Savage, p.14
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       Savage, p.14
 

           Richard Laymon

  “I…I slept quite well, thank you.”

  She came walking right at me. Her eyes flicked down at my bare legs. “You must be freezing.”

  I wasn’t freezing at all. I was broiling. Sweat was trickling down my sides under the sweater.

  “I brought these for you,” she said. For the first time, I noticed she was carrying a robe and slippers. “They belonged to my father. They’re probably too large, but they’ll have to do until we can purchase a wardrobe for you.”

  She handed over the robe. I had to let go of the sweater. Before it unstretched too far, though, I shook open the robe and let it drape. She crouched in front of me and set the slippers down. I was mighty glad to have the robe hanging betwixt her face and me.

  “Try them on,” she said.

  I stepped into the slippers. They felt a sight better than the cold floorboards. But they were too big, just as she’d said.

  “Is your father away somewhere?” I asked.

  From the look of loss that filled her eyes, I wished I hadn’t asked. “He died in battle some ten years ago.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “We have much in common, you and I. We both lost our fathers in war. Mine was killed by the Utes at Milk Creek.”

  “Utes? Are those Indians?”

  She nodded, and stood up straight.

  Well, she seemed to be living in the house with just her grandparents, so I allowed I wouldn’t ask about her mother.

  “Slip into the robe and come along now,” she said. “I’ve prepared a hot bath for you downstairs.”

  A hot bath!

  “Smashing!”

  Luckily, she turned around and went for the door. I quickly plucked off the sweater. I got the robe on and tied its belt, then followed her into the hall. We went down the stairway, and she led me toward the rear of the house where I’d never been before. No sign of the General or Mable.

  The kitchen was nice and warm with a fire in the stove. Off to one side, a door stood open. We went in, and there stood a tub chockful of water so hot, steam was rising off it.

  “I’ll go and fetch some of Papa’s clothes for you,” Sarah said. “They’ll be too big, of course, but they’ll have to do until we get you to a store.”

  “Thank you,” I said.

  I waited till she’d cleared out. She left the door open, more than likely to let heat keep coming in from the kitchen. But nobody was in sight, so I stripped off and climbed into the tub.

  The water near scalded me. It was dandy! I hadn’t taken a proper bath since the Wednesday night before I’d set out from home. Not that I’d been a stranger to water in all that time, what with a few dips in the ocean and waves splashing me and getting myself showered by squalls so often. The sea water’d always left me salty and itchy. Every drop of water, whether it came from the ocean or the sky, had been just frigid.

  So I was mighty glad to be in a tubful of hot water, even if it was sort of boiling me.

  I lay there, just enjoying it for a spell. Then I soaped myself down and ducked under to get the suds out of my hair. When I came up for a breath, here was Sarah coming in with a bundle of clothes. The water was murky enough to hide my lower parts, thank goodness.

  She put down a pair of shoes, then set herself in a chair with the other things on her lap and took to chatting with me. When she asked if I had any brothers or sisters and I said no, she allowed as how that was another thing we had in common. She’d been the only child of her parents. She went on from there, and told how she’d spent most of her early years in boarding schools because her mother had died of pneumonia when Sarah was only six, and her father had been a cavalry officer always on the move from one outpost to another out west until he wound up in Colorado and got himself killed by the Utes in seventy-nine. Later, she’d lived in Syracuse and taught at a girls’ school until two years ago when her grandfather, the General, retired from the army. That’s when she moved in here to live with him and Mable.

  She said she cooked and cleaned house and did the shopping for them. As much as she appreciated them, however, she admitted she found herself lonesome for companionship of folks nearer to her own age. That’s how come she was so glad I’d turned up last night.

  I could see how it might wear on a person, spending night and day with nobody about except a couple of codgers. Even interesting codgers like the General would likely get tiresome if they were your only company, and I’d already noticed that Mable wasn’t much fun at all.

  Still, though, it seemed a trifle excessive for Sarah to be enjoying her new friend while he sat naked in a bathtub.

