|"Melanie was about halfway through the opening when her
sensitive fingers felt a sensation they ought not have: grass..."
" . . . And it is with great pleasure that I am able to present to you the Graduating Class of 1949!"
A rousing cheer went up from the crowd. A great weight seemed to drop from Peter's shoulders as he stood after that long ceremony. He grinned hugely as he looked behind him for his family and saw Melanie jumping, clapping, and waving for him.
How much she had changed from the pale, pathetic, terrified creature they first met! She had become a regular part of his life as easily as a coat-rack.
And as silent as one, too, Peter thought to himself.
He was not five paces away when Melanie, unable to contain herself, ran forward and threw her arms around Peter. He laughed and returned the hug, his long robe fairly swallowing the petite girl. Lucy joined her at Peter's side, then Edmund, and soon the whole family gathered in a congratulatory group hug. When it was over, Mr. Pevensie took the opportunity to congratulate his son in a more masculine manner—a handshake. "I'm proud of you, Peter."
Peter nodded, "Thank you, sir."
By this time, the rest of the family was on the way back to the auto. "Hurry up!" Lucy called over her shoulder, "Maybe we can reach Demark Hill in time to see Susan!"
Susan! Peter felt a tug at his heart. For six long years after her absolute denial of Narnia, Susan spent an increasing amount of time with fellow student Benton Northwyn. Peter tried once to confront him on his impropriety with Susan, but the arrogant, knowledgeable young man had reassured him at first, but then defended his actions, and at the last discussion, Benton had turned downright patronizing! Susan, of course, did not appreciate this "interference," when she heard of it, and felt free and independent to confront Peter about it.
Ever since that day when she defined maturity as rejecting Narnia, she had become very fixated with everything else "grown-up": parties, shopping, lipstick, and boys. Poor, temporally minded Susan! Even Lucy, her one-time confidant, was not fully aware of the circumstances, only that she rarely heard two words from her sister any more.
The Pevensies arrived at Demark Hill just as the principal ended his speech. Melanie's quick eyes saw Susan first, and she grabbed Edmund's arm and pointed.
"There!" he cried for everyone else's benefit. They all began waving and cheering.
She didn't appear to even notice them, though Peter saw her glance their direction and deliberately turn away.
"Who is that boy?" Mrs. Pevensie asked, as they saw her smile and run to catch the arm of a tall, dark-haired young man.
Peter sighed. "Benton Northwyn," he answered his mother, "he's a school-mate."
His mother noted her son's face and raised an eyebrow. "Ah, I see."
A small noise at Peter's side caused him to look down. Lucy was making a valiant effort not to cry. "She didn't see us," the young girl murmured, "she didn't even notice us." Peter put an arm around his little sister. She looked up at him, her eyes brimming with tears.
"Peter, will she ever come back?"
Peter knew Lucy meant "back to the house," but it struck him how that question could mean—on a deeper level—"back to the family."
The quadrangle stood bare now. Peter sighed again, "I don't know, Lu."
The deaf girl quivered with excitement as she ascended to the second floor, down the short, narrow hall, and up a tiny, narrow flight of stairs to the attic.
The attic at Ketterley House proved to be a place not often frequented by anyone other than mice, rats, and spiders. A thick grey mantle of dust covered everything, thus making the few objects in the room nearly indistinguishable from their surroundings.
The beam from the torch reflected on something, and Melanie froze. A shiny black spider nearly as big as her palm cowered in its web right in front of her face. When she shined the light on it, the spider immediately crawled away, leaving Melanie to destroy its web and proceed in peace. She crept forward cautiously, her head just an inch from the low ceiling.
In the near back corner she saw a flat, square object with the merest hint of checkers underneath he dust. Gently, Melanie brushed away the dust to reveal a chessboard with a burlap bag (presumably containing the chess pieces) atop it. Melanie picked up the bag and hung the drawstring around her wrist. Carefully, she moved to pull the chessboard out of its place.
Too late she noticed the stack of hatboxes resting on one corner of the board. The whole tower teetered and collapsed all around her. Melanie dropped the torch and the bag and covered her head with her hands.
When all was finally still, Melanie looked to where she dropped the torch. It occurred to her that the beam now pointed to an odd variation in the wall where once stood the stack of boxes.
Melanie's scalp prickled with curiosity. She cautiously made her way into the corner, chess game forgotten, and pressed on the variance. She felt it give slightly. Encouraged, she felt around the edge until she found a board that protruded enough to pry back with her fingertips. The whole section scraped outward like a small door.
Melanie nearly had to curl into a ball to fit through the opening. She crept through the door and into a dark tunnel. Only then did she remember the flashlight, but there was not enough room in the tunnel to turn around for it, so she had no choice but to proceed without it. In the pitch-darkness she could see a small patch of light ahead, so she fixed on that and crawled forward one step at a time. Melanie noticed that the tunnel was strangely clean when compared to the dust and cobwebs in the attic, but before she had time to wonder about this, she reached the patch of light. It was shorter than she originally assumed, but by sliding down onto her face, she could slither through the opening.
Melanie was about halfway through the opening, when her sensitive fingers felt a sensation they ought not have: grass. Warily, she continued forward until she was fully outside the opening.
She slowly made her way to her feet and looked around. She turned back to the opening she had recently exited.
"A tree," she remarked—and heard herself say it!
Melanie grinned. Tree or no tree, she knew only one place she had ever been where she could hear and speak.
Lady Melanie had returned to Telmar.
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