The Heavenly Tenants

The Heavenly Tenants


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"This is a lovely introduction to the constellations of the zodiac for children, and readers of all ages will be enthralled by the evocative scratchboard illustrations. The Dover production is a high-quality hardcover on heavy, slightly glossy paper, a beautiful book to treasure for many years." — The Emerald City Book Review
The Marvell family is on the move, driving from their Wisconsin farm to visit the children's grandmother in Virginia. The night before their departure, Mr. Marvell talks to Roger, Heather, and the twins about the wonders of the night sky and explains the zodiac — a beautiful trail traveled by the sun in the daytime and by the moon and planets at night. The pathway's 12 sections, called the "signs" of the zodiac, contain clusters of stars. Long ago shepherds and sailors identified the clusters with characters from mythology, and so the heavens became filled with gods and heroes, hunters, ploughmen, and archers as well as birds, bears, farm animals, and monsters.
Upon the family's arrival in Virginia, Mr. Marvell sets up his telescope but he can't find the Crab —it has disappeared from the sky! Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, a strange light emanates from the Marvells' house, illuminating every board, windowpane, shingle, brick, and stone. What could be causing it?
A Newbery Honor book of 1947, this extraordinary tale by a noted American author is gloriously illustrated with woodcut-style scratchboard graphics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486815299
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 09/13/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 64
Product dimensions: 7.20(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 6 - 10 Years

About the Author

Best known for his roles as an editor at The New Yorker and as a friend and mentor to many prominent authors of his era, William Maxwell (1908–2000) was also a novelist, short story writer, essayist, and author of children's books.
Budapest-born Ilonka Karasz (1896–1981) emigrated to the United States in 1913. Inspired by both folk and modern art, she was an innovator in textile design and production, and in the course of six decades she created 186 covers for The New Yorker.

Read an Excerpt


All the Marvells except Heather were packing. She sat three-quarters of the way up the stairs and whoever went up or came down had to step over her.

"With the whole house to choose from," her mother said to her, "why do you have to settle down where you're in everybody's way?"

The Marvells were going to Virginia to visit the children's grandmother. They were leaving early the next morning and there was so much to be done still that Mrs. Marvell, who had been going up and down stairs all afternoon, was almost beside herself. Heather leaned against the wall, so her mother could get past. Later she had to lean again, when her mother came down, but she didn't give up an inch of room. Heather was eight, and the stairs was the place she came to when she had something on her mind.

There were only a few banks of snow left outside. The country was beginning to have a faint greenness. Two deer stepped across the road, fifty feet from the farmhouse. Roger Marvell looked out of the window and saw them go down into the deep woods. His heart stopped beating for a second, but he didn't say anything to the others about what he had seen. Roger was eleven and he wore long brown corduroy pants that whistled as he walked through the house gathering up his baseball glove, his parchesi set, his Chinese checkers, and the materials he needed for making model airplanes.

Tom and Tim were sitting on the floor in the parlor cutting pictures out of old Sears catalogues. Nobody expected them to do any packing. Tom and Tim were only five. When the telephone rang, two long and five short, Mrs. Marvell came in from the kitchen with an armful of shirts which she had ¡ust finished ironing and said, "Was that our ring?"

"It was the Hickathiers'," Tim said.

Mrs. Marvell put the shirts on a chair and took the receiver off the hook. She stood listening for a long time and finally she said, "I use brown sugar and a cup of raisins and a cup of sour cream ... Yes ... That's right, Mae ... You're welcome. I'm sure." Then she put the receiver back on the hook, picked up the shirts, and said, "Heather dear, are your clothes in your little straw suitcase?" When Heather shook her head Mrs. Marvell said, "Well please get them ready. Don't let me have to speak to you again about it," and went on up to Roger's room.

"For pity sakes," she exclaimed. "You've filled your suitcase so full of toys there isn't room for anything else, Roger."

"But I need them all," Roger said.

"You need shirts and underwear too," Mrs. Marvell said, "and you certainly can get along without the World Almanac. Empty your suitcase out on the bed and let's start all over again."

