Authors: Madeleine L’Engle
“What are they
singing?” Meg asked excitedly.
Mrs Whatsit shook her beautiful head. “It won’t go into your words: I can’t possibly transfer it to your words. Are you getting any of it, Charles?”
Charles Wallace sat very still on the broad back, on his face an intently listening look, the look he had when he
delved into Meg or his mother. “A little. Just a very little. But I think I could get more in time.”
“Yes. You could learn it, Charles. But there isn’t time. We can only stay here long enough to rest up and make a few preparations.”
Meg hardly listened to her. “I want to know what they’re saying! I want to know what it means.”
“Try, Charles,” Mrs Whatsit urged. “Try to translate. You can let yourself go, now. You don’t have to hold back.”
“But I can’t!” Charles Wallace cried in an anguished
voice. “I don’t know enough! Not yet!”
“Then try to work with me and I’ll see if I can’t verbalize it a little for them.”
Charles Wallace got his look of probing, of listening.
know that look! Meg thought suddenly. Now I think I know what it means! Because I’ve had it myself, sometimes, doing math with Father, when a problem is just about to come clear—
Mrs Whatsit seemed to be listening
to Charles’s thoughts. “Well, yes, that’s an idea. I can try. Too bad you don’t really know it so you can give it to me direct, Charles. It’s so much more work this way.”
“Don’t be lazy,” Charles said.
Mrs Whatsit did not take offense. She explained, “Oh, it’s my favorite kind of work, Charles. That’s why they chose me to go along, even though I’m so much younger. It’s my one real talent. But
it takes a tremendous amount of energy, and we’re going to need every ounce of energy for what’s ahead of us. But I’ll try. For Calvin and Meg I’ll
try.” She was silent; the great wings almost stopped moving; only a delicate stirring seemed to keep them aloft. “Listen, then,” Mrs Whatsit said. The resonant voice rose and the words seemed to be all around them so that Meg felt that she could almost
reach out and touch them:
“Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord!”
Throughout her entire
body Meg felt a pulse of joy such as she had never known before. Calvin’s hand reached out; he did not clasp her hand in his; he moved his fingers so that they were barely touching hers, but joy flowed through them, back and forth between them, around them and about them and inside them.
When Mrs Whatsit sighed it seemed completely incomprehensible that through this bliss could come the faintest
whisper of doubt.
“We must go now, children.” Mrs Whatsit’s voice was deep with sadness, and Meg could not understand. Raising her head, Mrs Whatsit gave a call that seemed to be a command, and one of the creatures flying above the trees nearest them raised its head to listen, and then flew off and picked three flowers from a tree growing near the river and brought them over. “Each of you take
one,” Mrs Whatsit said. “I’ll tell you how to use them later.”
As Meg took her flower she realized that it was not a single blossom, but hundreds of tiny flowerets forming a kind of hollow bell.
“Where are we going?” Calvin asked.
The wings moved steadily, swiftly. The garden was left behind, the stretch of granite, the mighty shapes, and then Mrs Whatsit was flying upward, climbing
steadily up, up. Below them the trees of the mountain dwindled, became sparse, were replaced by bushes and then small, dry grasses, and then vegetation ceased entirely and there were only rocks, points and peaks of rock, sharp and dangerous. “Hold on tight,” Mrs Whatsit said. “Don’t slip.”
Meg felt Calvin’s arm circle her waist in a secure hold.
Still they moved upward.
Now they were in clouds.
They could see nothing but drifting whiteness, and the moisture clung to them and condensed in icy droplets. As Meg shivered, Calvin’s grip tightened. In front of her Charles Wallace sat quietly. Once he turned just long enough to give her a swift glance of tenderness and concern. But Meg felt as each moment passed that he was growing farther and farther away, that he was becoming less and less
her adored baby brother and more and more one with whatever kind of being Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which in actuality were.
Abruptly they burst out of the clouds into a shaft of light. Below them there were still rocks; above them the rocks continued to reach up into the sky, but now, though it seemed miles upward, Meg could see where the mountain at last came to an end.
Mrs Whatsit continued
to climb, her wings straining a little. Meg felt her heart racing; cold sweat began to gather
on her face and her lips felt as though they were turning blue. She began to gasp.
“All right, children, use your flowers now,” Mrs Whatsit said. “The atmosphere will continue to get thinner from now on. Hold the flowers up to your face and breathe through them and they will give you enough oxygen. It
won’t be as much as you’re used to, but it will be enough.”
Meg had almost forgotten the flowers, and was grateful to realize that she was still clasping them, that she hadn’t let them fall from her fingers. She pressed her face into the blossoms and breathed deeply.
Calvin still held her with one arm, but he, too, held the flowers to his face.
Charles Wallace moved the hand with the flowers
slowly, almost as though he were in a dream.
Mrs Whatsit’s wings strained against the thinness of the atmosphere. The summit was only a little way above them, and then they were there. Mrs Whatsit came to rest on a small plateau of smooth silvery rock. There ahead of them was a great white disk.
“One of Uriel’s moons,” Mrs Whatsit told them, her mighty voice faintly breathless.
“Oh, it’s beautiful!”
Meg cried. “It’s beautiful!”
The silver light from the enormous moon poured over them, blending with the golden quality of the day, flowing over the children, over Mrs Whatsit, over the mountain peak.
“Now we will turn around,” Mrs Whatsit said, and at the quality of her voice, Meg was afraid again.
But when they turned she saw nothing. Ahead of them
was the thin clear blue of sky; below them
the rocks thrusting out of the shifting sea of white clouds.
