Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Mazeby Elizabeth Enright
Meet the Melendys! Mona, the eldest, is thirteen. She has decided to become an actress and can recite poetry at the drop of a hat. Rush is twelve and a bit mischievous. Miranda is ten and a half. She loves dancing and painting pictures. Oliver is the youngest. At six, he is a calm and thoughful person. They all live with their father, who is a writer, and Cuffy, their beloved housekeeper, who takes on the many roles of nurse, cook, substitute mother, grandmother, and aunt.
Elizabeth Enright's Melendy Quartet, which captures the lively adventures of a family as they move from the city to the country, are being published in new editions. Each of the books features a foreward and signature black-and-white interior illustrations by the author. Popular artist Tricia Tusa provides irresistible new cover art that will appeal to today's readers.
Elizabeth Enright (1909 1968) was born in Oak Park, Illinois, but spent most of her life in or near New York City. Originally envisioning a career solely in illustration, she studied art in Paris, France, and at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Throughout her life, Elizabeth Enright wrote and illustrated numerous books, winning many awards in the process. Among those awards were the 1939 John Newbery Medal for Thimble Summer and a 1958 Newbery Honor for Gone-Away Lake. The first of the Melendy Quartet, The Saturdays, was published in 1941. Translated into numerous languages throughout the world, her stories have been known and loved by many for generations.
“The Melendys are the quintessential storybook family...[their] ardent approach to living is eternally relevant.” Publishers Weekly
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Spiderweb for Two
A Melendy Maze
By Elizabeth Enright
MacmillanCopyright © 1979 Nicholas W. Gillham, Robert Gillham II, and Oliver Gillham
All rights reserved.
The Shadow's Peak
Randy was certain that this was going to be the worst winter of her life. She said so to Cuffy.
"Cuffy, this is going to be the worst winter of my life," she said.
"Well, if that's the way you've planned it, I guess that's the way it'll be," said Cuffy, who was ironing (the whole kitchen smelled warm and scorchy); then she looked at Randy and relented a little. "I know it's pretty hard on you when you're used to having 'em all here. The house seems awful lonesome I'll admit; but there's school and a lot of things to do, and it's not as if you was all alone. There's still Oliver."
"Oh, Oliver!" said Randy in a tone of withering scorn, glaring at her youngest brother. "All he's interested in is his old planes and his old bugs and his old guns; he's no fun."
Oliver was stung. "Who says you're such a bargain?" he inquired.
"Now that will be enough of that," said Cuffy firmly, setting the iron down with a warm thud. "If you're going to commence bickering and insulting each other the winter will be a bad one for certain sure."
"She's been a pain in the neck ever since Sunday when they left," complained Oliver. Since this was only Monday afternoon Randy did not feel that she had been a pain in the neck for an unreasonable length of time, but she disdained to argue. Giving her brother a look which signified disgust not only with him but with the entire world, she left the room.
The house was sadly quiet; she was not used to it like that. She was used to plenty of racket and commotion, for the Melendys were a large family whose favorite activities included music, drama, dancing, and arguing, none of which is silently accomplished. Today there were no sounds at all; not even the typewriter peckings from Father's study. Father was away. As usual, thought Randy bitterly. Why can't he ever stay home and just write, the way he used to? Why doesn't he care anything about his family? But this thought was so manifestly unjust, so outrageous, in fact, that she felt slightly better for the moment and started to sing as she went upstairs. She knew as well as anybody else that part of the way her father managed to support his family was by lecturing at various universities. But today she was not interested in justice; she was more interested in sorrow. Why can't he run a little store in Carthage, or print a newspaper, or work in a bank, like other people's fathers, thought Randy, and stopped singing.
In the upstairs hall she hesitated for a moment and then went into her brother Rush's room. It was as empty and as silent as the rest of the house; only a sleepy fly buzzed at the pane; and it was tidy, Randy had never seen it so tidy before. The only untidy thing about it was Isaac, Rush's dog, who was lying in the armchair where he was never supposed to be because he always had fleas and was always shedding. He rolled a guilty eye like a wet licorice drop at Randy, but she only patted his head.
"Stay where you are," she told him. "Poor thing, you'll have a long wait; it's weeks and weeks just till Thanksgiving, and after that it's weeks till Christmas. You just stay there and enjoy yourself. I won't tell Cuffy."
