Sample L13 from Dolores Hitchens, Footsteps in the Night. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1961. Pp. 156-161. A part of the XML version of the Brown CorpusL13

Used by permission of Dolores Hitchens. 0010-1700

Dolores Hitchens, Footsteps in the Night. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1961. Pp. 156-161.

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His son watched until he got as far as the hall , almost out of sight , then hurried after . `` Dad . Dad , wait '' .

He caught up with the old man in the living room . Old man Arthur had put down the suitcase to open the front door .

`` Just this one favor , Dad . Just don't tell Ferguson that crazy opinion of yours '' .

`` Why not '' ? ? The old man gave the room a stare in leaving ; ; under the scraggly brows the pale old eyes burned with a bitter memory . `` It's the truth '' .

`` The Bartlett girl was killed by Mr. Dronk's son . Rossi and Ferguson have been across the street , talking to the kid . They've found some sort of new evidence , a bundle of clothes or something , and it must link the kid even stronger to the crime . Why won't you accept facts ? ? The two kids were together a lot , they were having some kind of teen-age affair -- God knows how far that had gone -- and the kid's crippled . He limps , and the man who hit you and took the cane , he limped . My God , how much more do you want '' ? ?

His father looked him over closely . `` You sound like an old woman . You should have gone to work today , 'stead of sneaking around spying on the Dronk house '' .

`` Now , see here '' --

`` The trouble with you '' , old man Arthur began , and then checked himself . Young Mrs. Arthur had opened the oven and there was a drifting odor of hot biscuits . The old man opened the door and stepped out into the sunlight . `` Isn't enough time to go into it '' , he finished , and slammed the door in his son's face .

Mrs. Holden turned from the window draperies . `` They found something else up there '' , she said half-aloud to the empty room . `` They took it away , overalls or something '' . She walked restlessly across the room , then back to the windows . `` Now they've gone , they didn't come back , and they didn't arrest that Dronk boy '' . She stood frowning and chewing her lip . She was wearing a brown cotton dress , cut across the hips in a way that was supposed to make her look slimmer , a yoke set into the skirt and flaring pleats below . She smoothed the skirt , sat down , then stood up and went back to the windows . `` Why on earth did I send him off to work ? ? There was excuse enough to keep him home that young Mr. Arthur's still over there '' .

With sudden energy , she went to the phone and rang Holden's office and asked for him .

`` I think you had better come home '' .

`` Mae , we're so busy . Mr. Crosson's been on everybody's neck , an order he expected didn't come through and he's '' --

`` I don't care . I want you here . I'm all alone and certain things are going on that look very ominous . I need someone to go out and find out what's happening '' .

`` But I couldn't do that , even if I were home '' ! ! His voice grew high and trembling . `` I can't be underfoot every time those cops turn around ! ! They'll they'll think I did something '' .

He couldn't see the grin that split her mouth ; ; the teeth that shone into the phone were like a shark's . `` You'll just have to risk it . You can't wander along in the dark , can you ? ? I'd think that you even more than I would be wondering what they're up to . They found some clothes '' , she tossed in .

`` What '' ? ?

Deliberately , she ignored the yelp . `` Also , that Mr. Ferguson was here . I guess he wants to ask you some questions . I stalled him off . He doesn't expect you until five '' .

`` Then I'd better wait until five '' .

`` No-o-o . Come home right away '' . She slapped the receiver into its holder and stepped away . Her eyes were bright with anticipation .

In his office , Mr. Holden replaced the phone slowly . He rose from his chair . He had to cough then ; ; he went to the window and choked there with the fresh breeze on his face . He got his hat out of the closet . For a moment he thought of going into Crosson's office to explain that he had to leave , but there was now such a pain in his chest , such a pounding in his head , that he decided to let it go . He passed the receptionist in the outer office , muttering , `` I've got to go out for a little while '' . Let her call Crosson if she wanted to , let Crosson raise the roof or even can him , he didn't care .

He got into the car . Putting the key into the switch , pressing the accelerator with his foot , putting the car into reverse , seemed vast endeavors almost beyond the ability of his shaking body . Once out in the street , the traffic was a gadfly maze in which he wandered stricken . When he turned into the highway that led to the outskirts of the city and then rose toward home , he had to pull over to the curb and wait for a few minutes , sucking in air and squinting and blinking his eyes to clear them of tears .

What on earth was in Mae's mind , that she wanted him up there spying on what the cops were doing ? ? What did she think he could do ? ?

He tried to ignore what his own common sense told him , but it wasn't possible ; ; her motives were too blatant . She wanted him to get into trouble . She wanted the police to notice him , suspect him . She was going to keep on scheming , poking , prodding , suggesting , and dictating until the cops got up enough interest in him to go back to their old neighborhood and ask questions . And he knew in that moment , with a cold sinking of despair , a dying of old hopes , that Mae had spread some kind of word there among the neighbors . Nothing bald , open ; ; but enough . They'd have some suspicions to repeat to the police .

