Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Not After Midnight & Other Stories, Page 1

Daphne Du Maurier

  Not After Midnight & Other Stories

  Daphne Du Maurier

  Not After Midnight is a collection of short stories by Daphne du Maurier, all with different characters and themes but similar in that they touch on the supernatural or strange events.

  "Don't Look Now" — this novella features John and Laura who are on holiday in Venice. But it is a dangerous place for them as they are being followed by two old sisters and there is a killer on the loose.

  "Not After Midnight" is a tale about a lonely teacher who goes on a painting holiday in Crete and meets a strange American couple. The woman invites him to visit them in their hotel room but "not after midnight," the reason for this becoming clear as the story progresses.

  In "A Border Line Case", a young actress pursues old family friend Nick after the death of her father. She discovers he is an IRA executive and accompanies him on a bombing raid in Ireland, but soon learns he is not all he seems to be.

  In "The Way of the Cross", a disparate group of pilgrims from the same village embark on a trip to frenetic, dusty Jerusalem. Their regular vicar is taken ill and replaced by The Reverend Babcock, a rough diamond from Leeds. On the first night, young Robin, a precocious nine-year-old, suggests a walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. In the dark, among the bushes and trees, two people overhear things about themselves that force them to re-evaluate their lives. Subsequently the whole group learn a great deal about themselves and their loved ones, and return home better people.

  "The Breakthrough" is a science fiction-style story set in a deserted lab in the wilds of Norfolk. A man is sent to help with a new computer but soon realizes the strange purpose of the scientific team and decides to leave. However, he gets caught up in the experiment and stays. Mac, the leader of the group, is convinced that he can trap the life force, or soul, at the point of death and utilize its energy. His guinea pig Ken is the affable young assistant who happens to be dying of leukemia. Needless to say, the plan goes horribly awry.

  Daphne du Maurier

  Not After Midnight & Other Stories

  Don't Look Now

  'DON'T LOOK NOW,' John said to his wife, 'but there are a couple of old girls two tables away who are trying to hypnotise me.'

  Laura, quick on cue, made an elaborate pretence of yawning, then tilted her head as though searching the skies for a non-existent aeroplane.

  'Right behind you,' he added. 'That's why you can't turn round at once-it would be much too obvious.'

  Laura played the oldest trick in the world and dropped her napkin, then bent to scrabble for it under her feet, sending a shooting glance over her left shoulder as she straightened once again. She sucked in her cheeks, the first tell-tale sign of suppressed hysteria, and lowered her head.

  'They're not old girls at all,' she said. 'They're male twins in drag.'

  Her voice broke ominously, the prelude to uncontrolled laughter, and John quickly poured some more chianti into her glass.

  'Pretend to choke,' he said, 'then they won't notice. You know what it is-they're criminals doing the sights of Europe, changing sex at each stop. Twin sisters here on Torcello. Twin brothers tomorrow in Venice, or even tonight, parading arm-in-arm across the Piazza San Marco. Just a matter of switching clothes and wigs.'

  'Jewel thieves or murderers?' asked Laura.

  'Oh, murderers, definitely. But why, I ask myself, have they picked on me?'

  The waiter made a diversion by bringing coffee and bearing away the fruit, which gave Laura time to banish hysteria and regain control.

  'I can't think,' she said, 'why we didn't notice them when we arrived. They stand out to high heaven. One couldn't fail.'

  'That gang of Americans masked them,' said John, 'and the bearded man with a monocle who looked like a spy. It wasn't until they all went just now that I saw the twins. Oh God, the one with the shock of white hair has got her eye on me again.'

  Laura took the powder compact from her bag and held it in front of her face, the mirror acting as a reflector.

  'I think it's me they're looking at, not you,' she said. 'Thank heaven I left my pearls with the manager at the hotel.' She paused, dabbing the sides of her nose with powder. 'The thing is,' she said after a moment, 'we've got them wrong. They're neither murderers nor thieves. They're a couple of pathetic old retired schoolmistresses on holiday, who've saved up all their lives to visit Venice. They come from some place with a name like Walabanga in Australia. And they're called Tilly and Tiny.'