Though Isaac was really Rush's dog, he was loved devotedly by all. John Doe, the other dog, was loved too, though it was generally conceded that he had less character and personal charm than Isaac. He also had less heart; instead of mourning for the absent he was at this minute in the kitchen, Randy knew, uttering low growls of pleading, and watching for Cuffy to open the icebox door.
Randy drifted about the room touching the books, the boxing gloves, the music scores. She took a look into the closet, even, but it depressed her. It was so unnaturally neat: the shirts hung upon hangers, the shoes in pairs against the wall instead of upside down and on their sides all over the floor, leading their own independent lives the way they usually did.
"And it will probably always look like this, now, even when he's home," mourned Randy. "They teach them to be neat at boarding school."
She sighed deeply, patted Isaac again, and departed from the room, leaving the door open so Isaac could come and go.
Next she went into her elder sister Mona's room. This was not quite such a shock, for Mona was a fairly tidy girl, and the room did not look so very different from the way it did when she was at home. Still it was different; it couldn't fool Randy. Mona was the actress of the family, and a real actress at that; for several winters, now, she had played the young girl's part in a radio program that was broadcast from a city station, and this year it had been decided that she should go to school in the city as well, since it would save travel to and fro. She was staying with the Melendys' beloved friend, Mrs. Oliphant, an independent old lady with an extra bedroom and a great fondness for children: particularly the Melendy children.
Randy went to the ruffled dressing table which Mona had decorated herself, using an old organdy party dress to make the ruffle; if you knew where to look, you could still find the large turnip-shaped inkstain which had caused the end of its career as a party dress. On top of the table was a collection of little perfume bottles; Mona was proud of these and did not like anyone to meddle with them, but after all she was away. Randy unstoppered first one bottle and then the next, pressing each against her nose in turn; from every one she dabbed a little perfume on her wishbone. Afterward she wished she hadn't; she couldn't smell the plain air anymore, a great rosette of fancy scents seemed fastened to the end of her nose, and did not in any way make her feel better.
She leaned down and looked into the little triple mirror on the dressing table; three gloomy selves looked back.
"Ugly thing," she said, scowling. "Hideous old mule-face."
Actually she was not ugly at all, and when she thought about it, did not usually consider herself so; it was the feeling behind the face that she addressed. She was not often in such a bad mood, and had rarely in her life had a chance to be lonesome. Now she was both. And goodness knows when I'll stop feeling this way, she lamented to herself; first they'll all be away at school for years, and then they'll be away at college for years, and then, gosh, I suppose they'll all get married!
She went out of Mona's room still wrapped in a cloud of mixed perfumes and, deciding to do the thing thoroughly, went up the stairs through the Office (which was what the Melendys called their playroom) and up yet another short, steep flight to the cupola at the very top of the house. This was the personal domain of the Melendys' adopted brother, Mark, who had gone away to school with Rush. The cupola was a small, light room, really a sort of little cabin on the roof, with a window in each wall for each direction: one apiece for East, West, North, and South. Randy chose the North window to press her nose against, as that presented the gloomiest view. It seemed suitable to her that the weather was unfriendly: not raining, but about to rain; grey, sullen, with all the color gone from everything; even the grass looked grey, and the old, tall Norway spruces that guarded the house seemed black and shabby, like monstrous molting crows.
"This is the way it will always be, every day when I come home from school from now on," said Randy unreasonably, and as she looked north toward the town of Carthage, the view suddenly buckled and divided before her eyes as first one, and then another, large tear swelled and wobbled and rolled down her cheek.
It was a long time since she had cried, and she made the most of it. Afterward she felt better. She wiped her eyes on the edge of Mark's bedspread and still hiccupping faintly went down the steep little stairs. Oliver was sitting on the floor of the Office. There were four chairs, a couch, and a piano stool in the Office, but Oliver preferred the floor.
He looked rather awed. "You've been crying," he said.
"I know it," said Randy.
"I heard you but I didn't think I should interrupt," Oliver said; he stood up. "Don't feel so bad, Randy. It's going to be okay, prob'ly. I feel lonesome, too, kind of, but it's going to be okay."
"I suppose you do feel lonesome, don't you?" said Randy, who had not considered this before. She patted his shoulder blade. "You're a nice boy. I ought to appreciate you more."
"You appreciate me enough," Oliver said.
"Let's ask Cuffy for something to eat," Randy suggested. "Crying always makes me hungry."