Though his inner thoughts cringed at it , he forced himself to think back , recreating the scene in which Mae claimed to have caught him molesting the child .

It hadn't amounted to anything . There had been nothing evil or dirty in his intentions .

A second scene flashed before his mind , the interior of the garage at the new house and the young Bartlett girl turning startled to meet him , the dim dark and the sudden confusion and fear and then the brightness as Mae had clicked on the light .

Suppose the cops somehow got hold of that ? ?

Well , it hadn't been what it seemed , he'd had no idea the girl was in there . He hadn't touched her .

And when he came to examine the scene , there was a certain staginess to it , it had the smell of planning , and a swift suspicion darted into his mind .

Too monstrous , of course . Mae wouldn't have plotted a thing like that . It was just that little accidents played into her hands . Like this murder .

He leaned on the wheel , clutching it , staring into the sunlight , and tried to bring order into his thoughts . He felt light-headed and sick . There was no use wandering off into a territory of utter nightmare . Mae was his wife . She was married to him for better or for worse . She wouldn't be wilfully planning his destruction .

But she was . She was .

Even as the conviction of truth roared through him , shattering his last hope of safety , he was reaching to release the hand brake , to head up the road for home , doing her bidding . He drove , and the road wobbled , familiar scenes crept past on either side . He came to a stretch of old orange groves , the trees dead , some of them uprooted , and then there was an outlying shopping area , and tract houses . He had the feeling that he should abandon the car and run off somewhere to hide . But he couldn't imagine where . There was really no place to go , finally , except home to Mae .

At the gate he slowed , looking around . Cooper was beside his car , on the curb at the right , just standing there morosely ; ; he didn't even look up . Behind him on the steps of the little office sat old man Arthur ; ; he was straight , something angry in his attitude , as if he might be waiting to report something . Holden stepped on the gas .

A new idea drifted in from nowhere . He could go to the police . He could tell them his fears of being involved , he could explain what had happened in the old neighborhood and how Mae had misunderstood and how she had held it over him -- the scene was complete in his mind at the moment , even to his own jerkings and snivelings , and Ferguson's silent patience . He could throw himself on the mercy of the Police Department .

It wasn't what Mae would want him to do , though . He was sure of this . Once he had abandoned himself to the very worst , once he had quieted all the dragons of worry and suspense , there wouldn't be very much for Mae to do . At that moment , Holden almost slammed on the brakes to go back to Cooper and ask if Ferguson was about .

It would be such a relief .

What was that old sign , supposed to be painted over a door somewhere , Abandon hope , all ye who enter here ? ?

Why , Holden said to himself , surprised at his own sudden insight , I'll bet some of those people who enter are just as happy as can be . They've worried , they've lain awake nights , they've shook at the slightest footstep , they've pictured their own destruction , and now it's all over and they can give up . Sure , they're giving up hope . Hand in hand with hope went things like terror and apprehension . Good-bye . Holden waved a hand at the empty street . Glad to see you go .

He drove into the paved space before the garage and got out , slamming the car door . He looked up and down the street . If Ferguson's car had been in sight , Holden would have walked directly to it .

He went to the front door and opened it and looked in .

Mae entered the room from the hallway to the kitchen . She had a cup of something steaming , coffee perhaps , in one hand , a fresh piece of toast in the other . She stood there , watching Holden come in , and she put the piece of toast in her mouth and bit off one corner with a huge chomp of her white teeth .

`` Mae '' --

`` I've been thinking '' , she said , swallowing the toast . `` Didn't you have an old pair of painting overalls in the garage ? ? You used them that time you painted the porch at our other house . And then you wiped up some grease '' .

She had caught him off guard , no preparation , nothing certain but that ahead lay some kind of disaster . `` No . Wait a minute . What do you '' --

`` I've been looking for them , and they're gone . I'm sure they were in the garage up until a couple of days ago . Or even yesterday . You used to paint in them , and then you just took them for rags . The police have them now '' .

`` I don't remember any overalls at all '' .

`` They were all faded . Worn through at the knees '' . She stood sipping and chewing and watching . `` Green paint , wasn't it ? ? Well , I'm not sure of the color . But you had them '' .

`` Mae , sit down . Put down the cup of coffee . Tell me what this is all about '' .

She shook her head . She took another bite of toast . Holden noticed almost absently how she chewed , how the whole side of her cheek moved , a slab of fat that extended down into her neck . `` My goodness , you ought to remember if I do . You're going to have to go to the police and explain what happened . Tell them the truth or something before they come here '' .

A seeping coldness entered Holden's being ; ; his nerves seemed frost-bitten down to the tips of his tingling fingers and his spine felt stiff and glass-like , liable to break like an icicle at any moment . `` I've never owned any painting overalls .