  Her voice, for the first time since they had come away, took on the old bubbling quality he loved, and the worried frown between her brows had vanished. At last, he thought, at last she's beginning to get over it. If I can keep this going, if we can pick up the familiar routine of jokes shared on holiday and at home, the ridiculous fantasies about people at other tables, or staying in the hotel, or wandering in art galleries and churches, then everything will fall into place, life will become as it was before, the wound will heal, she will forget.

  'You know,' said Laura, 'that really was a very good lunch. I did enjoy it.'

  Thank God, he thought, thank God…. Then he leant forward, speaking low in a conspirator's whisper. 'One of them is going to the loo,' he said. Do you suppose he, or she, is going to change her wig?'

  'Don't say anything,' Laura murmured. 'I'll follow her and find out. She may have a suitcase tucked away there, and she's going to switch clothes.'

  She began to hum under her breath, the signal, to her husband, of content. The ghost was temporarily laid, and all because of the familiar holiday game, abandoned too long, and now, through mere chance, blissfully recaptured.

  'Is she on her way?' asked Laura.

  'About to pass our table now,' he told her.

  Seen on her own, the woman was not so remarkable. Tall, angular, aquiline features, with the close-cropped hair which was fashionably called an Eton crop, he seemed to remember, in his mother's day, and about her person the stamp of that particular generation. She would be in her middle sixties, he supposed, the masculine shirt with collar and tie, sports jacket, grey tweed skirt coming to mid-calf. Grey stockings and laced black shoes. He had seen the type on golf-courses and at dog-shows-invariably showing not sporting breeds but pugs-and if you came across them at a party in somebody's house they were quicker on the draw with a cigarette-lighter than he was himself, a mere male, with pocket-matches. The general belief that they kept house with a more feminine, fluffy companion was not always true. Frequently they boasted, and adored, a golfing husband. No, the striking point about this particular individual was that there were two of them. Identical twins cast in the same mould. The only difference was that the other one had whiter hair.

  'Supposing,' murmured Laura, 'when I find myself in the toilette beside her she starts to strip?'

  'Depends on what is revealed,' John answered. 'If she's hermaphrodite, make a bolt for it. She might have a hypodermic syringe concealed and want to knock you out before you reached the door.'

  Laura sucked in her cheeks once more and began to shake. Then, squaring her shoulders, she rose to her feet. 'I simply must not laugh,' she said, 'and whatever you do, don't look at me when I come back, especially if we come out together.' She picked up her bag and strolled self-consciously away from the table in pursuit of her prey.

  John poured the dregs of the chianti into his glass and lit a cigarette. The sun blazed down upon the little garden of the restaurant. The Americans had left, and the monocled man, and the family party at the far end. All was peace. The identical twin was sitting back in her chair with her eyes closed. Thank heaven, he thought, for this moment at any rate, when relaxation was possible, and Laura had been launched upon
her foolish, harmless game. The holiday could yet turn into the cure she needed, blotting out, if only temporarily, the numb despair that had seized her since the child died.

  'She'll get over it,' the doctor said. 'They all get over it, in time. And you have the boy.'

  'I know,' John had said, 'but the girl meant everything. She always did, right from the start, I don't know why. I suppose it was the difference in age. A boy of school age, and a tough one at that, is someone in his own right. Not a baby of five. Laura literally adored her. Johnnie and I were nowhere.'

  'Give her time,' repeated the doctor, 'give her time. And anyway, you're both young still. There'll be others. Another daughter.'

  So easy to talk…. How replace the life of a loved lost child with a dream? He knew Laura too well. Another child, another girl, would have her own qualities, a separate identity, she might even induce hostility because of this very fact. A usurper in the cradle, in the cot, that had been Christine's. A chubby, flaxen replica of Johnnie, not the little waxen dark-haired sprite that had gone.