The twins got tired of cutting out stoves and refrigerators, and ran off to play, but Heather lingered all by herself on the stairs, until a voice called her. It was her father's voice, the only one in the family that Heather always heard, no matter where her mind was.

"I was just going to," she said.

When she didn't move, Mr. Marvell said, coaxing, "We could feed the goslings together."

Heather got up reluctantly and came down the stairs. "Papa, when I grow up," she said, "I want to come here and I want everything to be the way it is now. I don't want anything to change."

"I don't either," Mr. Marvell said. "Change is worse than a toothache. I don't even like the weather to change but it does, every day. Everything is bound to change, it seems like. Even you children. When you grow up you won't be a little girl any more and that's a big change."

"The more I change," Heather said thoughtfully, "the more I'm like me."

"Well," Mr. Marvell said, "when you come home, the house will be here where it is now, and the barn will be right across the road. The fields may have different things growing in them but they'll still be the same fields, and the trout stream will always be running through the marsh, so you'll know your way around, Heather, even if you've been away a long time. And besides, every once in a while a little change is a good thing, especially for people who don't like change." His arm rested on her shoulder for a moment and then he said, "Put your coat on and we'll go tend to your goslings."

After they had fed the goslings they paid a visit to the barn, then to the pump house, where Mr. Marvell let the gasoline engine run until water from the stream spilled over the top of the tank half way up the hill. Then they walked slowly across the lawn to the edge of the alfalfa field. Roger joined them there, and a few minutes later, Tom and Tim managed to slip outdoors when their mother wasn't looking.

It was almost dark. The trees were still bare, although it was the middle of April, and the frost was not entirely out of the ground. Down in the marsh one old bullfrog and a chorus of peepers announced the coming of spring. The children leaned against the horse-and-rider fence with their faces lifted to the sky.

Mr. Marvell lit his pipe and said, "It's not growing weather but it's a fine night for stars."

The farm was like a big house to him, with the sky for a roof. He was ¡ust as comfortable outdoors as he was in. He worked all day in the fields, like his neighbors, and he looked like the other farmers in the neighborhood when he stood around with them at church suppers, discussing the weather and the crops, but he was not like them. So far as the other farmers were concerned, there was only one good way of doing things and that was the way they had always been done, as far back as anybody could remember. Mr. Marvell was always discovering something new, always trying something out. He would read a book about how to raise vegetables chemically in water and before long one whole room in the basement would be full of glass tanks with hairy-rooted plants in them that produced big green leaves and eventually turned out to be beets or carrots or tomato vines. Or he would decide that he wanted to know more about cloud formations and would use words like cirro-cumulus and cumulo-nimbus and alto-stratus at the dinner table until Mrs. Marvell begged him to talk English. Recently he had become absorbed in the study of the stars, and on this night there were so many thousands of them that the children had trouble locating even the constellations they knew, like the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia's Chair. For a game they tried to find some star that their father didn't know the name of.

"What's that big red one?" Roger asked, pointing.

"That's Aldebaran, Roger. Aldebaran is part of the Bull, and the Bull is one of the constellations of the zodiac."

"What's a zodiac?" Tim asked.

"Heather," Mr. Marvell said, "tell Tim what the zodiac is."

"I don't think I really know," Heather said.

"I know," Roger said, "but I ¡ust can't say it."

"The zodiac is a beautiful broad region in the sky," Mr. Marvell said, "a pathway that the sun travels in the daytime and the moon and the planets at night. The pathway is divided into twelve sections called the 'signs' of the zodiac, and each 'sign' has a cluster of stars in it. A long time ago shepherds minding their flocks at night and sailors standing the nightwatch on the deck of their ships began to notice that the heavens were filled with gods and heroes, huntsmen, ploughmen, and archers. The longer they looked at the sky, the more they discovered — birds, bears, farm animals and implements, every kind of monster you can think of. See the two stars that are the tips of the Bull's horns? And almost overhead is the Lion. Over there are the Twins."

