Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson


  “Do you expect to be here long?” She hoped she did not sound too emphatic; these little men were sometimes hard to discourage and yet, on the other hand, they might be so easily affronted.

  “Not much longer now.” He smiled at her, and again she thought that his eyes in the timid face were much like the rock under her feet. “I intend to walk up to the high rock this morning,” he said. “The highest point on the island. You can’t miss it.”

  “It must be very interesting,” she said flatly.

  “I shall be there all morning,” he said. “Just follow the path that begins under your windows. Good-by.”

  As she stood staring at the doorway out of which he had gone so suddenly she heard footsteps on the stairs, and a moment later her sister-in-law came into the room.

  “Charles is feeling very tired and plans to stay in bed,” she said. “Good morning, Paula dear.”

  “Good morning, Virginia. I’m so sorry about Charles.”

  “Is this coffee?”

  The landlady came in, bustling and fussing at Virginia; Virginia would have fresh-baked rolls and bacon, and perhaps a gently boiled egg? Would Virginia have peaches brought from the mainland this morning? And the poor sick gentleman; would he have a tray?

  Paula stood at the window and watched Virginia breakfast; already the sharp air of the sea outside had made her impatient with being indoors, and she found herself unwilling to move into the room when Virginia invited her to sit at the table and take more coffee; the window was at present as close as she might reasonably go to the outdoors, and she must remain within sight of the sea.

  “Wonderful coffee,” said Virginia. “I’m so hungry.”

  The landlady came over to the window and leaned out, standing near Paula.

  “He’ll be up on the high rock,” she said softly.

  “I know, he—”

  “Mrs. Carter,” said Virginia, “might I possibly have another of your incredible muffins?”

  The landlady hurried off and into the kitchen, and Virginia said, without turning around, “Isn’t she unbelievable?”

  “Would you like to go for a walk this morning?” Paula asked. “If Charles is resting, you and I could go exploring.”

  “Love to,” said Virginia. “All over the island—I can’t wait.”

  The kitchen door swung open and the landlady returned, saying as she came, “The tray has gone up to the poor gentleman, and I hope he feels the better for it.”

  “Mrs. Carter,” said Paula deliberately, “will you tell me the name of your other guest?”

  “You ladies will be wanting fresh coffee,” said the landlady, peering into the coffee jug; “shame on me for letting you waste yourselves on this.”

  “What other guest?” said Virginia as the landlady hurried off again.

  “An odd little man,” Paula said.

  “And the view,” said the landlady, returning, “you’ll be wanting to see the view.”

  “My sister and I thought we might walk over the island this morning,” Paula said.

  “Indeed you will,” said the landlady, “and if the poor gentleman upstairs calls, I’ll be right here.”

  “Where would you suggest we start?” Paula asked.

  “Well,” said the landlady. She stopped, thinking, her hands on her broad hips, and frowning slightly. “Most people,” she said, “prefer the steps down to the sea and then the path around the seashore. Or if you turn to the right as you leave the front door, you will find a path that takes you through our garden. If it were earlier in the year I might suggest bathing in the cove, but delicate young ladies do not care for bathing when the weather is chilled. Or perhaps—”

  “What about the path that starts under my window?”

  “That of course,” said the landlady, “takes you just back down to the seashore again. Only if you go so far away and the poor gentleman upstairs should happen to call . . .”

  “We’d better stay near the house,” Virginia said.

  “You were asking about my kitchens,” said the landlady to Virginia. “If the other lady chooses to go walking and yet you want to stay within hearing of the poor gentleman upstairs, I would account it a pleasure to show you my kitchens.”

  “I should love to see them,” Virginia said. “Paula?”

  “The other young lady is aching to be outside,” the landlady said. “Some of us cannot resist the sea.” She smiled politely at Paula and then turned again to Virginia. “If you are finished with your coffee,” she said, “it might be as well to start before the day is much along.” As Virginia rose, the landlady said over her shoulder to Paula, “We’ll see you back, then, by lunchtime. Mind the slippery rocks.”

