Authors: Madeleine L’Engle
The haunted house was half in the shadows of the clump of elms in which it stood. The elms were almost bare, now, and the ground around the house was
yellow with damp leaves. The late afternoon light had a greenish cast which the blank windows reflected in a sinister way. An unhinged shutter thumped. Something else creaked. Meg did not wonder that the house had a reputation for being haunted.
A board was nailed across the front door, but Charles Wallace led the way around to the back. The door there appeared to be nailed shut, too, but Charles
Wallace knocked, and the door swung slowly outward, creaking on rusty hinges. Up in one of the elms an old black crow gave its raucous cry, and a woodpecker went into a wild rat-a-tat-tat. A large gray rat scuttled around the corner of the house and Meg let out a stifled shriek.
“They get a lot of fun out of using all the typical
props,” Charles Wallace said in a reassuring voice. “Come on. Follow
Calvin put a strong hand to Meg’s elbow, and Fort pressed against her leg. Happiness at their concern was so strong in her that her panic fled, and she followed Charles Wallace into the dark recesses of the house without fear.
They entered into a sort of kitchen. There was a huge fireplace with a big black pot hanging over a merry fire. Why had there been no smoke visible from the chimney?
Something in the pot was bubbling, and it smelled more like one of Mrs. Murry’s chemical messes than something to eat. In a dilapidated Boston rocker sat a plump little woman. She wasn’t Mrs Whatsit, so she must, Meg decided, be one of Mrs Whatsit’s two friends. She wore enormous spectacles, twice as thick and twice as large as Meg’s, and she was sewing busily, with rapid jabbing stitches, on
a sheet. Several other sheets lay on the dusty floor.
Charles Wallace went up to her. “I really don’t think you ought to have taken Mrs. Buncombe’s sheets without consulting me,” he said, as cross and bossy as only a very small boy can be. “What on earth do you want them for?”
The plump little woman beamed at him. “Why, Charlsie, my pet!
Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point
. French. Pascal.
The heart has its reasons, whereof reason knows nothing
“But that’s not appropriate at all,” Charles said crossly.
“Your mother would find it so.” A smile seemed to gleam through the roundness of spectacles.
“I’m not talking about my mother’s feelings about my father,” Charles Wallace scolded. “I’m talking about Mrs. Buncombe’s sheets.”
The little woman sighed. The enormous
glasses caught the light again and shone like an owl’s eyes. “In case we need ghosts, of course,” she said. “I should think you’d have guessed. If we have to frighten anybody away Whatsit thought we ought to do it appropriately. That’s why it’s so much fun to stay in a haunted house. But we really didn’t mean you to know about the sheets.
Auf frischer Tat ertappt
In flagrante delicto
Caught in the act
. English. As I was saying—”
But Charles Wallace held up his hand in a peremptory gesture. “Mrs Who, do you know this boy?”
Calvin bowed. “Good afternoon, Ma’am. I didn’t quite catch your name.”
“Mrs Who will do,” the woman said. “He wasn’t my idea, Charlsie, but I think he’s a good one.”
“Where’s Mrs Whatsit?” Charles asked.
“She’s busy. It’s getting near time, Charlsie,
getting near time.
Ab honesto virum bonum nihil deterret
Nothing deters a good man from doing what is honorable
. And he’s a very good man, Charlsie, darling, but right now he needs our help.”
“Who?” Meg demanded.
“And little Megsie! Lovely to meet you, sweetheart. Your father, of course. Now go home, loves. The time is not yet ripe. Don’t worry, we won’t go without you. Get plenty of
food and rest. Feed Calvin up. Now, off with you!
Justitiae soror fides
. Latin again, of course.
Faith is the sister
. Trust in us! Now, shoo!” And she fluttered up from her chair and pushed them out the door with surprising power.
“Charles,” Meg said. “I don’t understand.”
Charles took her by the hand and dragged her away from the house. Fortinbras ran on ahead, and Calvin was close
behind them. “No,” he said, “I don’t either, yet. Not quite. I’ll tell you what I know as soon as I can. But you saw Fort, didn’t you? Not a growl. Not a quiver. Just as though there weren’t anything strange about it. So you know it’s okay. Look, do me a favor, both of you. Let’s not talk about it till we’ve had something to eat. I need fuel so I can sort things out and assimilate them properly.”
