Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson

  “Are you really going tomorrow?” Margaret asked Paul once during the evening; she knew that he was, but somehow asking the question—which she had done several times before—established a communication between them, of his right to go and her right to wonder, which was sadly sweet to her.

  “I said you might meet the great-aunt,” said Paul, as though in answer; Margaret followed his glance, and saw the old lady of the tower. She was dressed in yellow satin, and looked very regal and proud as she moved through the crowd of dancers, drawing her skirt aside if any of them came too close to her. She was coming toward Margaret and Paul where they sat on small chairs against the wall, and when she came close enough she smiled, looking at Paul, and said to him, holding out her hands, “I am very glad to see you, my dear.”

  Then she smiled at Margaret and Margaret smiled back, very glad that the old lady held out no hands to her.

  “Margaret told me you were here,” the old lady said to Paul, “and I came down to see you once more.”

  “I’m very glad you did,” Paul said. “I wanted to see you so much that I almost came to the tower.”

  They both laughed and Margaret, looking from one to the other of them, wondered at the strong resemblance between them. Margaret sat very straight and stiff on her narrow chair, with her blue lace skirt falling charmingly around her and her hands folded neatly in her lap, and listened to their talk. Paul had found the old lady a chair and they sat with their heads near together, looking at one another as they talked, and smiling.

  “You look very fit,” the old lady said. “Very fit indeed.” She sighed.

  “You look wonderfully well,” Paul said.

  “Oh, well,” said the old lady. “I’ve aged. I’ve aged, I know it.”

  “So have I,” said Paul.

  “Not noticeably,” said the old lady, shaking her head and regarding him soberly for a minute. “You never will, I suppose.”

  At that moment the captain came up and bowed in front of Margaret, and Margaret, hoping that Paul might notice, got up to dance with him.

  “I saw you sitting there alone,” said the captain, “and I seized the precise opportunity I have been awaiting all evening.”

  “Excellent military tactics,” said Margaret, wondering if these remarks had not been made a thousand times before, at a thousand different balls.

  “I could be a splendid tactician,” said the captain gallantly, as though carrying on his share of the echoing conversation, the words spoken under so many glittering chandeliers, “if my objective were always so agreeable to me.”

  “I saw you dancing with Carla,” said Margaret.

  “Carla,” he said, and made a small gesture that somehow showed Carla as infinitely less than Margaret. Margaret knew that she had seen him make the same gesture to Carla, probably with reference to Margaret. She laughed.

  “I forget what I’m supposed to say now,” she told him.

  “You’re supposed to say,” he told her seriously, “ ‘And do you really leave us so soon?’ ”

  “And do you really leave us so soon?” said Margaret obediently.

  “The sooner to return,” he said, and tightened his arm around her waist. Margaret said, it being her turn, “We shall miss you very much.”

  “I shall miss you,” he said, with a manly air of resignation.

  They danced two waltzes, after which the captain escorted her handsomely back to the chair from which he had taken her, next to which Paul and the old lady continued in conversation, laughing and gesturing. The captain bowed to Margaret deeply, clicking his heels.

  “May I leave you alone for a minute or so?” he asked. “I believe Carla is looking for me.”

  “I’m perfectly all right here,” Margaret said. As the captain hurried away she turned to hear what Paul and the old lady were saying.

  “I remember, I remember,” said the old lady laughing, and she tapped Paul on the wrist with her fan. “I never imagined there would be a time when I should find it funny.”

  “But it was funny,” said Paul.

  “We were so young,” the old lady said. “I can hardly remember.”

  She stood up abruptly, bowed to Margaret, and started back across the room among the dancers. Paul followed her as far as the doorway and then left her to come back to Margaret. When he sat down next to her he said, “So you met the old lady?”

  “I went to the tower,” Margaret said.

  “She told me,” he said absently, looking down at his gloves. “Well,” he said finally, looking up with an air of cheerfulness. “Are they never going to play a waltz?”

  * * *

  Shortly before the sun came up over the river the next morning they sat at breakfast, Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes at the ends of the table, Carla and the captain, Margaret and Paul. The red roses in Carla’s hair had faded and been thrown away, as had Margaret’s yellow roses, but both Carla and Margaret still wore their ball gowns, which they had been wearing for so long that the soft richness of them seemed natural, as though they were to wear nothing else for an eternity in the house, and the gay confusion of helping one another dress, and admiring one another, and straightening the last folds to hang more gracefully, seemed all to have happened longer ago than memory, to be perhaps a dream that might never have happened at all, as perhaps the figures in the tapestries on the walls of the dining room might remember, secretly, an imagined process of dressing themselves and coming with laughter and light voices to sit on the lawn where they were woven. Margaret, looking at Carla, thought that she had never seen Carla so familiarly as in this soft white gown, with her hair dressed high on her head—had it really been curled and pinned that way? Or had it always, forever, been so?—and the fan in her hand—had she not always had that fan, held just so?—and when Carla turned her head slightly on her long neck she captured the air of one of the portraits in the long gallery. Paul and the captain were still somehow trim in their uniforms; they were leaving at sunrise.

