The Mirrors (part eleven)
“I haven’t thanked you for yesterday’s lunch.”
“Well, that’s fine. You never ought to.”
The remonstrance felt abrupt…she hoped not out of place. But Charmante was sure Carmine’s had been an ordinary upbringing.
“I understand, yes, you were hired to cook…” His eyes grew startled. “No.”
He half-rose, cast looks left and right. “Why am I saying it? Mrs. Demorest…”
Kit did not bristle, but jumped, and at the table’s edge settled chin on paws. Carmine and cat together stared at the amber-black void, where the door let onto the passage. Charmante looked, and saw Dumain.
The mirror above the console was gone. The paper was cream-on-white stripe, the passage lit by a half-dome of sun from the dining room. The figure might be called a trick of broken shadow.
But the blue form showed movement into clarity; hollows became eyes, that sought to lock neither on Carmine’s nor Charmante’s.
The ghost seemed, then, to sigh itself invisible.
“But he may be here, in the room with us.”
“Mr. Carmine. Do you know what Dumain looked like in life?”
He said, after a moment, “We’ll pursue this. I think I’d like sitting in the garden for a while. And I will confide in you, so far as I can.”
“I grew up in a remote place. Roughly Argyle, Nova Scotia. My mother, being in that country a new arrival… I think the honest thing to say is that I had no companions. No one to be my friend. She, you see, keeping her house alone, nursed every fear, thought always of accidents…”
Carmine frowned. “Mrs. Demorest, I will even be very frank with you. Having me within her sight, and safe, was a bit of an obsession. What do I want to say? If you had a thing that provided you your living and your security, and if you lost that thing…” He shot her a quick eye, drummed his fingers. “Rothesay now, was a visitor of ours, about three or four times a year. Mum’s was a lodging house, otherwise a travelers’ inn. But travelers didn’t really turn up. And…you will understand…traffic was superfluous to her making-do.”
Carmine did not bear the sort of resemblance to Rothesay that made you notice at once. Charmante hadn’t, for assuming only what she knew of him—but the father was there, in the son.
“We were on a sort of sea-cliff, our place. No electric. Rainwater, caught in a cistern. Chores continual. I liked Rothesay, I looked forward to his coming. He would bring me books by the dozen…and would say, first day after settling in, come along for a walk, Nat. And so with the dogs we’d go off tramping. The terrain of the coast is, you might say, scoured. Great sweeping views. A northern sea, always gathering itself…not like here, where you almost feel the salt water ooze its way in by stealth…
“He gave me a binocular. He gave me a telescope. He gave me lab equipment, the real goods, not some boys’ chemistry kit. Because, you see, he had a sort of pan-scientific scope of knowledge, Rothesay… And so I learned the birds, and the constellations, the reasons plants adapt themselves where they grow, mutate as they do, how to assemble a jumble of bones into a skeleton… All sorts of things. I’m in the position, why I tell you this, of being unable to regard Rothesay as other than my employer. But of course I obey. Against my better judgment, it may be. I have no choice.”
“Oh, dear. Then where will you go…? If it all begins to seem dangerous?”
“Home.” He shrugged. “Not for long, I don’t think. I couldn’t go back, in spirit. I have nothing to fall into anymore. She can’t well have kept all the chores waiting…” Carmine laughed. “I say that, and at once I picture it being just so. No, I suppose the thing is, I’d have to broach it. Mother, what about Rothesay? In a way, I want the story. And in so many ways, I don’t.”
“Can you tell me something? Is that what Mr. Rothesay is, a scientist? Or is he really a doctor, in the way Dumain was?”
“More the way, to hear him tell it, that Dumain’s grandfather, the scary old patriarch, was. But I don’t get the joke, myself. You wonder, Mrs. Demorest, what’s the aim? Why the mirrors?”
He swung on his seat towards the house, and gazed up, as she’d done sharing Esta’s trove with Wright, at the attic bedroom. “Did you get the sense, for a moment, before the ghost wafted in, that…our conversation… That it wasn’t only saying the thing said before, it was being there. Before. Wasn’t it?”
“You think this happened to me when I walked the mirrors, too.”
“I didn’t at the time. But now, yes.”
Wright and his progress across the lawn caught their ears. Both fell silent, Carmine scooting to the end of his bench. Wright sat next to him, gesturing he would not interrupt their talk.
“And you think,” Chamante said, “this is part of the plan? Mr. Rothesay understands something about the mirrors, some way time gets upset by them?”
“He understands more than he tells. More than I know. All the acoustics, the tricks of the eye. He is curious to learn whether the madman could not hear the voice of his keeper as a benevolent god’s. Find himself instructed to do good, follow orders. All quietened down, without the need for drugs. Rothesay’s investigations are not meant to be secret. If you search the literature, you’ll find he writes extensively on his special subject, his theory about lunatics. One of his interests is isolated populations, do they…” His glance aside included Wright. “As plants will, you know, alter to such a degree they can’t survive elsewhere? The visits to Argyle were with this study in mind, not for my sake and my mother’s only.”
Wright glanced back commiseration, patient with Carmine, Charmante’s to understand. No, it seemed unlikely either of them would be searching doctors’ literature. She was coming, in a slowly encroaching way, to feel appalled. She suspected Rothesay of drawing his son from isolation to observe him adapt…or fail.
“Now, you two. Let me leave you a minute.”
She hurried, jealous of what they might say…as though Carmine and his mystery were hers, and if Wright, being a man, took it over…
Up and down the stairs, stalked by Kit. She replaced the letter in its book, carried the photo outdoors. Had either been moved? A wiser sleuth would used Rothesay’s chalk.
“Who are they?”
“Well…” She was testing Carmine, and the impulse hadn’t felt shameful when she’d conjured it. “I thought since you’d just seen Dumain…”
“Ah. This one, I will guess. Looks a poor sap.”
Wright tapped the face. “If I’m not wrong, ma’am, you was wanting to know bout that Carolee. Well, I figured…between all the folks I known, all my years of work, and all the ones they might known here and there, somebody heard of her, if she’s anyplace to be heard of.”
“And somebody did?”
He glanced at Carmine’s distracted silence, seemed to give some idea up. “Whatever time you’re free.”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)