“Lead on, moron,” Calvin cried gaily. “I’ve never even seen your house, and I have the funniest feeling that for the first time in my life I’m going home!”
In the forest evening was already beginning to fall, and they walked in silence. Charles and Fortinbras gamboled on ahead. Calvin walked with Meg, his fingers barely touching her arm in a protective gesture.
This has been the most impossible, the most confusing afternoon of my life, she thought, yet I don’t feel confused or upset anymore; I only feel happy. Why?
“Maybe we weren’t
meant to meet before this,” Calvin said. “I mean, I knew who you were in school and everything, but I didn’t know you. But I’m glad we’ve met now, Meg. We’re going to be friends, you know.”
“I’m glad, too,” Meg whispered, and they were silent again.
When they got back to the house Mrs. Murry was still in the lab. She was watching a pale blue fluid move slowly through a tube from a beaker to
a retort. Over a Bunsen burner bubbled a big, earthenware dish of stew. “Don’t tell Sandy and Dennys I’m cooking out here,” she said. “They’re always suspicious that a few chemicals may get in with the meat, but I had an experiment I wanted to stay with.”
“This is Calvin O’Keefe, Mother,” Meg said. “Is there enough for him, too? It smells super.”
“Hello, Calvin.” Mrs. Murry shook hands with
“Nice to meet you. We aren’t having anything but stew tonight, but it’s a good thick one.”
“Sounds wonderful to me,” Calvin said. “May I use your phone so my mother’ll know where I am?”
“Of course. Show him where it is, will you, please, Meg? I won’t ask you to use the one out here, if you don’t mind. I’d like to finish up this experiment.”
Meg led the way into the house. Charles Wallace
and Fortinbras had gone off. Outdoors she could hear Sandy and Dennys hammering at the fort they were building up in one of the maples. “This way.” Meg went through the kitchen and into the living room.
“I don’t know why I call her when I don’t come home,” Calvin said, his voice bitter. “She wouldn’t notice.” He sighed and dialed. “Ma?” he said. “Oh, Hinky. Tell Ma I won’t be home till late.
Now don’t forget. I don’t want to be locked out again.” He hung up, looked at Meg. “Do you know how lucky you are?”
She smiled rather wryly. “Not most of the time.”
“A mother like that! A house like this! Gee, your mother’s gorgeous! You should see my mother. She had all her upper teeth out and Pop got her a plate but she won’t wear it, and most days she doesn’t even comb her hair. Not that
it makes much difference when she does.” He clenched his fists. “But I love her. That’s the funny part of it. I love them all, and they don’t give a hoot about me. Maybe that’s why I call when I’m not going to be home. Because I care. Nobody else does. You don’t know how lucky you are to be loved.”
Meg said in a startled way, “I guess I never thought of that. I guess I just took it for granted.”
Calvin looked somber; then his enormous smile lit up his face again. “Things are going to happen, Meg! Good things! I feel it!” He began wandering, still slowly, around the pleasant, if shabby, living room. He stopped before a picture on the piano of a small group of men standing together on a beach. “Who’s this?”
“Oh, a bunch of scientists.”
Meg went over to the picture. “Cape Canaveral.
This one’s Father.”
“The one with glasses?”
“Yup. The one who needs a haircut.” Meg giggled, forgetting her worries in her pleasure at showing Calvin the picture. “His hair’s sort of the same color as mine, and he keeps forgetting to have it cut. Mother usually ends up doing it for him—she bought clippers and stuff—because he won’t take the time to go to the barber.”
studied the picture. “I like him,” he announced judiciously. “Looks kind of like Charles Wallace, doesn’t he?”
Meg laughed again. “When Charles was a baby he looked
like Father. It was really funny.”
Calvin continued to look at the picture. “He’s not handsome or anything. But I like him.”
Meg was indignant. “He is too handsome.”
Calvin shook his head. “Nah. He’s tall and skinny like
“Well, I think you’re handsome,” Meg said. “Father’s
eyes are kind of like yours, too. You know. Really blue. Only you don’t notice his as much because of the glasses.”
“Where is he now?”
Meg stiffened. But she didn’t have to answer because the door from lab to kitchen slammed, and Mrs. Murry came in, carrying a dish of stew. “Now,” she called, “I’ll finish this up properly on the stove.