  “Must you really leave this morning?” Margaret whispered to Paul.

  “You are all kind to stay up and say good-by,” said the captain, and he leaned forward to look down the table at Margaret, as though it were particularly kind of her.

  “Every time my son leaves me,” said Mrs. Rhodes, “it is as though it were the first time.”

  Abruptly, the captain turned to Mrs. Rhodes and said, “I noticed this morning that there was a bare patch on the grass before the door. Can it be restored?”

  “I had not known,” Mrs. Rhodes said, and she looked nervously at Mr. Rhodes, who put his hand quietly on the table and said, “We hope to keep the house in good repair so long as we are able.”

  “But the broken statue by the lake?” said the captain. “And the tear in the tapestry behind your head?”

  “It is wrong of you to notice these things,” Mrs. Rhodes said, gently.

  “What can I do?” he said to her. “It is impossible not to notice these things. The fish are dying, for instance. There are no grapes in the arbor this year. The carpet is worn to thread near your embroidery frame,” he bowed to Mrs. Rhodes, “and in the house itself—” bowing to Mr. Rhodes “—there is a noticeable crack over the window of the conservatory, a crack in the solid stone. Can you repair that?”

  Mr. Rhodes said weakly, “It is very wrong of you to notice these things. Have you neglected the sun, and the bright perfection of the drawing room? Have you been recently to the gallery of portraits? Have you walked on the green portions of the lawn, or only watched for the bare places?”

  “The drawing room is shabby,” said the captain softly. “The green brocade sofa is torn a little near the arm. The carpet has lost its luster. The gilt is chipped on four of the small chairs in the gold room, the silver paint scratched in the silver room. A tile is missing from the face of Margaret, who died
for love, and in the great gallery the paint has faded slightly on the portrait of—” bowing again to Mr. Rhodes “—your great-great-great-grandfather, sir.”

  Mr. Rhodes and Mrs. Rhodes looked at one another, and then Mrs. Rhodes said, “Surely it is not necessary to reproach us for these things?”

  The captain reddened and shook his head.

  “My embroidery is very nearly finished,” Mrs. Rhodes said. “I have only to put the figures into the foreground.”

  “I shall mend the brocade sofa,” said Carla.

  The captain glanced once around the table, and sighed. “I must pack,” he said. “We cannot delay our duties even though we have offended lovely women.” Mrs. Rhodes, turning coldly away from him, rose and left the table, with Carla and Margaret following.

  Margaret went quickly to the tile room, where the white face of Margaret who died for love stared eternally into the sky beyond the broad window. There was indeed a tile missing from the wide white cheek, and the broken spot looked like a tear, Margaret thought; she kneeled down and touched the tile face quickly to be sure that it was not a tear.

  Then she went slowly back through the lovely rooms, across the broad rose-and-white tiled hall, and into the drawing room, and stopped to close the tall doors behind her.

  “There really is a tile missing,” she said.

  Paul turned and frowned; he was standing alone in the drawing room, tall and bright in his uniform, ready to leave. “You are mistaken,” he said. “It is not possible that anything should be missing.”

  “I saw it.”

  “It is not true, you know,” he said. He was walking quickly up and down the room, slapping his gloves on his wrist, glancing nervously, now and then, at the door, at the tall windows opening out onto the marble stairway. “The house is the same as ever,” he said. “It does not change.”

  “But the worn carpet . . .” It was under his feet as he walked.

  “Nonsense,” he said violently. “Don’t you think I’d know my own house? I care for it constantly, even when they forget; without this house I could not exist; do you think it would begin to crack while I am here?”

  “How can you keep it from aging? Carpets will wear, you know, and unless they are replaced . . .”

  “Replaced?” He stared as though she had said something evil. “What could replace anything in this house?” He touched Mrs. Rhodes’s embroidery frame, softly. “All we can do is add to it.”

  There was a sound outside; it was the family coming down the great stairway to say good-by. He turned quickly and listened, and it seemed to be the sound he had been expecting. “I will always remember you,” he said to Margaret, hastily, and turned again toward the tall windows. “Good-by.”

  “It is so dark,” Margaret said, going beside him. “You will come back?”

  “I will come back,” he said sharply. “Good-by.” He stepped across the sill of the window onto the marble stairway outside; he was black for a moment against the white marble, and Margaret stood still at the window watching him go down the steps and away through the gardens. “Lost, lost,” she heard faintly, and, from far away, “All is lost.”

  She turned back to the room, and, avoiding the worn spot in the carpet and moving widely around Mrs. Rhodes’s embroidery frame, she went to the great doors and opened them. Outside, in the hall with the rose-and-white tiled floor, Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes and Carla were standing with the captain.

  “Son,” Mrs. Rhodes was saying, “when will you be back?”

  “Don’t fuss at me,” the captain said. “I’ll be back when I can.”

  Carla stood silently, a little away. “Please be careful,” she said, and, “Here’s Margaret, come to say good-by to you, Brother.”

  “Don’t linger, m’boy,” said Mr. Rhodes. “Hard on the women.”

