The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Book: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Shirley Jackson
more than three inches deep.”
    “There are stepping stones to go across, and little fish swimming, tiny ones—minnows?”
    “Princes in disguise, all of them.” Theodora stretched in the sun on the bank, and yawned. “Tadpoles?” she suggested.
    “Minnows. It’s too late for tadpoles, silly, but I bet we can find frogs’ eggs. I used to catch minnows in my hands and let them go.”
    “What a farmer’s wife you might have made.”
    “This is a place for picnics, with lunch beside the brook and hard-boiled eggs.”
    Theodora laughed. “Chicken salad and chocolate cake.”
    “Lemonade in a Thermos bottle. Spilled salt.”
    Theodora rolled over luxuriously. “They’re wrong about ants, you know. There were almost never ants. Cows, maybe, but I don’t think I ever did see an ant on a picnic.”
    “Was there always a bull in a field? Did someone always say, ‘But we can’t go through that field; that’s where the bull is’?”
    Theodora opened one eye. “Did you use to have a comic uncle? Everyone always laughed, whatever he said? And he used to tell you not to be afraid of the bull—if the bull came after you all you had to do was grab the ring through his nose and swing him around your head?”
    Eleanor tossed a pebble into the brook and watched it sink clearly to the bottom. “Did you have a lot of uncles?”
    “Thousands. Do you?”
    After a minute Eleanor said, “Oh, yes. Big ones and little ones and fat ones and thin ones—”
    “Do you have an Aunt Edna?”
    “Aunt Muriel.”
    “Kind of thin? Rimless glasses?”
    “A garnet brooch,” Eleanor said.
    “Does she wear a kind of dark red dress to family parties?”
    “Lace cuffs—”
    “Then I think we must really be related,” Theodora said. “Did you use to have braces on your teeth?”
    “No. Freckles.”
    “I went to that private school where they made me learn to curtsy.”
    “I always had colds all winter long. My mother made me wear woollen stockings.”
    “ My mother made my brother take me to dances, and I used to curtsy like mad. My brother still hates me.”
    “I fell down during the graduation procession.”
    “I forgot my lines in the operetta.”
    “I used to write poetry.”
    “Yes,” Theodora said, “I’m positive we’re cousins.”
    She sat up, laughing, and then Eleanor said, “Be quiet; there’s something moving over there.” Frozen, shoulders pressed together, they stared, watching the spot of hillside across the brook where the grass moved, watching something unseen move slowly across the bright green hill, chilling the sunlight and the dancing little brook. “What is it?” Eleanor said in a breath, and Theodora put a strong hand on her wrist.
    “It’s gone,” Theodora said clearly, and the sun came back and it was warm again. “It was a rabbit,” Theodora said.
    “I couldn’t see it,” Eleanor said.
    “I saw it the minute you spoke,” Theodora said firmly. “It was a rabbit; it went over the hill and out of sight.”
    “We’ve been away too long,” Eleanor said and looked up anxiously at the sun touching the hilltops. She got up quickly and found that her legs were stiff from kneeling on the damp grass.
    “Imagine two splendid old picnic-going girls like us,” Theodora said, “afraid of a rabbit.”
    Eleanor leaned down and held out a hand to help her up. “We’d really better hurry back,” she said and, because she did not herself understand her compelling anxiety, added, “The others might be there by now.”
    “We’ll have to come back here for a picnic soon,” Theodora said, following carefully up the path, which went steadily uphill. “We really must have a good old-fashioned picnic down by the brook.”
    “We can ask Mrs. Dudley to hard-boil some eggs.” Eleanor stopped on the path, not turning. “Theodora,” she said, “I don’t think I can, you know. I don’t think I really will be able to do it.”
    “Eleanor.” Theodora put an arm across her shoulders.

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