  He looked up, over his glass of wine, and the woman was staring at him again. It was not the casual, idle glance of someone at a nearby table, waiting for her companion to return, but something deeper, more intent, the prominent, light blue eyes oddly penetrating, giving him a sudden feeling of discomfort. Damn the woman! All right, bloody stare, if you must. Two can play at that game. He blew a cloud of cigarette smoke into the air and smiled at her, he hoped offensively. She did not register. The blue eyes continued to hold his, so that he was obliged to look away himself, extinguish his cigarette, glance over his shoulder for the waiter and call for the bill. Settling for this, and fumbling with the change, with a few casual remarks about the excellence of the meal, brought composure, but a prickly feeling on his scalp remained, and an odd sensation of unease. Then it went, as abruptly as it had started, and stealing a furtive glance at the other table he saw that her eyes were closed again, and she was sleeping, or dozing, as she had done before. The waiter disappeared. All was still.

  Laura, he thought, glancing at his watch, is being a hell of a time. Ten minutes at least. Something to tease her about, anyway. He began to plan the form the joke would take. How the old dolly had stripped to her smalls, suggesting that Laura should do likewise. And then the manager had burst in upon them both, exclaiming in horror, the reputation of the restaurant damaged, the hint that unpleasant consequences might follow unless… The whole exercise turning out to be a plant, an exercise in blackmail. He and Laura and the twins taken in a police launch back to Venice for questioning. Quarter of an hour…. Oh, come on, come on….

  There was a crunch of feet on the gravel. Laura's twin walked slowly past, alone. She crossed over to her table and stood there a moment, her tall, angular figure interposing itself between John and her sister. She was saying something, but he couldn't catch the words. What was the accent, though-Scottish? Then she bent, offering an arm to the seated twin, and they moved away together across the garden to the break in the little hedge beyond, the twin who had stared at John leaning on her sister's arm. Here was the difference again. She was not quite so tall, and she stooped more-perhaps she was arthritic. They disappeared out of sight, and John, becoming impatient, got up and was about to walk back into the hotel when Laura emerged.

  'Well, I must say, you took your time,' he began, and then stopped, because of the expression on her face.

  'What's the matter, what's happened?' he asked.

  He could tell at once there was something wrong. Almost as if she were in a state of shock. She blundered towards the table he had just vacated and sat down. He drew up a chair beside her, taking her hand.

  'Darling, what is it? Tell me- are you ill?'

  She shook her head, and then turned and looked at him. The dazed expression he had noticed at first had given way to one of dawning confidence, almost of exaltation.

  'It's quite wonderful,' she said slowly, 'the most wonderful thing that could possibly be. You see, she isn't dead, she's still with us. That's why they kept staring at us, those two sisters. They could see Christine.'

  Oh God, he thought. It's what I've been dreading. She's going off her head. What do I do? How do I cope?

  'Laura, sweet,' he began, forcing a smile, 'look, shall we go? I've paid the bill, we can go and look at the cathedral and stroll around, and then it will be time to take off in that launch again for Venice.'

  She wasn't listening, or at any rate the words didn't penetrate.

  'John, love,' she said, 'I've got to tell you what happened. I followed her, as we planned, into the toilette place. She was combing her hair and I went into the loo, and then came out and washed my hands in the basin. She was washing hers in the next basin. Suddenly she turned and said to me, in a strong Scots accent, 'Don't be unhappy any more. My sister has seen your little girl. She was sitting between you and your husband, laughing.' Darling, I thought I was going to faint. I nearly did. Luckily, there was a chair, and I sat down, and the woman bent over me and patted my head. I'm not sure of her exact words, but she said something about the moment of truth and joy being as sharp as a sword, but not to be afraid, all was well, but the sister's vision had been so strong they knew I had to be told, and that Christine wanted it. Oh, John, don't look like that. I swear I'm not making it up, this is what she told me, it's all true.'

  The desperate urgency in her voice made his heart sicken. He had to play along with her, agree, soothe, do anything to bring back some sense of calm.

  'Laura, darling, of course I believe you,' he said, 'only it's a sort of shock, and I'm upset because you're upset….'