They clattered down the stairs, and the cheerful noise brought Isaac out of Rush's room; he went down the next flight with them, barking sociably all the way.
"Lands," said Cuffy, as they all exploded into the kitchen, and John Doe raised his voice in greeting. "I thought less young ones around would mean less noise, but it don't seem to work out like that. Here, now, I made a cake right after lunch, and I kept the frosting bowl for you to lick. I didn't want to give it to you before; and there's two bones in the icebox for the dogs. Better give them to 'em now, Oliver, so's we can have some peace."
Randy hugged Cuffy's familiar waist — or what would have been a waist on a thinner person; it was thick, warm, solid, and creaked faintly when she moved, for Cuffy wore strong, old -fashioned corsets. Everything about her — the creaking, the gentle scolding, the kind, preoccupied face — contributed to the Melendy children's conviction that their home was the coziest, pleasantest place in the world.
Luckily Cuffy had made a fudge cake, as fudge frosting certainly provides the best bowl-licking. Randy and Oliver chipped and scraped with two big spoons, their faces happy and absorbed and every grief forgotten.
"Now clear out and see if there's any mail, why don't you?" said Cuffy when the bowl was completely polished.
"It's too soon to hear from any of them yet," said Randy.
"Nevertheless, there just might be a letter, and I want to mop this kitchen. And take those two beasts with you."
Oliver and Randy and the dogs departed by the back door. The day was very grey and still; leaves dropped from trees because their stems had failed them; there was no wind. They came down sadly, idly, through the air. Randy walked slowly, and Oliver dawdled a little way behind her, stopping now and then to look at a bug, to throw a pebble. Isaac and John Doe were of a different frame of mind; they sniffed, zigzagged, cavorted; being alive and out of doors were enough to make them happy.
"In the mailbox," predicted Randy, "there will be bills and nothing else."
"No, not today," said Oliver, who was a practical boy. "It's not the first of the month, and it's not the middle."
"All right, so then there'll just be post cards advertising sales of dishpans and men's shoes and other dull things," said Randy, determined to look on the dark side as long as possible.
The mailbox appeared the same as usual; its flag alert, its mouth closed. When they opened it they found three things inside: a letter for Cuffy from her cousin Mrs. Theobald, a postal card advertising — oddly enough — a sale of men's shoes, and a medium-sized envelope addressed in unfamiliar handwriting to:
Miss Miranda Melendy
Master Oliver Melendy
"Heaven's sake!" said Randy. "Who could it be from? It's not any of their writing or writings, or however you say it."
"It looks like a grownup's writing," Oliver decided. "Where's it from?"
"The postmark says New York: September twelfth, eleven A.M., it says. That could be anybody; we know thousands of people in New York."
"Well, for Pete's sake, open it!" said Oliver, who preferred facts to mysteries any day.
Randy tore open the envelope; inside it was a sheet of matching blue paper on which a poem was written. She read it aloud to Oliver:
"I point a clue for you to find,
But find me first. Nearby I stand.
Among the tallest of my kind,
At four o'clock on a fine day
My shadow's peak lies on the land
Where, if you spade the earth away,
A golden clue will come to hand
And speed you on the perilous way!"
Underneath, at the bottom of the page a note was added. "P.S." (it said). "This clue must be uncovered before many days have elapsed. The sun changes each day, so — where my shadow falls this week, that is the spot where you must seek! And not a word to anyone!"
Randy and Oliver were both astounded.
"Now who on earth?" said Randy.
"And what are they talking about?" said Oliver.
"Well, a search I guess. Some kind of a search for something or other, but I wonder what?"
"I wonder why?" said Oliver.
"I wonder who?" said Randy.
Neither one looked sad or thoughtful any longer. They were as alert and interested as Isaac or John Doe, picking up a new scent.
"It says the perilous way," Randy pointed out with pleasure.
"Maybe there's booby traps along the way and some kind of a bomb at the end of it," suggested Oliver, positively glowing.
"Oh, I don't think it's likely, do you? I hope it's not some horrid kind of joke with snakes and rats or anything, though."
"Who'd play a joke like that on us? No one hates us, do they?"
"Not that I know of, but you never can tell. I think it all sounds friendly, though. Let's start to hunt. 'Nearby I stand. Among the tallest of my kind ...' What could that be, I wonder? A person? Willy Sloper, maybe?"
