The next morning, Mariah and Jemima were up early. They brought tea and scones and jam to Jonas while he still lay in bed. Mariah knew immediately that her husband had hardly slept at all. She left the tray on the table next to the bed and told him to take his time getting up. She and Jemima would be busy packing for a couple of hours.
Jonas took a sip of tea and it was enough for him to feel hunger. He focused on the warm scones and strawberry jam, filling his mind with bits and pieces of information, crowding out any thoughts about the house. When he finished, he dressed and went downstairs. He busied himself with bringing the car around to the front door and making room in the trunk for Jemima’s bags.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. There had been a hard freeze the night before and the snow-covered yard was capped with a layer of ice. Jonas walked down to the fence bordering the yard, wanting to get as far away from the house as he could while still being in earshot of Mariah and Jemima. He felt that they had no choice. He and Mariah would have to find another place to live. He was not at all convinced that the house would not engage in more mischief, for he was firmly convinced that the house had frightened Jemima with an image of her dead sister.
He didn’t know where they would go. There weren’t any houses currently vacant in Constance, but he didn’t want to wait too long. And he didn’t know how he would tell Mariah or how much he could tell her. He thought she loved the house and couldn’t imagine her being willing to leave it without a lengthy discussion. They could build their own house, he thought. Something modest, perhaps, and more within their means. Eventually, this house would be too expensive for them to live in, especially if they have children. Perhaps that would be his argument. Make it financial, he thought. Convince Mariah that we might run out of money, that the house is becoming too expensive. This is their first winter in the house and keeping it well-heated has cost more than they originally anticipated.
“Yes,” he said out loud. “She would accept that.” Convinced of his plan, Jonas jogged back up to the house to see if Mariah and Jemima were ready.
The house watched as Jonas approached. What a pity, it thought. Perhaps Jonas did not appreciate the house as much as it had thought he had. Definitely not as much as the Kindfellows had. They had loved the house, especially the children. Oh, how much it wanted to have little children running through it again. But if the Buckthorns left, there would be no children. No laughter, no love. Jonas would let the house rot.
And what about Mariah, beautiful Mariah who looked so much like Mrs. Kindfellow? Wouldn’t she want to stay in the house forever, tending the gardens just as Mrs. Kindfellow had done? But, no, the house learned. Mariah too was feeling uncomfortable. The house had eavesdropped on Mariah and Jemima while Jonas was busy keeping his thoughts hidden.
For Jemima’s sake, Mariah had assumed a festive air as they sorted through the girl’s clothes and carefully packed them.
“Your mother, I dare say, will be the happiest of all to see you arrive at their door,” Mariah said gleefully. “Don’t you agree?”
Jemima laughed, her high spirits of the previous day, before Hannah’s visit, returning to her. Mariah only half listened to Jemima’s playful response. Another part of her was worrying over how she would tell Jonas that she no longer felt comfortable in the house. There was something terribly odd about it. Too many strange things happened, not the least of which was her husband’s talking to himself. That worried her most and she was convinced that for his sake they should leave, sell the house to another family as Jonas had originally planned.
The house sighed and both Mariah and Jemima froze and looked at each other. They had both heard the sigh but saw that it came from neither of them. They looked out the window and saw Jonas jogging up the path and on into the house. They heard the front door close and then the deadbolt fell into place. Mariah frowned. Jonas only secured the deadbolt at night, and they were getting ready to leave.
Jemima stood staring at Mariah, wondering why suddenly everything felt so strange. She was filled with a sense of dread and all she could imagine was that Hannah was back. She began to cower as Mariah zipped up Jemima’s bags, Mariah apparently not aware of the girl’s change in spirit.
“Here, Jemima, could you carry that small bag and I’ll get these two,” Mariah asked gently. “Jonas must be waiting for us downstairs.” Jemima picked up the small bag without saying a word and followed closely behind Mariah, wishing she could grabbed onto Mariah’s skirt the way she used to grabbed onto her mother’s when she was much younger.
As they reached the landing on the second floor, they both heard a faint rush of air and then a thud as something very heavy dropped on the floor below them.
“Jonas,” Mariah called out. “Jonas, can you help us?” She knew she was calling out in vain. Somehow she knew that something terrible had just happened. She heard Jemima begin to sob behind her and she leaned into the girl, setting down the bags so she could clutch Jemima to her chest. They huddled on the stairs, their faces hidden in each other’s arms, softly sobbing. They heard the heavy, slow footsteps. They heard the ragged breathing of a man as he moved toward them. They heard a swoosh as if an axe had just sliced through the air.