Escape the Night
Escape the Night
SHE KNEW THAT SOMETHING was happening in the house.
The knowledge of it obtruded itself stealthily between her and the book in her hands so she read the same lines over and over, not taking in their sense. She was listening so hard that it was as if her eyes and hands and every pore in her body had suddenly developed audient power; but there was nothing to hear. The house was quiet.
After a moment she closed the book with a quick thrust of her hands and got up decisively, and then just stood there listening again. She was a woman of fifty-odd; Luisa de la Vega Condit, aunt of Sutton Condit, the present owner of the great Condit ranch. It was one of the oldest ranches of the Monterey peninsula. The long, half-shabby, half-elegant room in which she stood, with its blue and red rugs, blue curtains and chintz-covered chairs, had seen much of California history in the making, although the house itself had been added onto and changed from time to time. It was now a gracious blend of the old and the new, built in Spanish-California fashion around two sides of an open patio, with a high white wall enclosing the patio's fourth side. From the windows Luisa could see mountains covered patchily with oaks and pine and broom, and nearer the tall hedge of eucalyptus trees beyond which, at some distance, lay the barns and sheds and corrals. From the other side of the house, the patio side, one had a view of the sea.
Luisa de la Vega Condit had a small, forceful head with coal-black hair and pale-blue, observant eyes which now looked perplexed. The de la Vega side of the family were Castilians, blue-eyed Castilians, and proud of it. The Condit side were New England; her nephew, Sutton Condit was all New England. When she thought of her nephew, Sutton, she thought of his wife Amanda. They were moving cattle that morning, and Amanda had gone out very early in riding clothes; Amanda knew more of the ranch, really, than Sutton, although they'd been married only four years. Luisa shrugged, put her book down on the long table with its great bowls of pink and lavender stock and the bronze statuettes of two famous Condit horses. She left the room, crossed the narrow hall and went out into the patio.
She saw and heard no one. The two-storied house, with its double verandas and the flagged walks of the patio, seemed deserted. Frowning and rather uneasy, she crossed the patio and stood in the open, arched doorway in the white wall. This gave upon the graveled and sanded driveway, white in the sun, and beyond it a breathtaking view of the valley and sea far below.
It was a clear morning, early. The sea was incredibly blue, and waves curled whitely over jagged black rocks. She could see part of the little green and white and yellow village of Carmel; beyond and above were mountains, lifting up to the lofty head of Torro. The bay of Carmel and Still Water Cove were cups of blue; tiny black points in a group near some rocks were the little pointed heads of seals. Cypress Point thrust out jaggedly and blackly into the blue Pacific and, way above in the sky, silver against the blue, a dirigible drifted, looking for Japanese submarines. Luisa watched it all for a moment, diverted. War and submarines and dirigibles; Red Cross work and organization to cope with possible air raids; point rationing and taxes and the price of beef; men you knew leaving for war and undertaking experiences which few women, ever, can really comprehend.
The changes, mused Luisa, that war makes!
Brooding, she forgot for the moment the uneasy feeling that had driven her out into the patio. She turned and stumped heavily toward one of the two flights of stairs at the left and right of the patio opposite each other, leading to the upper floor of the double veranda and to the line of bedroom doors. The patio was the heart and life of the house; there was, in fact, no other means of communication between the li