"What are their names?" Tom asked.

"Castor and Pollux," Mr. Marvell said. "And there's a crab, Roger, like the crab you caught when we were at the seashore."

"I remember," Tim said.

"You were too small," Heather said. "You were only a baby."

"I remember it," Tim insisted. "I remember it perfectly."

"He doesn't remember the crab Roger caught when he was only a baby, does he, Papa?"

"Why not?" Mr. Marvell said. "To people who lived in ancient times that cluster of stars to the east of it looked like a little girl. Virgo, it's called. The Bull, the Twins, the Crab, the Lion, and the Little Girl all lie in the pathway of the zodiac, and if you stayed up all night —"

"Mother won't let us," Heather said. "I've asked her to, lots of times."

"I know," Mr. Marvell said, "but if she allow you to stay up all night tonight, you'd see more of the pathway. You'd see the Scales, and then the Scorpion, and then the Archer, and along about daylight you'd see the Goat. There are three more — the Water Carrier, the Fish, and the Ram — but you can't see them at this time of year. As the earth turns, the constellations of the zodiac rise and move westward across the sky and set. And every night of our lives they are a little west of where they were the night before at the same hour, so the sky is always changing with changing seasons."

"I think I see the Crab," Roger exclaimed.

"Where?" Heather demanded. "Where do you see any crab?" She couldn't bear to have Roger get ahead of her.

"Right there," he said, pointing.

"Yes," Mr. Marvell said. "That's the Crab all right. Big fellow, isn't he?"

"How big?" Tom asked. "Big as our barn?"

"Bigger," Mr. Marvell said.

"I see it," Heather said at last.

"And I see your mother coming," Mr. Marvell said.

In order to make the last suitcase close, Mrs. Marvell had had to sit down on the lid. Now, with a shawl over her head, she had come outdoors to be with the others. Mrs. Marvell had no luck with the stars. She couldn't even find the Big Dipper. Tom and Tim pointed it out to her, night after night, but she never had any idea where to look for it the next time. This didn't worry her because she could find a four-leaf clover whenever she wanted to. All she had to do was kneel down and run her fingers through the grass.

"Isn't it about time —" she began.

Roger, Heather, Tom and Tim groaned.

"Very well," Mrs. Marvell said, and let them hunt through the woods and fields of heaven a few minutes longer before she herded them indoors to bed.

The downstairs lights went out in the farmhouse, and shortly afterwards the lights upstairs, as Mrs. Marvell made her way from room to room, tucking the covers about her children and leaving them in darkness. Tom and Tim were already asleep and dreaming of refrigerators when she bent over them. She left the door of their room open so she could hear if they wakened and called to her in the night. She took Roger's book away from him and put an extra cover on the foot of Heather's bed and said, "Sleep well." She and her husband talked for a little while in their big old-fashioned walnut bed, and then they, too, abandoned whatever hopes and plans they had had for this April day and surrendered themselves to sleep.

In the barn the cattle slept in their stalls with their legs tucked under them, and the two work horses slept standing. The geese and the hens had long since found a place for the night, on roost or rafter, and the dog dozed in his house, with his head on his front paws and one eye open. Two miles away the lights of Briggsville began to go out. And then the lights in cities and towns, which to people in airplanes flying over them looked like circles and crosses and strings of beautiful colored jewels, also went out, leaving a large part of the earth's surface all dark and still.

The clock in the Marvells' kitchen went tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, as the picture book of the stars shifted gradually from East to West, according to the great clock of the universe. The night winds blew, the air grew colder. The Bull, the Twins, the Crab, the Lion, and the Little Girl sank, each one in turn, below the horizon, and their places were taken by the Scales, the Scorpion, the Archer, and the Goat.

Then the Marvells' rooster stretched his neck and crowed, and the constellations faded slowly until the sky was once more a clear, empty, light blue.