  'But I'm not upset,' she interrupted. 'I'm happy, so happy that I can't put the feeling into words. You know what it's been like all these weeks, at home and everywhere we've been on holiday, though I tried to hide it from you. Now it's lifted, because I know, I just know, that the woman was right. Oh Lord, how awful of me, but I've forgotten their name-she did tell me. You see, the thing is that she's a retired doctor, they come from Edinburgh, and the one who saw Christine went blind a few years ago. Although she's studied the occult all her life and been very psychic, it's only since going blind that she has really seen things, like a medium. They've had the most wonderful experiences. But to describe Christine as the blind one did to her sister, even down to the little blue-and-white dress with the puff sleeves that she wore at her birthday party, and to say she was smiling happily…. Oh, darling, it's made me so happy I think I'm going to cry.'

  No hysteria. Nothing wild. She took a tissue from her bag and blew her nose, smiling at him. 'I'm all right, you see, you don't have to worry. Neither of us need worry about anything any more. Give me a cigarette.'

  He took one from his packet and lighted it for her. She sounded normal, herself again. She wasn't trembling. And if this sudden belief was going to keep her happy he couldn't possibly begrudge it. But… but… he wished, all the same, it hadn't happened. There was something uncanny about thought-reading, about telepathy. Scientists couldn't account for it, nobody could, and this is what must have happened just now between Laura and the sisters. So the one who had been staring at him was blind. That accounted for the fixed gaze. Which somehow was unpleasant in itself, creepy. Oh hell, he thought, I wish we hadn't come here for lunch. Just chance, a flick of a coin between this, Torcello, and driving to Padua, and we had to choose Torcello.

  'You didn't arrange to meet them again or anything, did you?' he asked, trying to sound casual.

  'No, darling, why should I?' Laura answered. 'I mean, there was nothing more they could tell me. The sister had her wonderful vision, and that was that. Anyway, they're moving on. Funnily enough, it's rather like our original game. They are going round the world before returning to Scotland. Only I said Australia, didn't I? The old dears…. Anything less like murderers and jewel thieves.'

  She had quite recovered. She stood up and looked about her. 'Come on,' she said. 'Having come to Torcello we must see the cat

  They made their way from the restaurant across the open piazza, where the stalls had been set up with scarves and trinkets and postcards, and so along the path to the cathedral. One of the ferry-boats had just decanted a crowd of sightseers, many of whom had already found their way into Santa Maria Assunta. Laura, undaunted, asked her husband for the guidebook, and, as had always been her custom in happier days, started to walk slowly through the cathedral, studying mosaics, columns, panels from left to right, while John, less interested, because of his concern at what had just happened, followed close behind, keeping a weather eye alert for the twin sisters. There was no sign of them. Perhaps they had gone into the church of Santa Fosca close by. A sudden encounter would be embarrassing, quite apart from the effect it might have upon Laura. But the anonymous, shuffling tourists, intent upon culture, could not harm her, although from his own point of view they made artistic appreciation impossible. He could not concentrate, the cold clear beauty of what he saw left him untouched, and when Laura touched his sleeve, pointing to the mosaic of the Virgin and Child standing above the frieze of the Apostles, he nodded in sympathy yet saw nothing, the long, sad face of the Virgin infinitely remote, and turning on sudden impulse stared back over the heads of the tourists towards the door, where frescoes of the blessed and the damned gave themselves to judgement.

  The twins were standing there, the blind one still holding on to her sister's arm, her sightless eyes fixed firmly upon him. He felt himself held, unable to move, and an impending sense of doom, of tragedy, came upon him. His whole being sagged, as it were, in apathy, and he thought, 'This is the end, there is no escape, no future.' Then both sisters turned and went out of the cathedral and the sensation vanished, leaving indignation in its wake, and rising anger. How dare those two old fools practise their mediumistic tricks on him? It was fraudulent, unhealthy; this was probably the way they lived, touring the world making everyone they met uncomfortable. Give them half a chance and they would have got money out of Laura-anything.