The first we heard of it was when my sister Louise came skittering down the long passage from upstairs. Louise skitters.
I forget what Beatrice and I were doing when Louie flung herself among us. I believe Beatrice was crumbing the table. We were beginning to think about lunch and I’d had some mending. Our brother, Lamont, would have been at school. We hoped.
“Louise, pull yourself together,” I told her. I am Helena, the oldest.
Louise had lost her breath and was trying to find it. Her eyes rolled all round the room. She’d tracked in cobwebs on the clean floor. “But wait till you hear—“
“Louise,” I said, “did you take the front stairway?”
“Yes,” she gasped. “I was in a hurry. Wait till you hear—“
“Louise, we never take the front stairway during daylight. Never. No matter what. We don’t do that.”
I tried to set a good example for Beatrice. Louise didn’t.
“Nobody saw me.” Louise heaved. “Nobody ever does.” She meant the Upstairs Cranstons. They own the house, but we’ve been here longer. Generations. “I’m quick and I’m small, and they simply don’t see me.”
“That younger Cranston girl Upstairs has seen you, Louise,” I reminded her. “Camilla Cranston has seen quite a lot of you. Many a time you’ve crept up to her bedroom in the dead of night. You sit on her bed, and she talks to you. She tells you things. Dead of night, Louise, when everybody is supposed to be asleep. When you’re supposed to be asleep.
“Yes, well,” Louise admitted. “But I haven’t come from Camilla’s room. And it’s not night.”
“We all know it’s not night, Louise,” I said, and Beatrice agreed.
“I’ve been in her mother’s room,” said Louise. “The one with the cabbage roses in the wallpaper. Mrs. Cranston’s room.”
Beatrice and I listened.
“They were all in Mrs. Cranston’s bedroom, except for Mr. Cranston, of course.” Louise made big eyes at us. “They wouldn’t have seen me if I’d been sending up flares. They were all talking at the top of their lungs. They were practically running into each other.”
“The mother is rather loud,” I remarked. “And Olive, the older daughter.” The family is from somewhere west of here. Cleveland, I believe.
“You couldn’t hear yourself think,” Louise said. “Even Camilla was aflutter. They were trying on all their hats.”
“Hats?” Beatrice piped up. “Why?” She stood there, holding crumbs.
Louise drew herself up importantly. Mother’s portrait on the wall looked down upon us. We waited.
“They’re going away.” Louise’s eyes were bigger than her head.
Away? Where? Where did the Upstairs Cranstons ever go? And it was springtime, not summer. In the supper, people went to the mountains and the shore and Saratoga for the races. But not the Cranstons. It took Mrs. Cranston three days to go into Rhinebeck to buy a pair of button gloves.
“Going where?” Beatrice wondered. “You don’t mean moving away?”
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