“Now we will wait,” Mrs Whatsit said, “for sunset and moonset.”
Almost as she spoke the light began to deepen, to darken.
“I want to watch the moon set,” Charles Wallace said.
“No, child. Do not turn around, any of you. Face out toward the dark. What I have to show you will be more visible then. Look ahead, straight ahead, as far
as you can possibly look.”
Meg’s eyes ached from the strain of looking and seeing nothing. Then, above the clouds which encircled the mountain, she seemed to see a shadow, a faint thing of darkness so far off that she was scarcely sure she was really seeing it.
Charles Wallace said, “What’s that?”
“That sort of shadow out there,” Calvin gestured. “What is it? I don’t like it.”
It was a shadow, nothing but a shadow. It was not even as tangible as a cloud. Was it cast by something? Or was it a Thing in itself?
The sky darkened. The gold left the light and they were surrounded by blue, blue deepening until where there had been nothing but the evening sky there was now a faint pulse of star, and then another and another and another. There were more
stars than Meg had ever seen before.
“The atmosphere is so thin here,” Mrs Whatsit said as though in answer to her unasked question, “that it does
not obscure your vision as it would at home. Now look. Look straight ahead.”
Meg looked. The dark shadow was still there. It had not lessened or dispersed with the coming of night. And where the shadow was the stars were not visible.
What could there
be about a shadow that was so terrible that she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?
Meg’s hand holding the blossoms slowly dropped and it seemed as though a knife gashed through her lungs. She gasped, but there was no air for her to breathe.
Darkness glazed her eyes and mind, but as she started to fall into unconsciousness her head dropped down into the flowers which she was still clutching; and as she inhaled the fragrance of their purity her mind and body revived, and she sat up again.
The shadow was still there, dark and dreadful.
Calvin held her hand strongly in his, but she felt neither strength nor reassurance in his touch.
Beside her a tremor went through Charles Wallace, but he sat very still.
He shouldn’t be seeing this, Meg thought. This is too much for so little a boy, no matter how different and extraordinary a little boy.
Calvin turned, rejecting the dark Thing that blotted out the light of the stars. “Make it go away, Mrs Whatsit,” he whispered. “Make it go away. It’s evil.”
Slowly the great creature turned
around so that the shadow was behind them, so that they saw only the stars
unobscured, the soft throb of starlight on the mountain, the descending circle of the great moon swiftly slipping over the horizon. Then, without a word from Mrs Whatsit, they were traveling downward, down, down. When they reached the corona of clouds Mrs Whatsit said, “You can breathe without the flowers now, my children.”
Silence again. Not a word. It was as though the shadow had somehow reached out with its dark power and touched them so that they were incapable of speech. When they got back to the flowery field, bathed now in starlight, and moonlight from another, smaller, yellower, rising moon, a little of the tenseness went out of their bodies, and they realized that the body of the beautiful creature on which
they rode had been as rigid as theirs.
With a graceful gesture it dropped to the ground and folded its great wings. Charles Wallace was the first to slide off. “Mrs Who! Mrs Which!” he called, and there was an immediate quivering in the air. Mrs Who’s familiar glasses gleamed at them. Mrs Which appeared, too; but, as she had told the children, it was difficult for her to materialize completely,
and though there was the robe and peaked hat, Meg could look through them to mountain and stars. She slid off Mrs Whatsit’s back and walked, rather unsteadily after the long ride, over to Mrs Which.
“That dark Thing we saw,” she said. “Is that what my father is fighting?”
“Yes,” Mrs Which said. “Hhee iss beehindd thee ddarrkness, sso thatt eevenn wee cannott seee hhimm.”
Meg began to cry, to sob aloud. Through her tears she could see Charles Wallace standing there, very small, very white. Calvin put his arms around her, but she shuddered and broke away, sobbing wildly. Then she was enfolded in the great wings of Mrs Whatsit and she felt comfort
and strength pouring through her. Mrs Whatsit was not speaking aloud, and yet through the wings Meg understood words.
“My child, do not despair. Do you think we would have brought you here if there were no hope? We are asking you to do a difficult thing, but we are confident that you can do it. Your father needs help, he needs courage, and for his children he may be able to do what he cannot
do for himself.”
“Nnow,” Mrs Which said. “Arre wee rreaddy?”
“Where are we going?” Calvin asked.
Again Meg felt an actual physical tingling of fear as Mrs Which spoke.
“Wwee musstt ggo bbehindd thee sshaddow.”
“But we will not do it all at once,” Mrs Whatsit comforted them. “We will do it in short stages.” She looked at Meg. “Now we will tesser, we will wrinkle again. Do you understand?”
“No,” Meg said flatly.
Mrs Whatsit sighed. “Explanations are not easy when they are about things for which your civilization still has no words. Calvin talked about traveling at the speed of light. You understand that, little Meg?”
“Yes,” Meg nodded.
“That, of course, is the impractical, long way around. We have learned to take shortcuts wherever possible.”
“Sort of like in math?” Meg asked.
“Like in math.” Mrs Whatsit looked over at Mrs Who. “Take your skirt and show them.”
“La experiencia es la madre de la ciencia.
Spanish, my dears. Cervantes.
Experience is the mother of knowledge.”
Mrs Who took a portion of her white robe in her hands and held it tight.
“You see,” Mrs Whatsit said, “if a very small insect were to move from the section of skirt in Mrs Who’s right hand to that
in her left, it would be quite a long walk for him if he had to walk straight across.”
Swiftly Mrs Who brought her hands, still holding the skirt, together.
“Now, you see,” Mrs Whatsit said, “he would
that long trip. That is how we travel.”