The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas

The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L'Engle Read Free Book Online

Book: The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L'Engle Read Free Book Online
Authors: Madeleine L'Engle
Fortinbras had arrived on their doorstep, a half-grown puppy, scrawny and abandoned, one winter night. He was, Meg’s father had decided, part Llewellyn setter and part greyhound, and he had a slender, dark beauty that was all his own.
    â€œWhy didn’t you come up to the attic?” Meg asked her brother, speaking as though he were at least her own age. “I’ve been scared stiff.”
    â€œToo windy up in that attic of yours,” the little boy said. “I knew you’d be down. I put some milk on the stove for you. It ought to be hot by now.”
    How did Charles Wallace always know about her? How could he always tell? He never knew—or seemed to care—what Dennys or Sandy were thinking. It was his mother’s mind, and Meg’s, that he probed with frightening accuracy.
    Was it because people were a little afraid of him that they whispered about the Murrys’ youngest child, who was rumored to be not quite bright? “I’ve heard that clever people often have subnormal children,” Meg had once overheard. “The two boys seem to be nice, regular children, but that unattractive girl and the baby boy certainly aren’t all there.”
    It was true that Charles Wallace seldom spoke when anybody was around, so that many people thought he’d never learned to talk. And it was true that he hadn’t talked at all until he was almost four. Meg would turn white with fury when people looked at him and clucked, shaking their heads sadly.
    â€œDon’t worry about Charles Wallace, Meg,” her father had once told her. Meg remembered it very clearly because it was shortly before he went away. “There’s nothing the matter with his mind. He just does things in his own way and in his own time.”
    â€œI don’t want him to grow up to be dumb like me,” Meg had said.
    â€œOh, my darling, you’re not dumb,” her father answered. “You’re like Charles Wallace. Your development has to go at its own pace. It just doesn’t happen to be the usual pace.”
    â€œHow do you know ?” Meg had demanded. “How do you know I’m not dumb? Isn’t it just because you love me?”
    â€œI love you, but that’s not what tells me. Mother and I’ve given you a number of tests, you know.”
    Yes, that was true. Meg had realized that some of the “games” her parents played with her were tests of some kind, and that there had been more for her and Charles Wallace than for the twins. “IQ tests, you mean?”
    â€œYes, some of them.”
    â€œIs my IQ okay?”
    â€œMore than okay.”
    â€œWhat is it?”
    â€œThat I’m not going to tell you. But it assures me that both you and Charles Wallace will be able to do pretty much whatever you like when you grow up to yourselves. You just wait till Charles Wallace starts to talk. You’ll see.”
    How right he had been about that, though he himself had left before Charles Wallace began to speak, suddenly, with none of the usual baby preliminaries, using entire sentences. How proud he would have been!
    â€œYou’d better check the milk,” Charles Wallace said to Meg now, his diction clearer and cleaner than that of most five-year-olds. “You know you don’t like it when it gets a skin on top.”
    â€œYou put in more than twice enough milk.” Meg peered into the saucepan.
    Charles Wallace nodded serenely. “I thought Mother might like some.”
    â€œI might like what?” a voice said, and there was their mother standing in the doorway.
    â€œCocoa,” Charles Wallace said. “Would you like a liverwurst-and-cream-cheese sandwich? I’ll be happy to make you one.”
    â€œThat would be lovely,” Mrs. Murry said, “but I can make it myself if you’re busy.”
    â€œNo trouble at all.” Charles Wallace slid down from his chair and trotted over to the refrigerator,

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