Authors: Taylor Caldwell
First published by
Reback and Reback
spine-chilling tradition of
THE BAD SEED,
weaves a horror-rimmed portrait.
It is a picture you will not easily forget.
DEADLY LITTLE DARLING
Angelo’s mother believed that her precious young son was not only the most beautiful child in the world but the most brilliant.
And so he was
. But behind the smile and the little boy charm, deep in the shadows of his secret self, lay a twisted, terrible thing that preyed on the innocent and the unwary…
“Taylor Caldwell makes things happen.”
“The wicked ones, who are constantly
being born amongst us, are often
distinguished by appearing as angels of
light and wit and intelligence, charming
and fascinating beyond usual mortal endowments,
apparently loving and always exciting
love even among those who are of a usually
cynical nature. In truth, they appear most
lovable and amiable, for it is their diabolical
genius to be all things to all men, grave among
the grave, gay among the gay, sympathetic
in the company of those of sensibility, never
openly hostile or belligerent; flexible of
temperament, of an open countenance and
invariably possessed of great magnetism.—More
of these wicked ones are born in each generation
than we know of, but those who are unfortunately
of their blood know that they entertain a demon,
and not unawares. May God preserve you
and me from encountering one such in marriage
or among our children!”
He could feel the rage suddenly flaring in him. He liked to feel rage, for it meant not only a quick warm flooding about his loins, a hot, watery flooding, but also an intense inner excitement that made him experience a voluptuous heightening of all sensation. The external flooding brought his mother, full of coos and murmurs and exclamations meant to be chiding but which were really endearing, giving him new importance. Unless, of course, SHE was there, as SHE was today, SHE, the deeply knowing, the deeply hated. On the few occasions when he had been alone with HER, and SHE had angered him and so induced him to let out the flood, there had been no cooings, no pretended scoldings which were later compensated for with candies and cookies; there had been only a harsh smiting on his buttocks, disgusted huge eyes glaring at him, words of contempt, and then the pushing away into a solitary room. He had never forgotten or forgiven. He hated HER; he would always hate HER. He dared not let loose the flood today; he dared not experiment to see if Mum would protect him from another assault, another stare of repulsion, more words of contempt. He was very sensitive, as were all his kind. He understood, at four years, without words.
No, he must hold back the flood which welled in him with his rage; his face wrinkled with emotion and hate and self-pity. He wailed very softly as he sat on the doorstep outside the kitchen door.
The voices went on, the voice of Mum and the voice of the hated HER, and he could understand very little. He glowered. A pretty beetle ran near his foot and he crushed it and smiled. He rubbed the innocent slime into the concrete with his heel. A butterfly flew close to him, and he darted out his hand to destroy it; it was very lovely, but also wary. It blew away from him, and he shrilled indignantly, and rubbed his buttocks on the step. The garden, in full hot summer, lay all about him, golden, rose, white, violet, red, blue, and the maple trees held their fretted green banners to the shining sky. The grass glittered in the sun; the birds bustled on it, and, chattering, rose into the trees, or sat at a distance on the old gray stone wall. He looked at it all restlessly; he leaned over and tore up a clump of grass at the side of the concrete walk, and amused himself by ripping apart each blade separately. He kicked the stuffed bear below him. He put his thumb into his mouth again, and again whined, and looked at the birds and hated them, and hated the voices in the kitchen behind him. For now he understood that they were no longer discussing him, and this was outrageous. For there was nothing in the world as valuable and as precious as himself; nothing significant lived in the world besides him, and the world was made to serve him, to wait upon his smiles, to stand beside his bed, to put delicious morsels into his mouth, to amuse him, to cry and laugh over him, to clap hands delightedly at his exploits, to turn in his direction adoring faces and worn, worshiping simpers. Dimly, as he tore viciously at the grass, he was tearing viciously at HER, and destroying HER, who dared not to bend with supple waist and knee before him, and acknowledge him for the mighty creature he was.
Kathy Saint, who preferred to be known as Katherine, delicately tasted the chicken broth she was preparing for her son. The fine skin between her eyes puckered, and she shook her head. “I’m afraid it is a wee bit too salty,” she said to her sister, Alice, whom she preferred to call Alicia. For Kathy Saint was “precious,” and had a sweet, predatory face and what her sister Alice sometimes thought of as a dainty shark’s smile. Kathy “loved people.” She was lyrical about “people.” “More and more and more people!” she would sing to Alice and her husband, lifting her skirts and sailing about any room in which she happened to be. “How can anyone live without PEOPLE?” And her eyes would shine with what she believed was innocent joy in life and her fellowmen.
Her love for “people” did not extend to the cleaning women she employed, who never remained with her for more than one or two days, or the maids she hired, who left within a week, bag and baggage, or the tradesmen with whom she dealt, or the gardeners her husband had coaxed to work for the family. Among these “people” she had a reputation for greed, merciless exploitation, arrogance—what they designated “slave-driving.”
She was a pretty woman of thirty-five. No one but Alice knew her age; her husband, Mark Saint, believed her to be nearer his own age, which was thirty-two. She would soon celebrate her thirtieth birthday, as she called it, and Alice was visiting her today to discover, in her forthright manner, what Kathy wanted for the occasion. Alice did not often come to this house, for a number of reasons, among them a reason so hurting and so full of anguish that she could scarcely endure it, and which no one guessed. For she was in love with Mark Saint, and had loved him from the moment she had met him, ten years ago, when she was only eight, and he was engrossed with Kathy. He had married Kathy a year later; he had just been graduated from his school of engineering, and he was twenty-three, and Kathy was twenty-six, according to her birth certificate, but only twenty-one, according to her own statement. Her parents were alive then, and entered into the deception with her, for they wished her to marry Mark, who was not only in “a profession,” but had inherited considerable money from his parents who had died in an automobile accident when he was fifteen. Kathy’s parents owned a small but fairly prosperous little hardware store in the City, and they were awed by the handsome Mark Saint; they adored their older daughter, and had left her the bulk of their savings—fifteen thousand dollars—the guardianship of Alice, their house, and their shop. Alice inherited only three thousand dollars. No one thought this unjust, except Alice, and Alice was a child who kept her own counsel and had a wise and cynical inner eye.
