Authors: Madeleine L’Engle
“You just make things harder for yourself,”
Dennys said. “And Charles Wallace is going to have an awful time next year when he starts school.
know he’s bright, but he’s so funny when he’s around other people, and they’re so used to thinking he’s dumb, I don’t know what’s going
to happen to him. Sandy and I’ll sock anybody who picks on him, but that’s about all we can do.”
“Let’s not worry about next year till we get through this one,”
Mrs. Murry said. “More French toast, boys?”
At school Meg was tired and her eyelids sagged and her mind wandered. In social studies she was asked to name the principal imports and exports of Nicaragua, and though she had looked them up dutifully the evening before, now she could remember none of them. The teacher was sarcastic, the rest of the class laughed, and she flung herself down in her
seat in a fury. “Who
about the imports and exports of Nicaragua, anyhow?” she muttered.
“If you’re going to be rude, Margaret, you may leave the room,” the teacher said.
“Okay, I will.” Meg flounced out.
During study hall the principal sent for her. “What seems to be the problem now, Meg?” he asked, pleasantly enough.
Meg looked sulkily down at the floor. “Nothing, Mr. Jenkins.”
Porter tells me you were inexcusably rude.”
“Don’t you realize that you just make everything harder for yourself by your attitude?” the principal asked. “Now, Meg,
convinced that you can do the work and keep up with your grade if you will apply yourself, but some of your teachers are not. You’re going to have to do something about yourself. Nobody can do it for you.” Meg was
silent. “Well? What about it, Meg?”
“I don’t know what to do,” Meg said.
“You could do your homework, for one thing. Wouldn’t your mother help you?”
“If I asked her to.”
“Meg, is something troubling you? Are you unhappy at home?” Mr. Jenkins asked.
At last Meg looked at him, pushing at her glasses in a characteristic gesture. “Everything’s
“I’m glad to hear it. But I know
it must be hard on you to have your father away.”
Meg eyed the principal warily, and ran her tongue over the barbed line of her braces.
“Have you had any news from him lately?”
Meg was sure it was not only imagination that made her feel that behind Mr. Jenkins’ surface concern was a gleam of avid curiosity. Wouldn’t he like to know! she thought. And if I knew anything he’s the last person I’d
tell. Well, one of the last.
The postmistress must know that it was almost a year now since the last letter, and heaven knows how many people
told, or what unkind guesses she’d made about the reason for the long silence.
Mr. Jenkins waited for an answer, but Meg only shrugged.
“Just what was your father’s line of business?” Mr. Jenkins asked. “Some kind of scientist, wasn’t he?”
a physicist.” Meg bared her teeth to reveal the two ferocious lines of braces.
“Meg, don’t you think you’d make a better adjustment to life if you faced facts?”
“I do face facts,” Meg said. “They’re lots easier to face than people, I can tell you.”
“Then why don’t you face facts about your father?”
“You leave my father out of it!” Meg shouted.
“Stop bellowing,” Mr. Jenkins said sharply. “Do
you want the entire school to hear you?”
“So what?” Meg demanded. “I’m not ashamed of anything I’m saying. Are you?”
Mr. Jenkins sighed. “Do you enjoy being the most belligerent, uncooperative child in school?”
Meg ignored this. She leaned over the desk toward the principal. “Mr. Jenkins, you’ve met my mother, haven’t you? You can’t accuse her of not facing facts, can you? She’s a scientist.
She has doctors’ degrees in both biology and bacteriology. Her
is facts. When she tells me that my father isn’t coming home, I’ll believe it. As long as she says Father
coming home, then I’ll believe that.”
Mr. Jenkins sighed again. “No doubt your mother wants to believe that your father is coming home, Meg. Very well, I can’t do anything else with you. Go on back to study hall. Try
to be a little less antagonistic. Maybe your work would improve if your general attitude were more tractable.”
When Meg got home from school her mother was in the lab, the twins were at Little League, and Charles Wallace, the kitten, and Fortinbras were waiting for her. Fortinbras jumped up, put his front paws on her shoulders, and gave her a kiss, and the kitten rushed to his empty saucer
and mewed loudly.
“Come on,” Charles Wallace said. “Let’s go.”