  She kept chatting along until my water lost most of its heat and I commenced to shiver. She finally noticed. Maybe my lips were looking blue.

  She fetched me a towel, and said, “You get dressed while I start breakfast.”

  She went into the kitchen. I could see her through the doorway, but she wasn’t paying any mind to me, so I climbed out and dried myself. I shut the door and used the toilet, then hurried into the clothes. From the size of things, her dead papa was taller and leaner than Trudy’s.

  Seemed like I’d never get shut of wearing dead father duds.

  After rolling the sleeves and trouser legs out of my way, I joined up with Sarah in front of the stove.

  It looked like she only had enough ham and eggs in the skillet for two.

  “Where are Mable and the General?” I asked.

  “I suppose they’re sleeping. I heard Grandpa prowling about the house last night, and he probably didn’t turn in until after sunrise.”

  “It appears I came along on a false alarm,” I told her.

  “Perhaps you were led here by Providence.”

  I gave that notion some pondering, and judged she might be right. Taken all around, I was mighty lucky to still be alive. So maybe the Lord had plans for me. Likely, He aimed for me to send Whittle packing south for hell.

  If that’s what He had in mind, though, He could’ve done it Himself easy enough by sending the True D. Light to the bottom of the sea.

  I would’ve gone down with her, of course.

  So maybe there was more to all this than met the eye.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  The Yacht and the Horse

  We ate a splendid meal of ham and eggs and rolls, all washed down with hot coffee. It was better than anything I’d tasted in a long time, considering we’d run out of eggs and fresh meat on the yacht after just a couple of weeks at sea. After that, we’d had only flour and potatoes that didn’t come out of tins. I’d gotten a mite tired of it all.

  I still had my mind on Providence, and was glad He’d sent me here for such a breakfast. I thanked Him in my head. While I was at it, I let him know I’d appreciated the bed and bath, as well, and allowed He’d done a good job sending me to these people.

  When we were done eating, I helped Sarah clear things. Then we stood at the sink together, her washing while I dried. Back home, Agnes had taken care of such matters. I didn’t mind helping, however, and Sarah seemed to enjoy the job.

  We’d no sooner finished than the General and Mable showed up. The General, he clapped me on the shoulder. “That killer of yours must’ve known better and stayed clear of us,” he said.

  “We were quite fortunate, then,” I told him.

  “Fortunate.” Mable huffed. “Never was such a scoundrel, in my opinion.”

  If she wished to take a hike through the snow, I thought, I could show her a couple of bodies that might change her tune on that account. But I kept mum.

  “We ought to alert the authorities,” the General said, “so they can keep a lookout for him.”

  “Trevor and I might take care of that while we’re in town. He’s in sorry need of new clothes, and we want to cable his mother in England so she’ll know he’s safe.”

  “Nonsense!” Mable blurted. “Send him off. We’ve got no use for him.”

  “He’s a child, dear,” the General told her.

  “He’s all alone
in this country,” Sarah added, “without a soul to look after him. Except us. The Lord guided him to our door.”

  “Don’t you go Lording at me, girl.”

  “Trevor did us a fine service,” the General said. “He came here to give us a warning. Besides, he seems a fine fellow to me.” He gave my shoulder another slap. “Young man, you’re welcome to remain under our roof for as long as it pleases you. So long as you behave yourself.”

  “Thank you, sir.”

  “I’ll be switched if I’ll have this rascal…”

  “And you’ll treat him friendly, dear, or I’ll have to put you out in the snow.”

  Well, she sank down on a chair and glowered at me.

  Sarah took to fixing breakfast for the two of them.

  By and by, I escaped and went upstairs. The General’s talk about notifying authorities had unsettled me some. What with a couple of bodies in the yacht and nobody around to blame but me, I feared I might find myself in a spot of trouble.