Kathy was considered very charming, and even lovely, by those she had deceived into believing her the gentlest, sweetest, most innocent and most loving of women, and these, strangely enough to Alice, were legion. She was of medium height, and gave the impression of slenderness, for her breasts were small, her shoulders narrow and thin, her arms only barely plump, her waist nearly slim. But her belly and her buttocks and her legs were thick and heavy. The first two she restrained with elastic and steel; the latter she hid in buoyant skirts which swished in a very feminine fashion just below the curve of her gross calf. Because of the constant hurly-burly of her skirts—and this was pure art—none of her friends noticed the expanse of her peasant ankles nor the breadth of her large feet. It had been quite a shock to Mark to discover on his wedding night that his bride, after shedding the artful, bouffant gown and petticoats, had the lower body and limbs of a very sturdy and lustful peasant, made for the plow and the field, the churn and the barn. It had taken him several shocked moments to force back his concentration upon Kathy’s pale and luminous face, so daintily shaped, so sweet in expression, so lighted by large blue eyes, so exquisite of dimpled chin and small pretty teeth between naturally red and smiling lips, her nose so finely shaped, her hair so purely auburn and curling. Even while concentrating on these charms, the thought occurred to him that he had never seen Kathy in a bathing suit before their marriage. The thought passed. He loved Kathy, who had such a tender, murmurous voice, such apparent innocence, such a rapturous, childish delight in all things, as she herself declared.
In comparison, young Alice was nondescript, as everyone said who understood the meaning of the word. At eighteen, as she was now, she was much taller than Kathy, very much thinner, and possessed of the most graceful body and legs and long throat. But her hair was almost flaxen, and short and dense and straight about her colorless and oddly patrician face, which very few appreciated for its sculptured planes and look of cleanliness and wise purity. Her young mouth, barely touched with lipstick, had a somewhat stern expression, for no one could deceive Alice, though Kathy would sometimes refer to her with a tender laugh as a “teen-ager.” How the plebeians who had been her parents had produced such aristocracy no one questioned, for there were only one or two who recognized native aristocracy when they saw it, and Mark was one of them. Where Kathy was “feminine,” as her affectionate friends declared, Alice was womanly, and Mark, after these ten years, understood the difference. (Kathy had but one rule in judging women: Was so-and-so “feminine,” or was she not? She was convinced that Alice, “the poor, dear child, is unfeminine, I am afraid. Perhaps even a little, just a wee little bit, masculine. Unfortunate!”)
Alice’s face, her gestures, her exquisite movements, her grace, her honesty, the lift of her head, her sudden, infrequent smile which glorified all her features and removed their delicate sternness, had no touch of masculinity. She was, in all things, in her thoughts, in her faith, in her wisdom, in her inner strength, in her compassion even for Kathy, the most womanly of women. Kathy, in the secret places of her devious and envious heart, in the smallness of her spirit, in her lack of largeness of vision, knew all about her sister, and so subtly belittled her in order to enhance her own stature and blatant “femininity.”
Alice envied no one, nor truly hated anyone, except one creature, and he sat outside now, on the kitchen doorstep. She did not reproach herself for hating a four-year-old handsome and smiling child. That would have been hypocrisy, and alien to her nature. She accented her emotions simply, and understood them fully, without illusion. She did not yearn to have a house like this one, big and expensive, with steep slated roofs, warm brick walls covered with ivy, a spacious garden, several glittering bathrooms, and an extremely modern kitchen. She would have been glad to share a dusty room in an obscure rooming house with Mark Saint, and would have lain down beside him on a rickety bed with joy and contentment, her heart swelling with the deepest of passions and love, her arms held out to him to give him comfort and happiness. But no one knew this, not even the sly and astute Kathy, who preferred to call herself Katherine. She would have borne Mark’s children as soon as possible, and not have thriftily waited for four years, “until we can really afford to have one, you know,” as Kathy said with her gentle, self-deprecating smile which endeared her to so many of the undiscerning.
Alice’s inheritance from her parents, so small and so unjust, had been spent on her education and “care,” as Kathy said. But Alice had been educated in public schools, at no expense, and had been graduated, at fifteen, from preparatory school, the highest in her class. She had then gone to Teachers College, and had covered the course in a little less than three years, and now taught school in the City. Immediately upon her graduation she had left this house, to Kathy’s relief but vocal reproach, and shared a two-room apartment with another teacher. She did not like the suburbs, she insisted, and this was one of the very few lies she had ever uttered, and it was spoken to remove the hurt expression from Mark’s dark and clever face and clear, hazel eyes. But living so close to him was beginning to mean unbearable anguish for her, and even when she visited this house she almost always came during the day and rarely encountered Mark except on special occasions. Moreover, her hatred for young Angelo, as Kathy had fancifully insisted on naming him to Mark’s disgust and Alice’s unspoken disdain, was becoming too huge for continued silence. (When Kathy first saw her son, two hours after his birth, she had cried, “Angel!” and then had sought a name that would permit her to so call him all the days of her life.)