Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson


  “But you’d be drowned,” Carla said. She took Margaret’s arm as they started back toward the house, and said, “We’d make a scene for a tapestry right now, on the lawn before the house.”

  “Another tapestry?” said the captain, and grimaced.

  They played croquet, and Paul hit Margaret’s ball toward a wicket, and the captain accused her of cheating prettily. And they played word games in the evening, and Margaret and Paul won, and everyone said Margaret was so clever. And they walked endlessly on the lawns before the house, and looked into the still lake, and watched the reflection of the house in the water, and Margaret chose a room in the reflected house for her own, and Paul said she should have it.

  “That’s the room where Mama writes her letters,” said Carla, looking strangely at Margaret.

  “Not in our house in the lake,” said Paul.

  “And I suppose if you like it she would lend it to you while you stay,” Carla said.

  “Not at all,” said Margaret amiably. “I think I should prefer the tower anyway.”

  “Have you seen the rose garden?” Carla asked.

  “Let me take you there,” said Paul.

  Margaret started across the lawn with him, and Carla called to her, “Where are you off to now, Margaret?”

  “Why, to the rose garden,” Margaret called back, and Carla said, staring, “You are really very odd, sometimes, Margaret. And it’s growing colder, far too cold to linger among the roses,” and so Margaret and Paul turned back.

  Mrs. Rhodes’s needlepoint was coming on well. She had filled in most of the outlines of the house, and was setting in the windows. After the first small shock of surprise, Margaret no longer wondered that Mrs. Rhodes was able to set out the house so well without a pattern or a plan; she did it from memory and Margaret, realizing this for the first time, thought “How amazing,” and then “But of course; how else would she do it?”

  To see a picture of the house, Mrs. Montague needed only to lift her eyes in any direction, but, more than that, she had of course never used any other model for her embroidery; she had of course learned the faces of the house better than the faces of her children. The dreamy life of the Rhodeses in the house was most clearly shown Margaret as she watched Mrs. Rhodes surely and capably building doors and windows, carvings and cornices, in her embroidered house, smiling tenderly across the room to where Carla and the captain bent over a book together, while her fingers almost of themselves turned the edge of a carving Margaret had forgotten or never known about until, leaning over the back of Mrs. Rhodes’s chair, she saw it form itself under Mrs. Rhodes’s hands.

  The small thread of days and sunlight, then, that bound Margaret to the house, was woven here as she watched. And Carla, lifting her head to look over, might say, “Margaret, do come and look, here. Mother is always at her work, but my brother is rarely home.”

  They went for a picnic, Carla and the captain and Paul and Margaret, and Mrs. Rhodes waved to them from the doorway as they left, and Mr. Rhodes came to his study window and lifted his hand to them. They chose to go to the wooded hill beyond the house, although Carla was timid about going too far away—“I always like to be where I can see the roofs, at least,” she said—and sat among the trees, on moss greener than Margaret had ever seen before, and spread out a white cloth and drank red wine.

  It was a very proper forest, with neat trees and the green moss, and an occasional purple or yellow flower growing discreetly away from the path. There was no sense of brooding silence, as there sometimes is with trees about, and Margaret realized, looking up to see the sky clearly between the branches, that she had seen this forest in the tapestries in the breakfast room, with the house shining in the sunlight beyond.

  “Doesn’t the river come through here somewhere?” she asked, hearing, she thought, the sound of it through the trees. “I feel so comfortable here among these trees, so at home.”

  “It is possible,” said Paul, “to take a boat from the lawn in front of the house and move without sound down the river, through the trees, past the fields and then, for some reason, around past the house again. The river, you see, goes almost around the house in a great circle. We are very proud of that.”

  “The river is near by,” said Carla. “It goes almost completely around the house.”

  “Margaret,” said the captain. “You must not look rapt on a picnic unless you are contemplating nature.”