  At the end of the hallway was a window. I peered out. Down below were the rear grounds of the house, along with the trees and gazebo and such I’d roamed through last night, and the wall. Everything was piled high with snow. The sun had gotten itself swallowed by clouds, so the snow wasn’t glaring white any more, but gray and gloomy.

  Off beyond the wall, the land sloped down to the shore of the bay. I didn’t see foot tracks anywhere. I looked to where the skiff should have been, but couldn’t spot it. Likely as not, the snowfall had buried it.

  Then I scanned along the beach to the right and braced myself. My heart took to pounding up a storm. I didn’t much want to see the True D. Light, but that’s what I’d come to the window for. I rather expected to find her crawling with local folks and constables.

  The snowy beach stretched alongside the waves for about half a mile that I could see. Nobody was there.

  The yacht wasn’t there, either.

  I stood peering out the window, searching this way and that, puzzling over the mystery, and then I spotted a ship far out on the rough, slate-colored water.

  The sight sent a cold wind blowing through my bones.

  I knew she was the True D. Light.

  It must’ve been low tide when I beached her.

  I hadn’t bothered to drop anchor or reef the mainsail.

  So now she was flying along with her sail full of wind, carrying Trudy and Michael on a journey to nowhere.

  I got goosebumps all over.

  Quick as I could, I rushed downstairs to the warm kitchen and live people.

  We left the General and Mable to their breakfast. Sarah fetched me a pair of boots and leather gloves, a heavy coat and a hat. More of her dead father’s things. She got bundled up, herself. Then we went out the front door and trudged across the snow to the stable.

  It was on the left side of the house, where I hadn’t seen it till now. It was plenty big. We hauled at the double doors. When they came open, they shoved swaths across the snow.

  I looked in.

  All of a sudden, I remembered the pistol the General’d given to me last night. It was still on the table by my bed. I felt a proper fool for leaving it there.

  The stable wasn’t exactly dark inside, but it wasn’t bright by a long shot.

  Sarah started through the doorway, but I grabbed her arm. She frowned at me—not like she was angry, only curious. “What is it?” she asked.

  “I shouldn’t like to think that Whittle might be hiding in there.”

  “He’d be silly, don’t you think, to spend the night in a cold stable with a house so handy?”

  How could I argue with that?

  Still, though, I felt right jittery and kept my eyes sharp as we went inside.

  I let go of her arm. She took hold of mine, though. Spite of what she’d said, she must’ve been worried.

  We stopped before going in too deep, and looked around.

  The place smelled like hay, mostly, but had a few other aromas that weren’t so sweet. Near the front were a couple of carriages, one fancier than the other, and a sleigh that had two rows of seats. The walls of the place were all hung with tools and tack.

  We walked in farther, to where the horses were. There were stalls to hold four of them, but the gate of the last stall stood open.

  Sarah pulled up short and let out a quiet gasp. “My Lord,” she said. She didn’t release my arm, but dragged me along beside her. We hurried past the first three stalls. The horses, seeing us, snorted and snuffled. White plumes blew out of their nostrils.

  The fourth stall was empty.

  Sarah gazed into it, breathing hard, puffing out clouds of white. “He’s taken Saber,” she murmured. “Wait here. I’ve got to tell Grandpa.”

  She let go my arm and rushed off.

  I wasn’t keen on being left alone, but she was hardly out the doors before it came to me I needn’t worry about getting jumped by Whittle. He’d come along last night, after all. It had been a mighty narrow call for the General and the women, for he must’ve been tempted to take over the house. He’d chosen, instead, to pinch a horse and light out.

  It spooked me some, knowing he’d been here. But he was likely miles and miles away, by now. Any chap who would filch a horse on a snowy night, when he had a chance to hole up in a nice warm house, aimed to do some hard traveling.

  In a way, it was good to know we were safe from him. It troubled me, though, that he’d gotten away. I had half a mind to grab a horse and chase after him.

  More than half a mind, really.

  It was what I ought to do.

