Legacy Of Terror
Elaine Sherred was ill-at-ease from the first moment she caught sight of the Matherly house, and she would later remember this doubt, and wonder if it had been a premonition of disaster.
The house stood on the brow of the hill, partially shielded from her by several huge Dutch elm trees, and it was sprawling, immense. That in itself was not what bothered Elaine, however; all of the houses in this exclusive suburb of Pittsburgh were extraordinarily large, and all of them stood on four and five acre estates which were carefully tended by the most professional of gardeners. What made the Matherly house different, and therefore disconcerting, was its rococo stonework. Beneath the deep eaves, under the thrusting, flat, black slate roof, a band of hand-carved story-stone ran across the entire facade and continued down the west wall as well. Indeed, those stone angels and stone satyrs, frozen nymphs and bas-relief urns, trees and flowers and planets and stars probably encircled the entire house, like a ribbon. The windows were set deep in thick stone walls and flanked by fretted black and silver shutters which contrasted starkly with the light stone of the walls. The main entrance was a door twice as large as any man could require, like the entrance to a cathedral, at least twelve feet high and five wide. Heavy brass handles adorned it, gleaming against the oak as did the brass hinges. The windows on either side of the door, unlike the other windows that she could see, were stained glass, in no particular pattern, the individual fragments worked together with lead. In the circle of the driveway, directly before the entrance, a white stone fountain, complete with three winsome cherubs whose wings were gloriously spread, sizzled and hissed like a griddle with oil spilled on it. The pavement immediately adjacent the fountain had been torn up and rich earth placed in its stead, banked by a second marble curb as white as the fountain itself. In this dark earth, a dozen varieties of flowers sprouted, blossoming in purples, reds, yellows and oranges. This dazzling splash was vaguely reflected on the white base of the fountain, giving the illusion that the marble itself shimmered and was somehow transparent so that you were looking through it to the flowers which bloomed on the other side.
It was all too fancy. It seemed more like a real estate office than like a private residence, constructed for display and not to be lived in and used.
Again, the uneasiness surfaced, an alarm that she could not place or define. Somehow, she knew, this place would be bad for her.
A house, Elaine was convinced, should be down-to-earth, as common and as serviceable as possible. Even if that house were the dwelling place of the wealthy. No one should throw away money on useless baubles like a story-stone and a marble fountain.
Besides, anything ornate generated an air of falseness. This elaborately bedecked house, Elaine thought, looked more like a carefully arranged array of cardboard stage flats nailed to wooden braces than like a sound structure. The lawn might have been a stage floor overlaid with a green felt cloth.
Elaine Sherred distrusted anything which was not simple and clean. The functional pleased her; the frivolous drew her scorn.
Such an attitude in a twenty-three-year-old girl might seem out of place. At least, nearly everyone she knew told her it was. In high school, she had not had many friends, for she had preferred not to engage in the games and pastimes of her generation. At the hospital, during her nurse's training, her fellow students and even a few of her instructors had chided her for her somewhat straight-laced ways. Elaine disagreed. Her view of life seemed the only correct one to her, not an aberrant one.
Elaine pulled her Volkswagen to the side of the quiet lane that wound up the hill to the Matherly house and parked it. She had been disconcerted by the magniloquent structure, and she wanted time to accept it. If she were going to work there-indeed, even live there as the full-time nurse to Jacob Matherly-she was going to have to suppress the instant dislike she had generated on first seeing the place.
How could anyone have paid architects to come up with such a fancy mess of jutting angles and shadowed nooks, fountains and ornate shutters? It was like spending a fortune on several tons of marshmallow sauce to feed a hungry man who would have preferred steak and potatoes.
She did not once think that
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