The Sundial by Shirley Jackson


  “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” Mrs. Willow said again, standing over Mrs. Halloran. “I wonder who could have pushed her down the stairs? Anyway, though, we can’t leave her here.”

  “I don’t like the idea of going up and down the stairs past her, and that’s the truth,” the captain said.

  “Well, she ought to be outside,” Aunt Fanny said.

  “True,” the captain said. He frowned thoughtfully. “Door’s barricaded,” he pointed out.

  Fancy, who was dancing a slow child’s dance around the hall, carrying a candle and wearing her crown, called “But she didn’t want to see what was happening outside.”

  “She won’t be watching,” the captain said. “No fear of that. The way I look at it, we just can’t figure to keep her along with us, and plan to bury her or something tomorrow morning. Aside from everything else, it would put a damper on the whole first day.”

  “No,” Aunt Fanny said, “outside is right; put her outside.”

  “But the door is barricaded,” Mrs. Willow said.

  “The upstairs windows—” the captain suggested, but Aunt Fanny shook her head emphatically.

  “She was my brother’s wife,” Aunt Fanny said, “and as such, must leave the house with dignity. I cannot, for my part, consent to ejecting Mrs. Halloran from an upstairs window. Although, as I remember,” she added thoughtfully, “the great door is not the one she first came in by; I think originally she used the servant’s entrance. At any rate, she must go out the great door.”

  “Well.” The captain sighed, and looked at Essex. “You game?” he asked.

  Essex had been looking down at Mrs. Halloran. “Anything you say,” he said slowly. “I rather liked her,” he said.

  “Why, Essex.” Aunt Fanny came up and put a consoling hand on Essex’ arm. “We all loved her very dearly, Essex. But we must look forward, and think of the morning; consider the others who will go tonight—consider her as only one of millions.”

  “Of course,” Mrs. Willow put in, “somebody did push her down the stairs.”

  “Well, that is all water under the bridge now,” Aunt Fanny said soothingly, “and you are not to grieve, Essex. Try to remember that we all share in this loss. And get her outside.”

  “I do dislike taking all that stuff down from the door,” the captain said. “It was a hell of a job getting it up.”

  “Well, it must be done,” Aunt Fanny said.

  “I suppose so,” said the captain grumpily, and he began to push at one end of the great chest with which they had barricaded the door. The others came to help him, working now with speed in the flickering light of the candles, while Fancy moved in graceful circles over the black and white marble floor, trying to catch reflections of her crown in the tall mirrors. The captain got onto a stepladder and pried loose the nails with which they had fastened the blankets securely to the top of the door frame and the blankets came loose and fell, and Mrs. Willow and Aunt Fanny caught them and heaped them onto the great chest, to be ready to put back up again after Mrs. Halloran was outside.

  “Now, the wind is pretty strong,” the captain said warningly. “Essex and I will take her out, but all you women stand by the door here, so you can get it closed after we go through. And be sure to be ready to open it again when we come back. You carry her,” he said to Essex. “You liked her better. I’ll stand by to help if you drop her or something.”

  Essex lifted Mrs. Halloran, who seemed to him oddly bulkier than when she was standing erect, and moved toward the great door. “Now,” the captain said, and the door was opened and the wind rushed in and up and down the great staircase. Essex and the captain slipped out, and the door was slammed shut behind them. “Where?” the captain shouted, and Essex, not hesitating, said, “Sundial—where else?”

  Although the wind was strong, they moved with reasonable accuracy down the terrace and down the steps on the sundial side, skirting the edge of the ornamental pool and going across the grass, wet now with the waves the wind was pushing from the pool. When they came to the sundial, which said WHAT IS THIS WORLD? Essex stopped, still holding Mrs. Halloran.

  “Well, put her down,” the captain said, and Essex said, “you know, I don’t know why we brought her here—she never liked the inscription. Allone,” Essex said, “with-outen any companye.”

  At last, with the captain hurrying him, he sat Mrs. Halloran on the grass beside the sundial, facing out over the long lovely lawn, and arranged her feet together and her hands on her lap. The captain carefully spread the long golden skirt around her, and for a minute the two of them stood, admiring the way Mrs. Halloran sat by the sundial with her hands folded, quite as though it were still all her property she surveyed. The captain turned, Essex stayed to look once more, and then, with the wind behind them and almost rushing them back to the house, they came along beside the ornamental pool, up the marble steps, and across the terrace to the door. “All done, let us in,” the captain yelled, pounding, and the door swung open and the wind rushed in and up and down the great staircase, and all of them leaned against the door and got it shut again.

