Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson


  Disregarding Miss Oakes, Mrs. Montague had begun to color. Her shoulders bent low over the book, a vague smile on her old face, she was devoting herself to a picture of a farmyard; a hen and three chickens strutted across the foreground of the picture, a barn surrounded by trees was the background. Mrs. Montague had laboriously colored the hen and the three chickens, the barn and the trees a rich blue, and now, with alternate touches of the crayons, was engaged in putting a red and yellow blot far up in the blue trees.

  [1950]

  A VISIT

  (for Dylan Thomas)

  1

  The house in itself was, even before anything had happened there, as lovely a thing as she had ever seen. Set among its lavish grounds, with a park and a river and a wooded hill surrounding it, and carefully planned and tended gardens close upon all sides, it lay upon the hills as though it were something too precious to be seen by everyone; Margaret’s very coming there had been a product of such elaborate arrangement, and such letters to and fro, and such meetings and hopings and wishings, that when she alighted with Carla Rhodes at the doorway of Carla’s home, she felt that she too had come home, to a place striven for and earned. Carla stopped before the doorway and stood for a minute, looking first behind her, at the vast reaching gardens and the green lawn going down to the river, and the soft hills beyond, and then at the perfect grace of the house, showing so clearly the long-boned structure within, the curving staircases and the arched doorways and the tall thin lines of steadying beams, all of it resting back against the hills, and up, past rows of windows and the flying lines of the roof, on, to the tower—Carla stopped, and looked, and smiled, and then turned and said, “Welcome, Margaret.”

  “It’s a lovely house,” Margaret said, and felt that she had much better have said nothing.

  The doors were opened and Margaret, touching as she went the warm head of a stone faun beside her, passed inside. Carla, following, greeted the servants by name, and was welcomed with reserved pleasure; they stood for a minute on the rose-and-white tiled floor. “Again, welcome, Margaret,” Carla said.

  Far ahead of them the great stairway soared upward, held to the hall where they stood by only the slimmest of carved balustrades; on Margaret’s left hand a tapestry moved softly as the door behind was closed. She could see the fine threads of the weave, and the light colors, but she could not have told the picture unless she went far away, perhaps as far away as the staircase, and looked at it from there; perhaps, she thought, from halfway up the stairway this great hall, and perhaps the whole house, is visible, as a complete body of story together, all joined and in sequence. Or perhaps I shall be allowed to move slowly from one thing to another, observing each, or would that take all the time of my visit?

  “I never saw anything so lovely,” she said to Carla, and Carla smiled.

  “Come and meet my mama,” Carla said.

  They went through doors at the right, and Margaret, before she could see the light room she went into, was stricken with fear at meeting the owners of the house and the park and the river, and as she went beside Carla she kept her eyes down.

  “Mama,” said Carla, “This is Margaret, from school.”

  “Margaret,” said Carla’s mother, and smiled at Margaret kindly. “We are very glad you were able to come.”

  She was a tall lady wearing pale green and pale blue, and Margaret said as gracefully as she could, “Thank you, Mrs. Rhodes; I am very grateful for having been invited.”

  “Surely,” said Mrs. Rhodes softly, “surely my daughter’s friend Margaret from school should be welcome here; surely we should be grateful that she has come.”

  “Thank you, Mrs. Rhodes,” Margaret said, not knowing how she was answering, but knowing that she was grateful.

  When Mrs. Rhodes turned her kind eyes on her daughter, Margaret was at last able to look at the room where she stood next to her friend; it was a pale-green and a pale-blue long room with tall windows that looked out onto the lawn and the sky, and thin colored china ornaments on the mantel. Mrs. Rhodes had left her needlepoint when they came in and from where Margaret stood she could see the pale sweet pattern from the underside; all soft colors it was, melting into one another endlessly, and not finished. On the table near by were books, and one large book of sketches that were most certainly Carla’s; Carla’s harp stood next to the windows, and beyond one window were marble steps outside, going shallowly down to a fountain, where water moved in the sunlight. Margaret thought of her own embroidery—a pair of slippers she was working for her friend—and knew that she should never be able to bring it into this room, where Mrs. Rhodes’s long white hands rested on the needlepoint frame, soft as dust on the pale colors.

  “Come,” said Carla, taking Margaret’s hand in her own, “Mama has said that I might show you some of the house.”

  They went out again into the hall, across the rose and white tiles which made a pattern too large to be seen from the floor, and through a doorway where tiny bronze fauns grinned at them from the carving. The first room that they went into was all gold, with gilt on the window frames and on the legs of the chairs and tables, and the small chairs standing on the yellow carpet were made of gold brocade with small gilded backs, and on the wall were more tapestries showing the house as it looked in the sunlight with even the trees around it shining, and these tapestries were let into the wall and edged with thin gilded frames.

  “There is so much tapestry,” Margaret said.

  “In every room,” Carla agreed. “Mama has embroidered all the hangings for her own room, the room where she writes her letters. The other tapestries were done by my grandmamas and my great-grandmamas and my great-great-grandmamas.”

