, and the soft tissue of the brain was crushed, the blood oozing out of it.

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