  “I was, as a matter of fact,” said Margaret. “I was contemplating a caterpillar approaching Carla’s foot.”

  “Will you come and look at the river?” said Paul, rising and holding his hand out to Margaret. “I think we can see much of its great circle from near here.”

  “Margaret,” said Carla as Margaret stood up. “You are always wandering off.”

  “I’m coming right back,” Margaret said, with a laugh. “It’s only to look at the river.”

  “Don’t be away long,” Carla said. “We must be getting back before dark.”

  The river as it went through the trees was shadowed and cool, broadening out into pools where only the barest movement disturbed the ferns along its edge, and where small stones made it possible to step out and see the water all around, from a precarious island, and where without sound a leaf might be carried from the limits of sight to the limits of sight, moving swiftly but imperceptibly and turning a little as it went.

  “Who lives in the tower, Paul?” asked Margaret, holding a fern and running it softly over the back of her hand. “I know someone lives there, because I saw someone moving at the window once.”

  “Not lives there,” said Paul, amused. “Did you think we kept a political prisoner locked away?”

  “I thought it might be the birds, at first,” Margaret said, glad to be describing this to someone.

  “No,” said Paul, still amused. “There’s an aunt, or a great-aunt, or perhaps even a great-great-great-aunt. She doesn’t live there, at all, but goes there because she says she cannot endure the sight of tapestry.” He laughed. “She has filled the tower with books, and a huge old cat, and she may practice alchemy there, for all anyone knows. The reason you’ve never seen her would be that she has one of her spells of hiding away. Sometimes she is downstairs daily.”

  “Will I ever meet her?” Margaret asked wonderingly.

  “Perhaps,” Paul said. “She might take it into her head to come down formally one night to dinner. Or she might wander carelessly up to you where you sat on the lawn, and introduce herself. Or you might never see her, at that.”

  “Suppose I went up to the tower?”

  Paul glanced at her strangely. “I suppose you could, if you wanted to,” he said. “I’ve been there.”

  “Margaret,” Carla called through the woods. “Margaret, we shall be late if you do not give up brooding by the river.”

  All this time, almost daily, Margaret was seeing new places in the house: the fan room, where the most delicate filigree fans had been set into the walls with their fine ivory sticks painted in exquisite miniature; the small room where incredibly perfect wooden and glass and metal fruits and flowers and trees stood on glittering glass shelves, lined up against the windows. And daily she passed and repassed the door behind which lay the stairway to the tower, and almost daily she stepped carefully around the tiles on the floor which read “Here was Margaret, who died for love.”

  It was no longer possible, however, to put off going to the tower. It was no longer possible to pass the doorway several times a day and do no more than touch her hand secretly to the panels, or perhaps set her head against and listen, to hear if there were footsteps going up or down, or a voice calling her. It was not possible to pass the doorway once more, and so in the early morning Margaret set her hand firmly to the door and pulled it open, and it came easily, as though relieved that at last, after so many hints and insinua
tions, and so much waiting and such helpless despair, Margaret had finally come to open it.

  The stairs beyond, gray stone and rough, were, Margaret thought, steep for an old lady’s feet, but Margaret went up effortlessly, though timidly. The stairway turned around and around, going up to the tower, and Margaret followed, setting her feet carefully upon one step after another, and holding her hands against the warm stone wall on either side, looking forward and up, expecting to be seen or spoken to before she reached the top; perhaps, she thought once, the walls of the tower were transparent and she was clearly, ridiculously visible from the outside, and Mrs. Rhodes and Carla, on the lawn—if indeed they ever looked upward to the tower—might watch her and turn to one another with smiles, saying “There is Margaret, going up to the tower at last,” and, smiling, nod to one another.

  The stairway ended, as she had not expected it would, in a heavy wooden door, which made Margaret, standing on the step below to find room to raise her hand and knock, seem smaller, and even standing at the top of the tower she felt that she was not really tall.