  The next room was silver, and the small chairs were of silver brocade with narrow silvered backs, and the tapestries on the walls of this room were edged with silver frames and showed the house in moonlight, with the white light shining on the stones and the windows glittering.

  “Who uses these rooms?” Margaret asked.

  “No one,” Carla said.

  They passed then into a room where everything grew smaller as they looked at it: the mirrors on both sides of the room showed the door opening and Margaret and Carla coming through, and then, reflected, a smaller door opening and a small Margaret and a smaller Carla coming through, and then, reflected again, a still smaller door and Margaret and Carla, and so on, endlessly, Margaret and Carla diminishing and reflecting. There was a table here and nesting under it another lesser table, and under that another one, and another under that one, and on the greatest table lay a carved wooden bowl holding within it another carved wooden bowl, and another within that, and another within that one. The tapestries in this room were of the house reflected in the lake, and the tapestries themselves were reflected, in and out, among the mirrors on the wall, with the house in the tapestries reflected in the lake.

  This room frightened Margaret rather, because it was so difficult for her to tell what was in it and what was not, and how far in any direction she might easily move, and she backed out hastily, pushing Carla behind her. They turned from here into another doorway which led them out again into the great hall under the soaring staircase, and Carla said, “We had better go upstairs and see your room; we can see more of the house another time. We have plenty of time, after all,” and she squeezed Margaret’s hand joyfully.

  They climbed the great staircase, and passed, in the hall upstairs, Carla’s room, which was like the inside of a shell in pale colors, with lilacs on the table, and the fragrance of the lilacs followed them as they went down the halls.

  The sound of their shoes on the polished floor was like rain, but the sun came in on them wherever they went. “Here,” Carla said, opening a door, “is where we have breakfast when it is warm; here,” opening another door, “is the passage to the room where Mama does her letters. And that—” nodding “—
is the stairway to the tower, and here is where we shall have dances when my brother comes home.”

  “A real tower?” Margaret said.

  “And here,” Carla said, “is the old schoolroom, and my brother and I studied here before he went away, and I stayed on alone studying here until it was time for me to come to school and meet you.”

  “Can we go up into the tower?” Margaret asked.

  “Down here, at the end of the hall,” Carla said, “is where all my grandpapas and my grandmamas and my great-great-grandpapas and grandmamas live.” She opened the door to the long gallery, where pictures of tall old people in lace and pale waistcoats leaned down to stare at Margaret and Carla. And then, to a walk at the top of the house, where they leaned over and looked at the ground below and the tower above, and Margaret looked at the gray stone of the tower and wondered who lived there, and Carla pointed out where the river ran far below, far away, and said they should walk there tomorrow.

  “When my brother comes,” she said, “he will take us boating on the river.”

  In her room, unpacking her clothes, Margaret realized that her white dress was the only one possible for dinner, and thought that she would have to send home for more things; she had intended to wear her ordinary gray downstairs most evenings before Carla’s brother came, but knew she could not when she saw Carla in light blue, with pearls around her neck. When Margaret and Carla came into the drawing room before dinner Mrs. Rhodes greeted them very kindly, and asked had Margaret seen the painted room or the room with the tiles?

  “We had no time to go near that part of the house at all,” Carla said.

  “After dinner, then,” Mrs. Rhodes said, putting her arm affectionately around Margaret’s shoulders, “we will go and see the painted room and the room with the tiles, because they are particular favorites of mine.”

  “Come and meet my papa,” Carla said.

  The door was just opening for Mr. Rhodes, and Margaret, who felt almost at ease now with Mrs. Rhodes, was frightened again of Mr. Rhodes, who spoke loudly and said, “So this is m’girl’s friend from school? Lift up your head, girl, and let’s have a look at you.” When Margaret looked up blindly, and smiled weakly, he patted her cheek and said, “We shall have to make you look bolder before you leave us,” and then he tapped his daughter on the shoulder and said she had grown to a monstrous fine girl.

  They went in to dinner, and on the walls of the dining room were tapestries of the house in the seasons of the year, and the dinner service was white china with veins of gold running through it, as though it had been mined and not moulded. The fish was one Margaret did not recognize, and Mr. Rhodes very generously insisted upon serving her himself without smiling at her ignorance. Carla and Margaret were each given a glassful of pale spicy wine.

  “When my brother comes,” Carla said to Margaret, “we will not dare be so quiet at table.” She looked across the white cloth to Margaret, and then to her father at the head, to her mother at the foot, with the long table between them, and said, “My brother can make us laugh all the time.”

  “Your mother will not miss you for these summer months?” Mrs. Rhodes said to Margaret.

  “She has my sisters, ma’am,” Margaret said, “and I have been away at school for so long that she has learned to do without me.”

  “We mothers never learn to do without our daughters,” Mrs. Rhodes said, and looked fondly at Carla. “Or our sons,” she added with a sigh.

  “When my brother comes,” Carla said, “you will see what this house can be like with life in it.”

  “When does he come?” Margaret asked.

  “One week,” Mr. Rhodes said, “three days, and four hours.”

  When Mrs. Rhodes rose, Margaret and Carla followed her, and Mr. Rhodes rose gallantly to hold the door for them all.