  * * *

  “Ah—Johnson,” said the little man. “Yes, Johnson.”

  “I’m Paula Ellison, Mr. Johnson.”

  “Yes, of course. It was Virginia Ellison I was—yes, of course.”

  “Marvelous view up here.”

  “Isn’t it? You’ll be tired of the sound of your brother’s voice, I expect?”

  “Why, I don’t know that I am, particularly. Of course, he’s been so very ill.”

  “Yes.”

  “It’s been quite a strain on both of us.”

  “Both of us? Oh, yes, Virginia, I see.”

  “We’ve had to take very careful charge of him.”

  “Of course. It must have been most upsetting.”

  “Well—tiring.”

  “Your own brother. Yes, I quite understand. And his wife such a—may I say?—such a dependent person.”

  “She did as much as she was able.”

  “Of course. As much as she was able, yes.”

  “She is not strong. And she had the children.”

  “Let me confess—I do dislike children. You do too, I take it?”

  “Well . . . not of course my own nieces.”

  “Of course not. Your own brother’s children. But with the responsibility so much on you, and your sister-in-law so dependent, and the children too—it is not surprising you have been allowed to exhaust yourself.”

  “It has been very tiring, yes.”

  “And then of course in addition there would be the realization that there is actually no tie like that of flesh and blood. No love like that between brother and sister.”

  “We have always been very close, Mr. Johnson.”

  “Of course. Unusually so, I daresay.”

  “Perhaps we have. Too close, perhaps.”

  “Neither of you could do very well without the other, I suppose. And it is so hard when one is ill.”

  “Very hard.”

  “I suppose you have never been so ill?”

  “Never.”

  “But I daresay if you were, your brother would care for you as attentively as you care for him.”

  “If he could, yes.”

  “He has so much more to worry about. His children, his wife.”

  “He would hardly have much time for me.”

  “His wife would need him. She is so dependent, she could hardly spare him to care for his sister. Only his sister, when his wife and children need him at home.”

  “I am sure she would be most concerned if anything happened to me.”

  “Most concerned, yes. She is really very fond of you, I suppose.”

  “We are very fond of each other. Quite companionable.”

  “Perhaps your mutual concern over your brother brought you even closer together. You share one dear object, after all.”

  “Charles is very dear to both of us.”

  “Of course. His wife is probably with him now.”

  “I ought to go back.”

  “Not at all. If she is there, you can hardly be need
ed.”

  * * *

  “Now then,” said the landlady heartily, “here you are, back again much before you’re wanted. My little joke,” she added, looking at Paula’s frown. “I am indeed a great joker. And you didn’t stay long. Nothing to worry about with your sister, neither. She’s up with the poor gentleman has been so ill, and I daresay gives him better medicine than any of us could, with the smile on her sweet face. And so you met Mr. Arnold?”

  “Arnold? He said his name was Johnson.”

  “And so it is, if he says so. I’ll be calling you Arnold or Heathen or something, give me my head; I never could remember a name and that’s the truth. So you met him, whatever he chooses to call himself?”

  “I ran into him by accident.”

  “So you did, dear, so you did. And you’ll be wanting to know now where you can meet him next?”

  “Nothing of the sort,” said Paula stiffly. “I was about to go up—”

  “To the high rock again? He won’t be there by now. Tomorrow maybe. Try late tonight in front of the great fire, after the rest of us are abed. There you will find him.”

  “Certainly not,” said Paula.

  “Well, then it’ll take you a while,” said the landlady. “And the things he can tell you and all. Solid rock,” she continued smoothly as Virginia came into the room, “and standing here since no one knows when.”

  “How is Charles?” Paula asked Virginia.

  “Feeling much better, thank you,” Virginia said.

  “I’ll just go up for a minute.”

  “Please don’t,” said Virginia hastily. “I mean, he said he was going to try to sleep and it would be better not to disturb him.”