Have you done your homework, Meg?”
“Not quite,” Meg said, going back into the kitchen.
“Then I’m sure Calvin won’t mind if you finish before dinner.”
“Sure, go ahead.” Calvin fished in his pocket and pulled out a wad of folded paper. “As a matter of fact I have some junk of mine to finish up. Math. That’s one thing I have a hard time keeping up in. I’m okay on anything to do with words, but
I don’t do as well with numbers.”
Mrs. Murry smiled. “Why don’t you get Meg to help you?”
“But, see, I’m several grades above Meg.”
“Try asking her to help you with your math, anyhow,” Mrs. Murry suggested.
“Well, sure,” Calvin said. “Here. But it’s pretty complicated.”
Meg smoothed out the paper and studied it. “Do they care
you do it?” she asked. “I mean, can you work it out your own
“Well, sure, as long as I understand and get the answers right.”
have to do it
way. Now look, Calvin, don’t
you see how much easier it would be if you did it
way?” Her pencil flew over the paper.
“Hey!” Calvin said. “Hey! I think I get it. Show me once more on another one.”
Again Meg’s pencil was busy. “All you have to remember is that every ordinary fraction can
be converted into an infinite periodic decimal fraction. See? So 3/7 is 0.428571.”
“This is the craziest family.” Calvin grinned at her. “I suppose I should stop being surprised by now, but you’re supposed to be dumb in school, always being called up on the carpet.”
“Oh, I am.”
“The trouble with Meg and math,” Mrs. Murry said briskly, “is that Meg and her father used to play with numbers and
Meg learned far too many shortcuts. So when they want her to do problems the long way around at school she gets sullen and stubborn and sets up a fine mental block for herself.”
“Are there any more morons like Meg and Charles around?” Calvin asked. “If so, I should meet more of them.”
“It might also help if Meg’s handwriting were legible,” Mrs. Murry said. “With a good deal of difficulty I can
usually decipher it, but I doubt very much if her teachers can, or are willing to take the time. I’m planning on giving her a typewriter for Christmas. That may be a help.”
“If I get anything right nobody’ll believe it’s me,” Meg said.
“What’s a megaparsec?” Calvin asked.
“One of Father’s nicknames for me,” Meg said. “It’s also 3.26 million light years.”
“What’s E = mc
“What’s E stand for?”
“The square of the velocity of light in centimeters per second.”
“By what countries is Peru bounded?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea. I think it’s in South America somewhere.”
“What’s the capital of New York?”
“Well, New York City, of course!”
“Who wrote Boswell’s
Life of Johnson?
“Oh, Calvin, I’m not any good at English.”
and turned to Mrs. Murry. “I see what you mean. Her I wouldn’t want to teach.”
“She’s a little one-sided, I grant you,” Mrs. Murry said, “though I blame her father and myself for that. She still enjoys playing with her dolls’ house, though.”
Meg shrieked in agony.
“Oh, darling, I’m sorry,” Mrs. Murry said swiftly. “But I’m sure Calvin understands what I mean.”
With a sudden enthusiastic
gesture Calvin flung his arms out wide, as though he were embracing Meg and her mother, the whole house. “How did all this happen? Isn’t it wonderful? I feel as though I were just being born! I’m
not alone anymore! Do you realize what that means to me?”
“But you’re good at basketball and things,” Meg protested. “You’re good in school. Everybody likes you.”
“For all the most unimportant reasons,”
Calvin said. “There hasn’t been anybody, anybody in the world I could talk to. Sure, I can function on the same level as everybody else, I can hold myself down, but it isn’t me.”
Meg took a batch of forks from the drawer and turned them over and over, looking at them. “I’m all confused again.”
“Oh, so ’m I,” Calvin said gaily. “But now at least I know we’re going somewhere.”
Meg was pleased
and a little surprised when the twins were excited at having Calvin for supper. They knew more about his athletic record and were far more impressed by it than she. Calvin ate five bowls of stew, three saucers of Jello, and a dozen cookies, and then Charles Wallace insisted that Calvin take him up to bed and read to him. The twins, who had finished their homework, were allowed to watch half an
hour of TV. Meg helped her mother with the dishes and then sat at the table and struggled with her homework. But she could not concentrate.