  That evening Carla and Margaret played and sang duets, although Carla said that their voices together were too thin to be appealing without a deeper voice accompanying, and that when her brother came they should have some splendid trios. Mrs. Rhodes complimented their singing, and Mr. Rhodes fell asleep in his chair.

  Before they went upstairs Mrs. Rhodes reminded herself of her promise to show Margaret the painted room and the room with the tiles, and so she and Margaret and Carla, holding their long dresses up away from the floor in front so that their skirts whispered behind them, went down a hall and through a passage and down another hall, and through a room filled with books and then through a painted door into a tiny octagonal room where each of the sides was paneled and painted, with pink and blue and green and gold small pictures of shepherds and nymphs, lambs and fauns, playing on the broad green lawns by the river, with the house standing lovely behind them. There was nothing else in the little room, because seemingly the paintings were furniture enough for one room, and Margaret felt surely that she could stay happily and watch the small painted people playing, without ever seeing anything more of the house. But Mrs. Rhodes led her on, into the room of the tiles, which was not exactly a room at all, but had one side all glass window looking out onto the same lawn of the pictures in the octagonal room. The tiles were set into the floor of this room, in tiny bright spots of color which showed, when you stood back and looked at them, that they were again a picture of the house, only now the same materials that made the house made the tiles, so that the tiny windows were tiles of glass, and the stones of the tower were chips of gray stone, and the bricks of the chimneys were chips of brick.

  Beyond the tiles of the house Margaret, lifting her long skirt as she walked, so that she should not brush a chip of the tower out of place, stopped and said, “What is this?” And stood back to see, and then knelt down and said, “What is this?”

  “Isn’t she enchanting?” said Mrs. Rhodes, smiling at Margaret, “I’ve always loved her.”

  “I was wondering what Margaret would say when she saw it,” said Carla, smiling also.

  It was a curiously made picture of a girl’s face, with blue-chip eyes and a red-chip mouth, staring blindly from the floor, with long light braids made of yellow stone chips going down evenly on either side of her round cheeks.

  “She is pretty,” said Margaret, stepping back to see her better. “What does it say underneath?”

  She stepped back again, holding her head up and back to read the letters, pieced together with stone chips and set unevenly in the floor. “Here was Margaret,” it said, “who died for love.”

  2

  There was, of course, not time to do everything. Before Margaret had seen half the house, Carla’s brother came home. Carla came running up the great staircase one afternoon calling “Margaret, Margaret, he’s come,” and Margaret, running down to meet her, hugged her and said, “I’m so glad.”

  He had certainly come, and Margaret, entering the drawing room shyly behind Carla, saw Mrs. Rhodes with tears in her eyes and Mr. Rhodes standing straighter and prouder than before, and Carla said, “Brother, here is Margaret.”

  He was tall and haughty in uniform, and Margaret wished she had met him a little later, when she had perhaps been to her room again, and perhaps tucked up her hair. Next to him stood his friend, a captain, small and dark and bitter, and smiling bleakly upon the family assembled. Margaret smiled back timidly at them both, and stood behind Carla.

  Everyone then spoke at once. Mrs. Rhodes said “We’ve missed you so,” and Mr. Rhodes said “Glad to have you back, m’boy,” and Carla said “We shall have such times—I’ve promised Margaret—” and Carla’s brother said “So this is Margaret?” and the dark captain said “I’ve been wanting to come.”

  It seemed that they all spoke at once, every time; there would be a long waiting silence while all of them looked around with joy at being together, and then suddenly everyone would have found something to say. It was so at dinner: Mrs. Rhodes said “You’re not eating enough,” and “You used to
be more fond of pomegranates,” and Carla said “We’re to go boating,” and “We’ll have a dance, won’t we?” and “Margaret and I insist upon a picnic,” and “I saved the river for my brother to show to Margaret.” Mr. Rhodes puffed and laughed and passed the wine, and Margaret hardly dared lift her eyes. The black captain said “Never realized what an attactive old place it could be, after all,” and Carla’s brother said “There’s much about the house I’d like to show Margaret.”

  After dinner they played charades, and even Mrs. Rhodes did Achilles with Mr. Rhodes, holding his heel and both of them laughing and glancing at Carla and Margaret and the captain. Carla’s brother leaned on the back of Margaret’s chair and once she looked up at him and said, “No one ever calls you by name. Do you actually have a name?”

  “Paul,” he said.

  The next morning they walked on the lawn, Carla with the captain and Margaret with Paul. They stood by the lake, and Margaret looked at the pure reflection of the house and said, “It almost seems as though we could open a door and go in.”

  “There,” said Paul, and he pointed with his stick at the front entrance, “There is where we shall enter, and it will swing open for us with an underwater crash.”

  “Margaret,” said Carla, laughing, “you say odd things, sometimes. If you tried to go into that house, you’d be in the lake.”

  “Indeed, and not like it much, at all,” the captain added.

  “Or would you have the side door?” asked Paul, pointing with his stick.

  “I think I prefer the front door,” said Margaret.

 
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