  “There are so many things Margaret and I planned for you while you were here,” Carla said to her brother. “The time has been so short.”

  Margaret, standing beside Mrs. Rhodes, turned to Carla’s brother (and Paul; who was Paul?) and said, “Good-by.” He bowed to her and moved to go to the door with his father.

  “It is hard to see him go,” Mrs. Rhodes said. “And we do not know when he will come back.” She put her hand gently on Margaret’s shoulder. “We must show you more of the house,” she said. “I saw you one day try the door of the ruined tower; have you seen the hall of flowers? Or the fountain room?”

  “When my brother comes again,” Carla said, “we shall have a musical evening, and perhaps he will take us boating on the river.”

  “And my visit?” said Margaret smiling. “Surely there will be an end to my visit?”

  Mrs. Rhodes, with one last look at the door from which Mr. Rhodes and the captain had gone, dropped her hand from Margaret’s shoulder and said, “I must go to my embroidery. I have neglected it while my son was with us.”

  “You will not leave us before my brother comes again?” Carla asked Margaret.

  “I have only to put the figures into the foreground,” Mrs. Rhodes said, hesitating on her way to the drawing room. “I shall have you exactly if you sit on the lawn near the river.”

  “We shall be models of stillness,” said Carla, laughing. “Margaret, will you come and sit beside me on the lawn?”



  Being on the water was not precisely a unique, but rather an unusual, experience for Paula Ellison, and for the first few minutes that she sat on the small seat almost too close to the front of the boat, she was perfectly still, afraid not so much of upsetting the boat as of being unprepared when it surely did upset. She had gotten in first, and sat with her back to the island where they were going, watching the young man in the oilskin jacket as he helped first her sister-in-law Virginia, and then her brother Charles, into the more comfortable seats in the center of the boat. Charles, Paula thought, looked tired, and she thought further that she did not grudge him the better seat, or the reassurance of sitting next to Virginia, because Charles had certainly been so very ill, and was still not well, and looked tired after their journey.

  “I’m so excited,” Virginia said, and bounced in the boat almost like a child. Then she added, in the gentle voice both she and Paula were now using toward Charles, “How do you feel, darling?”

  “Very well indeed,” Charles said. “Very much better.”

  “It looks so exciting,” Virginia said. “Look at it, all dark and rocky against the sky and that perfect sunset.”

  “What is that picture?” Charles asked. “You know the one.”

  “Like a pirate stronghold,” Virginia continued ecstatically, “or a prison or some—”

  Paula said with amusement, “Charles, do you think it entirely wise to bring Virginia to a place where she can indulge her romantic temperament so fully?”

  Charles, without hearing her, said to Virginia, “Actually, I’m afraid it’s only a rather ordinary summer resort.” He smiled at his sister. “Do you think we might find one pirate for Virginia?”

  Paula, without meaning to, looked over his head to the young man in the oilskin jacket who was running the boat, and found him at that moment looking at her, so that she turned quickly away and said, “It’s cold.”

  “It is cold.” Virginia pulled her coat closer around her.

  “We’re here so late in the year,” Charles said.

  Paula said immediately, “That’s much better, you know; it means we’ll be practically the only people and won’t have to bother being sociable.”

  Virginia added, almost as quickly, “And I always think these early fall days are the best, after all. Relaxing,” she added vaguely.

  “Well, at least I didn’t keep us from any vacation at all this year,” Charles said.

  “I never intended to take any vacation thi
s year,” Virginia said. “I hate going away in the summers, and the children are so much better off not going into public resorts.”

  “As you know,” Paula said stiffly, “I rarely plan on a vacation at all. If it hadn’t been for your insisting that you needed me—”

  Charles laughed. “You worry too much,” he said, turning from Virginia to Paula. “You don’t have to fuss every time I mention being sick.”

  “You’re not to think about it,” Paula said.

  “We all want to forget it,” Virginia said.

  “It’s forgotten,” Charles said. “How much longer will it take to reach the island?” From the inflection of his voice everyone immediately assumed that he was speaking to the young man in the oilskin jacket and did not know how otherwise to address him, whether as “driver” or “captain” or “ferryman” or perhaps “boy.”

  After a minute the young man said, “Nearly there.”

  “Does the island have a name?” Virginia asked.

  “People round here call it mostly Rock Island,” the young man said.

  “Even that is exciting,” Virginia said. She looked first at Charles and then at Paula. “Even that it should be named Rock Island. Like a stronghold, or a fort, or a—”

  “Rock,” Paula said.

  “We land on the other side,” the young man said, without being asked; it was as though every person whom he carried to the island asked the same series of questions, made the same comments, spoke of pirates and that picture, you know, and went on to ask how long now? and what was the name of the island, and as though the next question had to be “Where do we land?” or “Do we dock there?” or “How are you going to get the boat up onto those rocks?” and this time, for once, impatient and perhaps tired of ferrying, he answered the question before it could be asked. Paula, who thought that Virginia was again going to say “How exciting,” said quickly, “Charles, are you tired?”

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