“Where?” Meg asked. “I’m hungry, Charles. I don’t want to go anywhere till I’ve had something to eat.” She was still sore from the interview with Mr. Jenkins, and her voice sounded cross. Charles Wallace looked at her thoughtfully as she went to the refrigerator and gave the kitten some milk, then drank a mugful herself.
her a paper bag. “Here’s a sandwich and some cookies and an apple. I thought we’d better go see Mrs Whatsit.”
“Oh, golly,” Meg said. “
“You’re still uneasy about her, aren’t you?” Charles asked.
“Don’t be. She’s all right. I promise you. She’s on our side.”
“How do you know?”
he said impatiently. “I
“But why should we go see her now?”
“I want to
find out more about that tesseract thing. Didn’t you see how it upset Mother? You know when Mother can’t control the way she feels, when she lets us see she’s upset, then it’s something big.”
Meg thought for a moment. “Okay, let’s go. But let’s take Fortinbras with us.”
“Well, of course. He needs the exercise.”
They set off, Fortinbras rushing ahead, then doubling back to the two children,
then leaping off again. The Murrys lived about four miles out of the village. Behind the
house was a pine woods and it was through this that Charles Wallace took Meg.
“Charles, you know she’s going to get in awful trouble—Mrs Whatsit, I mean—if they find out she’s broken into the haunted house. And taking Mrs. Buncombe’s sheets and everything. They could send her to jail.”
“One of the reasons
I want to go over this afternoon is to warn them.”
“I told you she was there with her two friends. I’m not even sure it was Mrs Whatsit herself who took the sheets, though I wouldn’t put it past her.”
“But what would she want all those sheets for?”
“I intend to ask her,” Charles Wallace said, “and to tell them they’d better be more careful. I don’t really think they’ll let anybody
find them, but I just thought we ought to mention the possibility. Sometimes during vacations some of the boys go out there looking for thrills, but I don’t think anybody’s apt to right now, what with basketball and everything.”
They walked in silence for a moment through the fragrant woods, the rusty pine needles gentle under their feet. Up above them the wind made music in the branches. Charles
Wallace slipped his hand confidingly in Meg’s, and the sweet, little-boy gesture warmed her so that she felt the tense knot inside her begin to loosen.
loves me at any rate, she thought.
“School awful again today?” he asked after a while.
“Yes. I got sent to Mr. Jenkins. He made snide remarks about Father.”
Charles Wallace nodded sagely. “I know.”
do you know?”
shook his head. “I can’t quite explain. You tell me, that’s all.”
“But I never say anything. You just seem to know.”
“Everything about you tells me,” Charles said.
“How about the twins?” Meg asked. “Do you know about them, too?”
“I suppose I could if I wanted to. If they needed me. But it’s sort of tiring, so I just concentrate on you and Mother.”
“You mean you read our minds?”
looked troubled. “I don’t think it’s that. It’s being able to understand a sort of language, like sometimes if I concentrate very hard I can understand the wind talking with the trees. You tell me, you see, sort of inad—inadvertently. That’s a good word, isn’t it? I got Mother to look it up in the dictionary for me this morning. I really must learn to read, except I’m afraid it will make it
awfully hard for me in school next year if I already know things. I think it will be better if people go on thinking I’m not very bright. They won’t hate me quite so much.”
Ahead of them Fortinbras started barking loudly, the warning bay that usually told them that a car was coming up the road or that someone was at the door.
“Somebody’s here,” Charles Wallace said sharply. “Somebody’s hanging
around the house. Come
.” He started to run, his short legs straining. At the edge of the woods Fortinbras stood in front of a boy, barking furiously.
As they came panting up the boy said, “For crying out loud, call off your dog.”
“Who is he?” Charles Wallace asked Meg.
“Calvin O’Keefe. He’s in Regional, but he’s older than I am. He’s a big bug.”
“It’s all right, fella. I’m not going to
hurt you,” the boy said to Fortinbras.
“Sit, Fort,” Charles Wallace commanded, and Fortinbras dropped to his haunches in front of the boy, a low growl still pulsing in his dark throat.
“Okay.” Charles Wallace put his hands on his hips. “Now tell us what you’re doing here.”