When Mrs. Marvell got up and went downstairs to the kitchen, there was no crackling sound in the cookstove. She lifted a stove lid suspiciously and found the ashes of the fire from the night before. At the same moment Mr. Marvell walked into the barn and saw that the cows had not been milked.

August, the Marvells' hired man, was supposed to come up to the house the first thing every morning and build a fire in the cookstove. Then he usually went out to the barn, pitched down some hay for the horses, and started milking. August was a good man with animals and he could also do carpentry, but much of the time he was ailing. If it wasn't his sciatica it was his rheumatism, or his shoulder would be bothering him, or sometimes his knee. There was no telling what he was laid up with now. He lived on the other side of the marsh in a little shack he had built for himself and his wife. He had no telephone and the only way to reach him was to go after him. This morning there wasn't time before they left for the train.

Roger helped his father with the milking and Heather set the table for her mother. She remembered everything but salt and pepper, napkins, butter, and spoons. After breakfast the Marvells sat around with their hats and coats on and waited for August. The kitchen clock ticked louder and louder. Mr. Marvell took the railway tickets out of one pocket and put them for safekeeping back in another. Mrs. Marvell remembered about the kittens shut up in the woodshed and sent Roger out with a saucer of milk for them. In a moment he came running back.

"I see him," Roger cried. "It's August. He isn't sick after all. He's coming across the marsh."

Mr. Marvell went halfway down the hill to a place where he could look off between the limbs of the oak trees, and from there he saw a small figure plodding along through the dead grasses. He waved and the figure waved back. Mr. Marvell turned then and came up the hill, certain that August realized they were leaving, and would attend to everything.

But Mr. Marvell should have waited a little longer. The figure crossing the marsh reached a fork in the path, and, instead of coming straight on toward the Marvells' farm, turned right. It was not August, after all, but Jim Hickathier, who had been out since daybreak looking for a calf that had strayed.

By that time, though, the Marvells were piling into their station wagon. Mr. Marvell locked all four doors so none of the children could fall out, and then he put his foot on the starter. As the car drove off, Mrs. Marvell had a moment's uneasiness and looked back. She seldom left the place, even to drive in to town for groceries, without wondering if everything was all right and if the house would be there when she got back. This time it didn't occur to her that they might be leaving the house, the farm, and all the animals for three whole weeks without anybody to look after them.


When the Marvells got off the train in Virginia it was warm, the grass was bright green, and there was a haze of new leaves over all the trees.

Grandmother Marvell lived out in the country also, in a big white house with a lawn and two tall holly trees in front of it. There was a white fence around the lawn and beyond the fence were fields and pastures. The twins left their shoes and socks on the front doorstep and ran out into the pasture. Heather could not decide whether to pick violets or make a clover chain. In the end she went out to the apple orchard and climbed into a cloud of pink blossoms. Roger built a dam across the brook.

After supper the air was so still that Grandmother Marvell could walk across the lawn with a lighted candle in her hand. She unlatched the door of the smokehouse and held the candle high so the children could see the smoked hams hanging from the rafters, and the big slabs of bacon. When she blew the candle out they ran after lightning bugs and put them in a glass ¡ar. Then they followed each other through the winding box hedges and played hide-and-go-seek round and round the house until they saw their father coming across the lawn with a telescope.

Each of the children had a corner of their grandmother's attic where his toys were kept. Year after year when they arrived in Virginia they could go up to the attic and find all their favorite playthings just where they had left them. There was also a corner full of games and toys that Mr. Marvell had played with when he was a boy, and the telescope belonged in that corner. The children had seen it there often when they went up to the attic for their own things, but this was the first chance they had ever had to use it. While the twins fought over the tripod, Mr. Marvell carried the telescope across the lawn and out into the pasture, where the whippoorwill was. In the pasture they could see the whole sky, but it was too early, and only a few faint stars were visible. Mr. Marvell set the telescope on its tripod and said, "While we're waiting for it to get dark, I'll tell you a story."


Excerpted from "The Heavenly Tenants"
by .
Copyright © 1946 William Maxwell.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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.

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