On Fridays, I think it makes sense to go somewhere different, don’t you?
I’ll tell you what we were doing on a Friday, sitting around our room. I was sitting on my bed, Emma and Mouse were sitting on Mouse’s bed, and Matilda was pacing. Door to window, window to door. She was starting to make me dizzy.
“I tell you, she’s not Aunt Matilda. She’s just not.”
“Well, then who do you think she is?” asked Emma, in the voice of someone who does not believe what she has just been told, but is trying to be conciliatory.
“I have no idea. But she’s not right.”
“Because you think Aunt Matilda is an ogre, and she was nice to you,” I said.
“No, it’s not just that.” Matilda was clenching her fists, and I think we could all see that she was getting frustrated. I get frustrated when people don’t believe me too. She stopped pacing and perched on the edge of her bed. “Listen. So you know that I have to go eat dinner with Aunt Matilda once a week. Otherwise, she wouldn’t pay my tuition. Right?”
“So I go have dinner with her. It’s a big house, the biggest house I’ve ever seen. A butler opens the door. He looks all right, all butler-y. I mean, he takes my coat and calls me Miss Matilda. And then I go into this room, sort of like a living room and sort of like a museum, and there’s Aunt Matilda, sitting on the sofa. And she gets up and kisses me.”
“Maybe she’s decided she’s sorry for how she treated your father,” said Mouse.
Matilda gave her a look of withering scorn. “Yeah, right. This is Aunt Matilda we’re talking about. You should read some of the things she said in her letter to Mom. I don’t think she’s been sorry about anything in her life.”
Emma said, “I have to agree with Tilda. I mean, I met her at my twelfth birthday party and I still have nightmares about her.”
“Right,” said Matilda. “So there’s this woman, sitting on the sofa, being all sweet and telling me how welcome I am in her house, and how I should come over anytime, even though Aunt Matilda said specifically that she only wanted to see me once a week. And then we have dinner, with the butler serving, and she keeps telling me to try things, and that we’re going to get to know each other so well. And the one thing I keep thinking is: this isn’t Aunt Matilda. It can’t be.”
“Just because she was nice?” said Mouse.
“No, not just that. Because she was – I don’t know how to say it. She wasn’t strong. You know, she didn’t sit in her chair, or walk around, like she owned the world. I mean, that’s what the Tillinghasts are like, right? Sort of like the Gaunts. No offense,” said Matilda, looking in Emma’s direction.
“Did she look like her?” I asked.
“Sure, she looked exactly like her. Exactly like the portrait in the library.” The Tillinghasts had donated the money for the school library, and a large portrait of Matilda’s aunt hung there. The older students would try to scare the younger ones with stories about how it walked at night. “But she’s a witch. Probably half the people she knows are witches. Couldn’t one of them be imitating her?”
“But why?” asked Emma.
“I don’t know,” said Matilda. “That’s what we have to figure out.”
“Then I guess we have to,” said Mouse. “If we sneak out tonight, we can go to Tillinghast House. It’s not that far. Tilda, do you know how to get in?”
We all stared at Mouse. She had been the good one, the one we were sure was going to do so well at Miss Lavender’s. And now she was the first one to propose sneaking out.
“Well,” she said, looking at us, “we can’t just let someone imitate Tilda’s aunt. If someone’s stolen her identity, where is she? I know Tilda doesn’t like her, but we still have to go rescue her. She’s family.”
“I stole the key to the kitchen door,” said Matilda.
We looked around each other. We had not yet been at Miss Lavender’s a week, and we were already planning to sneak out and break into someone else’s house.
“We’re not going to be the ones who graduate with honors, are we?” I said.
“I don’t think we were going to be those ones anyway,” said Matilda.
We heard the bell for dinner. “Let’s go,” I said. “Put some rolls in your pockets, and cheese if you can get some, so we’ll have supplies for later. No talking about this at dinner, but once we get back, we’ll need to get ready. Flashlights, warm clothes.”
“I can’t believe we’re going to do this,” said Emma.
And to be honest, I couldn’t believe it either. But what do you expect, when you put a Graves, a Gaunt, a Tillinghast, and a Sitgreaves together in one room? Trouble, that’s what. Mrs. Moth should have known that. Or maybe she did.