"Oh, fine! I suppose Willy's just going to stand in the same place every day at four o'clock and let his shadow fall where the clue is buried! Oh, sure!"
"No, I guess it's a Thing and not a Person. And if it's a Thing, it's probably a tree."
"That's what I think, too. Rush's oak, maybe?"
"It's certainly the tallest one around. Come on, let's go!"
The oak tree of which they spoke stood high in the woods. Among its lower boughs their brother Rush had built a tree house which still was perched there, holding a drift of leaves and acorns, and providing a fine veranda for squirrels and blue jays.
Randy and Oliver and John Doe and Isaac came bursting through the underbrush, scratched with brambles and stuck with burrs.
"If only the sun was out!" said Oliver.
"But it's too late, anyway; it must be after five."
"If the sun was shining, and it was four o'clock the top of the shadow would be about up here, I bet."
"Oh, no, never, that's too near. It would be way-up-about-here," insisted Randy, tearing her way through briars and wild clematis to a point higher up the hillside.
"But Randy, listen! If the sun was out, you know something? I bet there wouldn't be any shadow up here; at least not a separate one that you could see. There'd be just a big mess of all kinds of shadows because there's such a lot of trees around."
Randy looked at him respectfully. "I bet you're right. And anyway who says it has to be an oak?"
"No. It could be one of the tulip trees — gosh, they're all tall — or a sycamore, or a birch, or an elm, or a pine —"
"Goodness, then we'll never find it. There are about a hundred thousand trees around this place."
She and Oliver turned and started down the slope. The woods were loud with woodpeckers and jays. Randy paused. "I've thought of something. Listen, it says here 'my shadow's peak'! Are we ever dumb! Does an oak tree's shadow fall in a peak? Or an elm tree's, either?"
"The Norway spruces!" shouted Oliver. "The two by the house! The thing said it stood nearby!"
They were running now; galloping down through the woods with the dogs plunging beside them.
Beside the house, funereal, solemn as ever, stood the two tall guardian trees. They had been there, guarding and growing, for nearly a century; and the Melendys themselves had climbed their prickled branches, hidden in their shade, listened to their windy sighing for years, without once noticing that the tree closest to the house was the least bit taller than its brother. They noticed it now.
"That must be the one!" cried Randy.
"Brother, it's a big tree!" said Oliver, rapidly walking backward across the lawn. "The top of its shadow would fall about here, I bet."
"Oh, no, much farther back," said Randy, disagreeing again. Oliver was bending forward now and prowling, examining the ground. If he had had a magnifying glass, he would have looked like Sherlock Holmes. He did have a stick, and from time to time he prodded in the grass with it.
"No fair digging till the sun comes out," said Randy sternly. "We must do this thing Right. We must obey the Rules. Tomorrow at four o'clock we'll start the search."
But the next day it rained. The day after that was grey and cloudy. On the next the sun was brilliant until half past three when great clouds smoked up into the sky and shed an unseasonable thundershower. The next day it rained again.
"My soul and body!" cried Cuffy, her patience frayed at last. "I never saw you young ones fret about the weather so before. I never saw any young ones carry on like that about it. A little rain. A little damp. You'd think you was sixty-five years old, the pair of you, with the arthritis and the gout and the rheumatism and chronic sinus trouble besides. Go on up to the Office now. Play something."
Excerpted from Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright. Copyright © 1979 Nicholas W. Gillham, Robert Gillham II, and Oliver Gillham. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Enright (1909-1968) was born in Oak Park, Illinois, but spent most of her life in or near New York City. Her mother was a magazine illustrator, while her father was a political cartoonist. Illustration was Enright's original career choice and she studied art in Greenwich, Connecticut; Paris, France; and the Parson's School of Design in New York City. After creating her first book in 1937, she developed a taste, and quickly demonstrated a talent, for writing.
Throughout her life, she won many awards, including the 1939 John Newbery Medal for Thimble Summer and a 1958 Newbery Honor for Gone-Away Lake. Among her other beloved titles are her books about the Melendy family, starting with The Saturdays, published in 1941. Enright also wrote short stories for adults, and her work was published in The New Yorker, The Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, The Yale Review, Harper's, and The Saturday Evening Post. She taught creative writing at Barnard College. Translated into many languages throughout the world, Elizabeth Enright's stories are for both the young and the young at heart.
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