  “Well, that’s taken care of,” the captain said, sinking down on the great chest and wiping his forehead. “Pretty rough out there.”

  “Barricade the door again right away,” Mrs. Willow said.

  “Let us catch our breath,” Essex said. “We went all the way to the sundial.”

  Aunt Fanny nodded. “Splendid,” she said. “It was the only thing around here that really looked like her, if you know what I mean.”

  With less difficulty, now, since they had done it before, they put the blankets back over the door, stretched them tight, and nailed them firmly. Then, all together, they pushed the great chest across the doorway, laughing together because it was their last chore. When it was done they crowded into the drawing room and settled down comfortably. Aunt Fanny went into the right wing and brought back Richard Halloran in his wheel chair; Mr. Halloran was puzzled, but pleased at being brought into company, and inquired at once about a fire in the fireplace.

  “You will have a fire tomorrow morning, Richard,” Mrs. Willow said, “if you really want one then.”

  “I daresay I shall. I like a fire even in the mornings.”

  “You realize that you must stay in this room all night, Richard?” Aunt Fanny asked.

  “I was told, I believe. I forget what is going to happen, but someone told me that I should be expected to be very strong, and sit up all night in the drawing room.”

  “We will all be right here with you.”

  “If I get very tired,” Mr. Halloran explained, “I shall nap in my chair.”

  “Well.” Mrs. Willow stretched her legs and yawned. “Too early for dinner,” she said, “and a long night ahead. Anyone care for bridge?”

  “Not I, thank you,” Aunt Fanny said. “I believe we play in different styles, Mrs. Willow.”

  “But I think we are only five bridge players here, Aunt Fanny, so if we are to play at all in the future we must compromise our different styles.”

  “I’m too restless,” Arabella said. “I keep feeling something is going to happen,” and she laughed.

  “I can still hear the wind,” Julia said.

  “Now, Julia,” Mrs. Willow said, “there’s no sense in getting yourself all nervous and agitated. You’ll just be a wet blanket on the rest of us. Have yourself a drink.”

  “Good idea,” Essex said. “We have plenty of ice, at least.” He went over to the portable bar they had moved into the drawing room.

  “I wonder if we ought to have clear heads for the morning?” Aunt Fanny asked, worried.

  “Aunt Fanny, the time for clearing our heads is long past. Mrs. Willow—scotch?”

  “I thank you, Essex.”

  “I thought I heard a crash,” Julia said, turning her hands nervously.

 
“Probably one of the trees going down,” Aunt Fanny said. “The best thing for you, dear, is to try not to notice. Try to think of something else.”

  “Mr. Halloran,” Miss Ogilvie said, coming to the wheel chair, “are you quite warm enough?”

  “Splendidly warm, thank you, Miss Ogilvie. And yourself? Should you not put on a shawl?”

  “I am quite warm, thank you. I was only concerned about you.”

  “That was kind, Miss Ogilvie. You know, I expect, that I am to stay in my chair all night?”

  “Yes. Mrs. Halloran—”

  “Who?” said Mr. Halloran.

  “May I wear your crown sometimes?” Gloria asked Fancy.

  “No,” Fancy said, and giggled. “But you can have my doll house,” she said.

  “Fancy is going to find that she is getting headaches from that crown, I believe,” Mrs. Willow said. “I expect we shall soon find her taking it off.”

  “I like dancing in it,” Fancy said.

  “It wasn’t the plot so much, you know,” Maryjane was saying to Arabella, “it was the acting. I mean, it was so real you really got to thinking they were real people. Just wonderful acting. Of course, they used real natives, and most of the photography was done right there in the Oturi Forest, with the animals—you know? But I actually cried when they tortured—”

  “My.” Mrs. Willow stretched, and sighed. “It’s going to be a long wait,” she said.

  “The first thing I will do,” Essex said to Gloria, “is make you a crown of flowers.”

 


 

  Shirley Jackson, The Sundial

  (Series: # )

 

 


 

 
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