  “Come in,” said the great-aunt’s voice, when Margaret had knocked twice; the first knock had been received with an expectant silence, as though inside someone had said inaudibly, “Is that someone knocking at this door?” and then waited to be convinced by a second knock—and Margaret’s knuckles hurt from the effort of knocking to be heard through a heavy wooden door. She opened the door awkwardly from below—how much easier this all would be, she thought, if I knew the way—went in, and said politely, before she looked around, “I’m Carla’s friend. They said I might come up to the tower to see it, but of course if you would rather I went away I shall.” She had planned to say this more gracefully, without such an implication that invitations to the tower were issued by the downstairs Rhodeses, but the long climb and her being out of breath forced her to say everything at once, and she had really no time for the sounding periods she had composed.

  In any case the great-aunt said politely—she was sitting at the other side of the round room, against a window, and she was not very clearly visible—“I am amazed that they told you about me at all. However, since you are here I cannot pretend that I really object to having you; you may come in and sit down.”

  Margaret came obediently into the room and sat down on the stone bench which ran all the way around the tower room, under the windows which of course were on all sides and open to the winds, so that the movement of the air through the tower room was insistent and constant, making talk difficult and even distinguishing objects a matter of some effort.

  As though it were necessary to establish her position in the house emphatically and immediatey, the old lady said, with a gesture and a grin, “My tapestries,” and waved at the windows. She seemed to be not older than a great-aunt, although perhaps too old for a mere aunt, but her voice was clearly able to carry through the sound of the wind in the tower room and she seemed compact and strong beside the window, not at all as though she might be dizzy from looking out, or tired from the stairs.

  “May I look out the window?” Margaret asked, almost of the cat, which sat next to her and regarded her without friendship, but without, as yet, dislike.

  “Certainly,” said the great-aunt. “Look out the windows, by all means.”

  Margaret turned on the bench and leaned her arms on the wide stone ledge of the window, but she was disappointed. Although the tops of the trees did not reach halfway up the tower, she could see only branches and leaves below and no sign of the wide lawns or the roofs of the house or the curve of the river.

  “I hoped I could see the way the river went, from here.”

  “The river doesn’t go from here,” said the old lady, and laughed.

  “I mean,” Margaret said, “they told me that the river went around in a curve, almost surrounding the house.”

  “Who told you?” said the old lady.

  “Paul.”

  “I see,” said the old lady. “He’s back, is he?”

  “He’s been here for several days, but he’s going away again soon.”

  “And what’s your name?” asked the old lady, leaning forward.

  “Margaret.”

  “I see,” said the old lady again. “That’s my name, too,” she said.

  Margaret thought that “How nice” would be an inappropriate reply to this, and something like “Is it?” or “Just imagine” or “What a coincidence” would certainly make her feel more foolish than she believed she really was, so she smiled uncertainly at the old lady and dismissed the notion of saying “What a lovely name.”

  “He should have come and gone sooner,” the old lady went on, as though to herself. “Then we’d have it all behind us.”

  “Have all what behind us?” Margaret asked, although she felt that she was not really being included in the old lady’s conversation with herself, a conversation that seemed—and probably was—part of a larger conversation which the old lady had with herself constantly and on larger subjects than the matter of Margaret’s name, and which even Margaret, intruder as she was, and young, could not be allowed to interrupt for very long. “Have all what behind us?” Margaret asked insistently.

  “I say,” said the old lady, turning to look at Margaret, “he should have come and gone already, and we’d all be well out of it by now.”

  “I see,” said Margaret. “Well, I don’t think he’s going to be here much longer. He’s talking of going.” In spite of herself, her voice trembled a little. In order to prove to the old lady that the trembling in her voice was imaginary, Margaret said almost defiantly, “It will be very lonely here after he has gone.”

  “We’ll be well out of it, Margaret, you and I,” the old lady said. “Stand away from the window, child, you’ll be wet.”

