“I am so happy,” Constance said at last, gasping. “Merricat, I am so happy.”
“I told you that you would like it on the moon.”
The Carringtons stopped their car in front of our house one Sunday after church and sat quietly in the car looking at our house, as though supposing that we would come out if there was anything the Carringtons could do for us. Sometimes I thought of the drawing room and the dining room, forever closed away, with our mother's lovely broken things lying scattered, and the dust sifting gently down to cover them; we had new landmarks in the house, just as we had a new pattern for our days. The crooked, broken-off fragment which was all that was left of our lovely stairway was something we passed every day and came to know as intimately as we had once known the stairs themselves. The boards across the kitchen windows were ours, and part of our house, and we loved them. We were very happy, although Constance was always in terror lest one of our two cups should break, and one of us have to use a cup without a handle. We had our well-known and familiar places: our chairs at the table, and our beds, and our places beside the front door. Constance washed the red and white tablecloth and the shirts of Uncle Julian's which she wore, and while they were hanging in the garden to dry I wore a tablecloth with a yellow border, which looked very handsome with my gold belt. Our mother's old brown shoes were safely put away in my corner of the kitchen, since in the warm summer days I went barefoot like Jonas. Constance disliked picking many flowers, but there was always a bowl on the kitchen table with roses or daisies, although of course she never picked a rose from Uncle Julian's rosebush.
I sometimes thought of my six blue marbles, but I was not allowed to go to the long field now, and I thought that perhaps my six blue marbles had been buried to protect a house which no longer existed and had no connection with the house where we lived now, and where we were very happy. My new magical safeguards were the lock on the front door, and the boards over the windows, and the barricades along the sides of the house. In the evenings sometimes we saw movement in the darkness on the lawn, and heard whispers.
“Don't; the ladies might be watching.”
“You think they can see in the dark?”
“I heard they see everything that goes on.”
Then there might be laughter, drifting away into the warm darkness.
“They will soon be calling this Lover's Lane,” Constance said.
“After Charles, no doubt.”
“The least Charles could have done,” Constance said, considering seriously, “was shoot himself through the head in the driveway.”
We learned, from listening, that all the strangers could see from outside, when they looked at all, was a great ruined structure overgrown with vines, barely recognizable as a house. It was the point halfway between the village and the highway, the middle spot on the path, and no one ever saw our eyes looking out through the vines.
“You can't go on those steps,” the children warned each other; “if you do, the ladies will get you.”
Once a boy, dared by the others, stood at the foot of the steps facing the house, and shivered and almost cried and almost ran away, and then called out shakily, “Merricat, said Constance, would you like a cup of tea?” and then fled, followed by all the others. That night we found on the doorsill a basket of fresh eggs and a note reading, “He didn't mean it, please.”
“Poor child,” Constance said, putting the eggs into a bowl to go into the cooler. “He's probably hiding under the bed right now.”
“Perhaps he had a good whipping to teach him manners.”
“We will have an omelette for breakfast.”
“I wonder if I
eat a child if I had the chance.”
“I doubt if I could cook one,” said Constance.
“Poor strangers,” I said. “They have so much to be afraid of.”
“Well,” Constance said, “I am afraid of spiders.”
“Jonas and I will see to it that no spider ever comes near you. Oh, Constance,” I said, “we are so happy.”