  * * *

  “And then of course there’s Virginia, so weak, and so safe.”

  “She’s not entirely safe—”

  “Not entirely. But for all you or I could do . . .”

  “She’s very fond of me.”

  “And very fond of Charles. But so dependent. So pretty, too, and so weak, and so fragile. Such a pretty girl.”

  “I have been very necessary to her.”

  “Of course now that Charles is better you will not be quite so necessary. They will have each other again.”

  “That is as it should be.”

  “As you say. That is as it should be. And you?”

  “I shall go home again, I suppose.”

  “Home?”

  “I have a small apartment. I left there of course while Charles was so very ill. It was necessary for me to stay with Virginia.”

  “But now you will go back?”

  “I have not been asked to stay with Virginia.”

  “They have each other again. And the children, and their home. I suppose they will feel sorry for you?”

  “Sorry for me?”

  “That you have gone, I mean. Sorry to be without you.”

  “I suppose so.”

  “See how the fire shines on the walls. It is perfectly safe here in this room, of course. This room is solid rock. It is only in the rest of the house that fire might be a danger. The rest of the house is of wood.”

  * * *

  “Virginia, will you come exploring with me today?” Paula stood by the window; it was her daily habit now to take her breakfast there, sitting in the great wooden chair, where she could keep sight of the sea. During the day she found the sound and the smell and the sight of the sea almost a necessity for her, and at night she either sat late in the rock room with the great fire roaring before her and the sound of the sea all outside, or lay straight and silent on her narrow bed with the windows open onto the cliffs below and the sea almost in her room. “We’ve been here almost a week, and I don’t believe you’ve so much as stepped outdoors.”

  “It makes me nervous,” said Virginia. She smiled across the coffee jug at Paula. “I think I’m beginning to feel caught in by the island. Almost homesick for land on all sides instead of sea.”

  “Charles likes it.”

  “Sometimes,” said Virginia. “Sometimes he’s as much afraid as I am.”

  “Afraid, Virginia?”

  “You know,” Virginia said, gesturing vaguely. “You get to feeling so sort of cut off from everything. No way of escape. No way to get home again.”

  “I thought I’d run up and see Charles after breakfast,” Paula said. “Is he sleeping?”

  “Resting, anyway. Why don’t you put it off until after lunch?”

  “I will probably not be back. I intended to take a lunch with me and spend all day on the rocks.”

  “What can you find to do out there?”

  “I find it stimulating, nothing but the sea and the rocks and nothing between them but me.”

  “And do you run across the other guest?” Virginia asked innocently.

  “I sometimes gather shells, but there are no very interesting ones.”

  “You spoke once of another guest,” Virginia said insistently. “Didn’t you once mention an odd little man?”

  “Suppose I just run up and say good morning to Charles, and spend just a minute trying to cheer him up?”

  “He’s cheerful enough. Why don’t you wait till tonight?”

  “I’d like to see him now, if you’re sure you don’t mind.”

  Silently, Virginia followed Paula upstairs and into the room Virginia and Charles shared. Paula had been here daily since they came, but Charles had not yet come downstairs, protesting that he was convalescing well enough in his bed, with the smell of the sea in his room and its sound in his ears always, and the landlady’s good food brought to him regularly. He looked better, Paula thought; he had more color in his face—surprising, since he had not been outdoors or even had fresh air in the room—and he was astonishingly vigorous for someone who had been so very ill for such a long time.

  “Good morning, Charles dear,” she said as she entered. “And how well you look today!”

  “I feel splendidly well,” Charles said from the bed. He hoisted himself up slightly and turned his cheek for his sister’s morning kiss. “You look well, Paula.”

  “I love it here. I’m afraid Virginia is bored, though.”

  “Is she?” Charles smiled over Paula’s head at Virginia. “I don’t think so,” he said.

  “You must try to get outdoors, Charles, and get nearer the sea. I can’t tell you how invigorating I find it.”