  Margaret realized with this that the storm, which had—she knew now—been hanging over the house for long sunny days had broken, suddenly, and that the wind had grown louder and was bringing with it through the windows of the tower long stinging rain. There were drops on the cat’s black fur, and Margaret felt the side of her face wet. “Do your windows close?” she asked. “If I could help you—?”

  “I don’t mind the rain,” the old lady said. “It wouldn’t be the first time it’s rained around the tower.”

  “I don’t mind it,” Margaret said hastily, drawing away from the window. She realized that she was staring back at the cat, and added nervously, “Although, of course, getting wet is—” She hesitated and the cat stared back at her without expression. “I mean,” she said apologetically, “some people don’t like getting wet.”

  The cat deliberately turned its back on her and put its face closer to the window.

  “What were you saying about Paul?” Margaret asked the old lady, feeling somehow that there might be a thin thread of reason tangling the old lady and the cat and the tower and the rain, and even, with abrupt clarity, defining Margaret herself and the strange hesitation which had caught at her here in the tower. “He’s going away soon, you know.”

  “It would have been better if it were over with by now,” the old lady said. “These things don’t take really long, you know, and the sooner the better, I say.”

  “I suppose that’s true,” Margaret said intelligently.

  “After all,” said the old lady dreamily, with raindrops in her hair, “we don’t always see ahead, into things that are going to happen.”

  Margaret was wondering how soon she might politely go back downstairs and dry herself off, and she meant to say politely only so long as the old lady seemed to be talking, however remotely, about Paul. Also, the rain and the wind were coming through the window onto Margaret in great driving gusts, as though Margaret and the old lady and the books and the cat would be washed away, and the top of the tower cleaned of them.

  “I would help you if I could,” the old l
ady said earnestly to Margaret, raising her voice almost to a scream to be heard over the wind and the rain. She stood up to approach Margaret, and Margaret, thinking she was about to fall, reached out a hand to catch her. The cat stood up and spat, the rain came through the window in a great sweep, and Margaret, holding the old lady’s hands, heard through the sounds of the wind the equal sounds of all the voices in the world, and they called to her saying “Good-by, good-by,” and “All is lost,” and another voice saying “I will always remember you,” and still another called, “It is so dark.” And, far away from the others, she could hear a voice calling, “Come back, come back.” Then the old lady pulled her hands away from Margaret and the voices were gone. The cat shrank back and the old lady looked coldly at Margaret and said, “As I was saying, I would help you if I could.”

  “I’m so sorry,” Margaret said weakly. “I thought you were going to fall.”

  “Good-by,” said the old lady.

  3

  At the ball Margaret wore a gown of thin blue lace that belonged to Carla, and yellow roses in her hair, and she carried one of the fans from the fan room, a daintily painted ivory thing which seemed indestructible, since she dropped it twice, and which had a tiny picture of the house painted on its ivory sticks, so that when the fan was closed the house was gone. Mrs. Rhodes had given it to her to carry, and had given Carla another, so that when Margaret and Carla passed one another dancing, or met by the punch bowl or in the halls, they said happily to one another, “Have you still got your fan? I gave mine to someone to hold for a minute; I showed mine to everyone. Are you still carrying your fan? I’ve got mine.”

  Margaret danced with strangers and with Paul, and when she danced with Paul they danced away from the others, up and down the long gallery hung with pictures, in and out between the pillars which led to the great hall opening into the room of the tiles. Near them danced ladies in scarlet silk, and green satin, and white velvet, and Mrs. Rhodes, in black with diamonds at her throat and on her hands, stood at the top of the room and smiled at the dancers, or went on Mr. Rhodes’s arm to greet guests who came laughingly in between the pillars looking eagerly and already moving in time to the music as they walked. One lady wore white feathers in her hair, curling down against her shoulder; another had a pink scarf over her arms, and it floated behind her as she danced. Paul was in his haughty uniform, and Carla wore red roses in her hair and danced with the captain.

 
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