  But with such a headstart, and any direction to choose from except toward the water, he’d be near impossible to run down. Besides, there I would be in a strange land in the dead of winter, no money, no clothes but the borrowed ones on my back. And the folks here, they’d been awfully good to me. Making off with one of their horses would be a dirty play, and give Mable reason to bully the General and Sarah.

  If all that weren’t enough cause to hold me off, there was knowing that I’d miss out on my chance to cable Mother. She deserved to know, straight away, I wasn’t dead after all.

  So I gave up the notion of chasing after Whittle.

  It seemed I was letting down everybody he’d killed, especially poor Trudy, but I judged I owed more to the living. The dead weren’t likely to appreciate my efforts, anyhow.

  Well, that led me to thinking about those Whittle hadn’t killed yet—the ones he’d be butchering down the road a piece unless I stopped him.

  They complicated things considerable, and I commenced to figure maybe I’d better take a horse, after all. By then, however, it was too late.

  Sarah came striding along, frowning. She didn’t have the General with her.

  “Best not to tell him,” she said. “If he finds out Saber’s been stolen, he’ll saddle up and ride off, and he won’t come back empty-handed. He’s too old for such shenanigans, but that’s exactly what he’d do.”

  We could go together! I thought.

  Before I got my mouth open to suggest it, Sarah said, “The way his health is, I doubt we’d ever see him again. But would that stop him? No, I hardly think so. Why, he would rather die and leave Grandma a widow than allow a horsethief to get away from him.”

  “He’s certain to learn the horse has gone missing,” I pointed out.

  “We’ll leave the stable door open. Saber always did have a feisty nature. He’s run off before. I’ll simply explain that he was here when we set out for town. That won’t throw Grandpa into such a tizzy as if he takes a notion that Saber’s been stolen.”

  Sarah wasn’t just pretty, but had a sharp mind to boot. It bothered me that she was given to such trickery, but the way she had it figured, she was deceiving the General for his own good.

  I told her the plan was quite clever.

  She opened the gate of a stall that had a huge gelding inside named Howitzer. The name was embroidered in gold on his blue blanket. After pulling the blanket off h
im, Sarah walked him toward the front of the stable. There, I helped harness him to the sleigh.

  Outside, snow was drifting down.

  “Perfect,” Sarah said. “It’ll cover Saber’s tracks.”

  Well, Saber had no tracks that needed covering, as he was long gone. What Sarah meant was that the snow might hide the tracks Saber would’ve made, if he’d been here this morning and wandered off.

  We stuck to her plot, and left the stable doors open.

  Then we both climbed into the sleigh. Sarah sat down close against me and spread a blanket across our laps. Then she picked up the reins, gave them a shake, called out, “Geeyup,” and off we went.

  Sarah steered us away from the house. We glided past trees and a fountain with no water in it but that had a statue of Bacchus, who was sticking a grape in his mouth and wore nothing except for snow heaped here and there, and looked to be freezing.

  We stopped at the wall’s front gate. It was shut. Whittle must’ve taken time to dismount and close it after him, so folks wouldn’t catch on he’d been here.

  “I’ll see to it,” I said as Sarah reined in.

  “Leave it open a bit for Saber,” she told me, still keeping her mind on our ruse.

  I hopped into the snow, swung the gate wide, and waited while Sarah “gee-yupped” Howitzer then “whoaed” him once they’d gotten to the other side. I left the gate standing open some, rushed ahead and climbed into the sleigh. It felt good to have the blanket on my legs again.

  After we took a turn to the right, Sarah clucked a few times and Howitzer commenced to trot along at a smart pace. We fairly flew over the snow, the wind and flakes in our faces.

  “Would you care to take the reins?” she asked.

  “Smashing.”

  I took the leather straps from her and gave them a shake. Howitzer checked over his shoulder, let out a snort of white steam, then faced the front again and kept on trotting. His hooves thumped quiet through the snow. The only other sounds came from him huffing, and the sleigh runners hissing along, the harness creaking and jangling, and bells on the harness tinkling out real merry.

  It was all just uncommon peaceful.

 
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