  “Perhaps you do,” Charles said. “Virginia and I prefer it indoors. We like our sea through windows.”

  “And here’s the poor gentleman’s breakfast,” said the landlady, bustling in with her tray. “Did he think I had forgotten him? When I was only waiting for hot corncakes from the oven? And see that you eat all of it, my poor Mr. Ellison, and we will have you well in no time at all.”

  “Will you have your breakfast, darling?” Virginia asked. She came closer to the bed. “Excuse me, Paula; let me come in here and see that his tray is right. Darling, are you hungry? I had such a wonderful breakfast downstairs.”

  “Good morning, Miss Ellison,” said Mr. Johnson from the doorway. Paula looked up, over the heads of Charles and Virginia and the landlady and saw him, somehow taller, standing leaning against the doorway. “And how are you this morning?”

  “I had eggs, and homemade sausage, just as you have, only I didn’t have these wonderful corncakes. Just try one, darling. I believe Mrs. Carter made them especially for you.”

  “And how is your poor sick brother? Is he any better? And your sister-in-law, how is she?”

  “Good morning, Mr. Johnson,” Paula said.

  “I beg your pardon, dear?” said Virginia, looking back at Paula over her shoulder. “Did you ask Charles something?”

  “I doubt if she will bother with me, Miss Ellison. I do
ubt very much if she would ever be interested in me now.”

  Paula turned and stared, first at Charles and Virginia, who was bending over him laughing and feeding him, and then at the landlady, who was watching Paula silently and with an expression which might have been humorous.

  “Mrs. Carter—” Paula said.

  Mrs. Carter shrugged.

  Mr. Johnson went on smoothly, “It had to be one or the other of you, you see; I told you I was waiting for your sister-in-law, but you would come first. It was your decision, you know; I would have been satisfied with either.”

  “Just don’t try to answer him, dear,” Mrs. Carter whispered. “There’s no answer he’ll take.” She put a protective arm around Paula. “Try to hide behind me,” she said very softly.

  “No use, Mrs. Carter,” he said, and smiled sadly. “No use at all, you know.” He nodded at Paula. “She knows,” he said, and went swiftly and silently away.

  [c. 1951]

  A DAY IN THE JUNGLE

  The whole performance of the first two hours was so shockingly, so abominably, easy, that her only vivid feeling about it was surprise that the institution of marriage might pretend to be stable upon such elusive foundations, as though the humiliation of the wedding and the bad dreams of the long nights and the hideous unprivate months were an end and not a means, as though two people sought one another out for no more than this, this surprise that it should all be so easy to leave one another. The other, fainter, emotion, hidden far beneath the surprise, she refused to identify as any kind of fear, but called it excitement instead.

  It had been most pleasant packing her suitcase, consciously choosing those clothes she would not ordinarily wear in the middle of the week, the nice dresses and the good suit and—with a distant humorous nod at the popular interpretation of what her position was to be—her black evening dress, and the few pieces of really good jewelry she owned, thinking that perhaps she might not have another chance at her clothes, that they might be packed up and sent her, perhaps, or lumped in with other possessions and sold (item: one blue-and-green print house dress, coffee stain on right sleeve, two small safety pins on lapel) and wondering, briefly, if the nicely chosen, not expensive shoes and the hat so suitable for lunching with other young matrons might, after all, suit her now, since they had so obviously been bought from and for a married state. The suitcase had gone with her on her honeymoon and afterward on the vacations and incidental week ends in the country and to the hospital where she lost the baby, and had its accustomed place, much more than she had herself, on the top closet shelf; taking it down was in itself an act of departure, dusting it, opening it to the scent of her traveling cologne, its reminiscence of trains, of hotel desks, of distant parts. She was able to get everything in, remembering handkerchiefs, toothbrush, stockings from the rack in the bathroom, which she had washed last night before it was clearly evident that she was leaving, and she had rinsed and hung them up innocently, as though she might never be going away again.

 
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