“I might ask the same of you,” the boy said with some indignation. “Aren’t you two of the Murry kids? This isn’t your property,
is it?” He started to move, but Fortinbras’s growl grew louder and he stopped.
“Tell me about him, Meg,” Charles Wallace demanded.
“What would I know about him?” Meg asked. “He’s a couple of grades above me, and he’s on the basketball team.”
“Just because I’m tall.” Calvin sounded a little embarrassed. Tall he certainly was, and skinny. His bony wrists stuck out of the sleeves of his blue sweater;
his worn corduroy trousers were three inches too short. He had orange hair that needed cutting and the appropriate freckles to go with it. His eyes were an oddly bright blue.
“Tell us what you’re doing here,” Charles Wallace said.
this? The third degree? Aren’t you the one who’s supposed to be the moron?”
Meg flushed with rage, but Charles Wallace answered placidly, “That’s right.
If you want me to call my dog off you’d better give.”
“Most peculiar moron I’ve ever met,” Calvin said. “I just came to get away from my family.”
Charles Wallace nodded. “What kind of family?”
“They all have runny noses. I’m third from the top of eleven kids. I’m a sport.”
At that Charles Wallace grinned widely. “So ’m I.”
“I don’t mean like in baseball,” Calvin said.
“Neither do I.”
mean like in biology,” Calvin said suspiciously.
“A change in gene,”
Charles Wallace quoted, “
resulting in the appearance in the offspring of a character which is not present in the parents but which is potentially transmissible to its offspring
“What gives around here?” Calvin asked. “I was told you couldn’t talk.”
“Thinking I’m a moron gives people something to feel smug about,” Charles
Wallace said. “Why should I disillusion them? How old are you, Cal?”
“Junior. Eleventh. I’m bright. Listen, did anybody ask you to come here this afternoon?”
Charles Wallace, holding Fort by the collar, looked at Calvin suspiciously. “What do you mean,
Calvin shrugged. “You still don’t trust me, do you?”
trust you,” Charles Wallace said.
you want to tell me why you’re here, then?”
“Fort and Meg and I decided to go for a walk. We often do in the afternoon.”
Calvin dug his hands down in his pockets. “You’re holding out on me.”
“So ’re you,” Charles Wallace said.
“Okay, old sport,” Calvin said, “I’ll tell you this much. Sometimes I get a feeling about things. You might call it a compulsion. Do you know what compulsion means?”
Constraint. Obligation. Because one is compelled
. Not a very good definition, but it’s the Concise Oxford.”
“Okay, okay,” Calvin sighed. “I must remember I’m preconditioned in my concept of your mentality.”
Meg sat down on the coarse grass at the edge of the woods. Fort gently twisted his collar out of Charles Wallace’s hands and came over to Meg, lying down beside her and putting his head in
Calvin tried now politely to direct his words toward Meg as well as Charles Wallace, “When I get this feeling, this compulsion, I always do what it tells me. I can’t explain where it comes from or how I get it, and it doesn’t happen very often. But I obey it. And this afternoon I had a feeling that I must come over to the haunted house. That’s all I know, kid. I’m not holding anything
back. Maybe it’s because I’m supposed to meet you. You tell
Charles Wallace looked at Calvin probingly for a moment; then an almost glazed look came into his eyes, and he seemed to be thinking at him. Calvin stood very still, and waited.
At last Charles Wallace said. “Okay. I believe you. But I can’t tell you. I think I’d like to trust you. Maybe you’d better come home with us and have
“Well, sure, but—what would your mother say to that?” Calvin asked.
“She’d be delighted. Mother’s all right. She’s not one of us. But she’s all right.”
“What about Meg?”
“Meg has it tough,” Charles Wallace said. “She’s not really one thing or the other.”
“What do you mean,
one of us
?” Meg demanded. “What do you mean I’m not one thing or the other?”
“Not now, Meg,” Charles Wallace
said. “Slowly. I’ll tell you about it later.” He looked at Calvin, then seemed to make a quick decision. “Okay, let’s take him to meet Mrs Whatsit. If he’s not okay she’ll know.” He started off on his short legs toward the dilapidated old house.