Home had not improved any. It was black and bleak. I set my suitcase on the bed as Mary sniffed bitterly and Alex, Willie, and Charlie stared at me as if a stranger. Everyone had grown. Mary was now twelve. She was dressed in severe black. “Mother still in mourning? And you are still angry with me?” Mary shrugged. But then Alex, Willie, and Charlie suddenly ran to me and hugged me.
“We ddddd not know wwwwho you wwwwwere!” Alex stuttered as Charlie sucked his thumb.
We all slithered downstairs to the basement and the kitchen and Maeve, festooned with lucky charms, hugged me. She even closed all of the doors so she could bake gingerbread cookies. We ate in the warm kitchen as everyone filled me in. “The smell will betray us Maeve” I said. “Mother will smell it.”
“No. Upstairs the only smell is mildew and damp” Willie said softly. He looked tired and wane. Everyone did.
“I notice the stairway is cold as usual. Can’t anyone figure out why the stairs are 20 degrees colder than the rest of the house?”
“Tttthat is nnnnnot the only odd thing gggggoing on” Alex said as he stuffed gingerbread into his mouth. Mary made her usual lemon face.
“What is going on?”
“Nnnnnno! You tttttell!”
“No! You tell!”
“Hell’s Bells! Someone tell me!”
Then everyone lead me upstairs to the closed sliding doors into the forbidden drawing room. “We don’t go in there” little Charlie whispered as he sucked his thumb.
“Of course not! The drawing room is for only the best guests to show off the wealth and respectability and glory of the Nicholsons in all of their triumph” I snarled.
“No John. Even Mother does not go into the drawing room even to entertain the minister!”
“Hell’s Bells!” I replied and I slide the heavy doors open. The drawing room was dark and still. I marched in and drew open the heavy curtains. The grim room was exactly as I remembered. Then I noticed something new. I noticed that the mirror which I found in the attic was now moved downstairs and now hung over the mantle of the cold fireplace. Apparently for all of Mother’s whining about the expenses of my school she still could afford to keep that mirror. It was a huge mirror, of rich golden gilt, the frame massive, the silvered glass oddly pure when everything else up in that attic was moldy.
The drawing room of any respectable home had to have a mirror over the mantle. It was an unwritten rule. But when we came we noted that there was nothing on the wall over the mantle of the fireplace. Mother did not have a rich mirror to fill out that great empty space which embarrassed her no end when she entertained the minister. Why a minister should worry more about a mirror or the lack of a mirror over the mantle rather than the state of the souls or the sanity of the household I could never understand.
“I notice Mother could afford to hang this mirror, which is not even her mirror ,for all of her whining about the expenses of my lousy school!”
“No. John! You don’t understand!” Mary replied. Alex, Willie, and Charlie, who had resumed sucking his thumb, whimpered and then ran out of the room in clear fear. I looked at Mary.
“Why has Alex started stuttering again and Charlie resumed sucking his thumb? Weasel cured them!”
“Weasel is not here any more to protect us” Mary said. Mary pulled a chair over and stood on it. She gestured to the wallpaper around the mirror.
“I don’t see anything” I said.
“Exactly!” Mary whispered as she got down. “Why isn’t the wallpaper faded around the mirror?” Mary moved each heavy picture aside to show how the wallpaper had faded under each picture. Mother had a time finding pictures she still owned that covered the faded patches of the ornate arsenic green wallpaper.
“The mirror is bigger than whatever originally hung over the mantle.”
“The mirror fits the faded area of the wallpaper perfectly!” Mary whispered.
I climbed up on the chair and lifted the very heavy mirror just a tad to peek behind it. Mary was right. The faded patch on the wallpaper fitted the size of the mirror exactly. That could only mean one thing. The mirror originally hung over the mantle of this fireplace and for some reason someone had taken it down and stored it away in the attic.
Mary shivered and gestured as if afraid the mirror would overhear. We left and I side the heavy sliding doors closed. Then we sat on the bottom steps of the stairs. “When we moved in this house the space on the wall over the mantle was empty and there was a faded patch meaning something used to be there! The mirror used to hang there!”
“Why take down a very expensive drawing room mirror and store it up in the attic?
“I don’t know Mary? Why are we whispering?”
“Since that mirror was rehung in the drawing room things have been happening!”
“Don’t blame me!”
“Listen you stupid boy!” Mary hissed. “Bad things! Really, really, really bad things!……”