When they take a trip, Millie and her mother must stay with surly, strict Mr. Vinden
Mr. Vinden didn’t enjoy houseguests. Mr. Vinden didn’t like people in general—but houseguests were particularly bad. Today was one of the dreaded days that he would have a houseguest. Actually, he would have two: Mrs. Perdy and her daughter, Mildred. He had never met them, but they were friends of his cousin and needed a place to stay. They sounded awful.
No more than a week, he thought bitterly. If this woman tries to stay for any longer than a week, I won’t have it.
He looked around the dusty bedrooms that his guests would be staying in.
“This better do,” Mr. Vinden muttered, throwing some extra pillows onto the bed and brushing some of the accumulated grime off the nightstand with his forearm.
“Where’s Ms. Amalie when we need her?” He was, of course, referring to his old maid, who had been working for him since he was a teenager.
After making the bedroom look acceptable, he grabbed a hat and got his horses ready for the trip to the train station, which was a mere three miles away.
Mr. Vinden was hardly ever seen by his neighbors, as he never left the house. Because of this, he found himself at the center of attention when he reached the town.
Mr. Vinden hated attention from what he called “lower folks” almost as much as he hated houseguests— which was to say, he hated it very much. However, while he wasn’t very agreeable, he was very precise, so he arrived at the train station mere minutes before Mrs. Perdy’s train was to arrive.
She was stern-faced, in a prim, purple dress. Her daughter, on the other hand, always seemed to have a smile on her face and was dressed in a very simple blue dress that Mr. Vinden thought was very unsuitable.
“You must be Mr. Vinden!” Mrs. Perdy called, her shrill voice causing a few heads to turn toward them. “My daughter and I have been wanting to meet you for quite a time, haven’t we, Mildred?”
Mrs. Perdy said this last bit with a tone that seemed to say, “I know I posed this as a question, but you had better answer it right, missy.”
“Yes, Mother,” Mildred replied, her voice hardly above a whisper. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Vinden.”
Mr. Vinden could already tell he didn’t like them. For one thing, he tended to avoid anybody who attracted unnecessary attention toward him. Mrs. Perdy seemed to do exactly that.
He wasn’t sure about the girl yet: the ugly dress could have been the mother’s choice, and besides this, he hadn’t interacted with children of that age in a long time, so maybe this was one of the good ones. If “good ones” even existed, that is.
“Ah yes, Mrs. Perdy. Mildred, it is nice to be of your acquaintance.” Mr. Vinden’s mouth stayed in one straight line even as he said this.
“Right this way.” And Mr. Vinden, though this was the polite thing to do at the time, did not offer to help Mrs. Perdy and Mildred carry their luggage or get into the rather high carriage.
Mrs. Perdy whispered something in Mildred’s ear as they settled into the carriage. When Mr. Vinden glanced back at them, Mildred was nodding, a sad look on her face. Mr. Vinden’s tight face softened a little. As much as he disliked people, he wanted people to be pleased with him.
By the time Mr. Vinden pulled his carriage into the rocky driveway and asked his servant to put the horses away in the stable, the sky had turned a soft, pinky color.
“Dinner is at seven. I assume you want a tour?” Mr. Vinden’s face was back in a tight line, unexpressive and plain.
“Yes, Mr. Vinden. That would be lovely,” Mrs. Perdy answered, dipping into a rather forced curtsy and motioning to Mildred to do the same. Hers was even more forced, and her eyes were wandering everywhere, taking in the new scenery. Her eyes paused at the great willow tree, with its soft blossoms and gently woven branches.
“Your house is lovely, Mr. Vinden,” Mildred murmured, which, Mr. Vinden realized, was the first time that Mildred had addressed him without being ordered by her mother.
“Thank you, Mildred,” Mr. Vinden replied curtly, without smiling.
“And I prefer to be called Millie, if you don’t mind, sir.” She didn’t say it in an unkind way; however, Mr. Vinden’s face still grew sourer.
“Very well then, Mrs. and Miss Perdy. Right this way is the dining hall, and to your left is the parlor. You will find other living rooms off of that one, and the kitchen is to the left of the dining hall.” Mr. Vinden made no effort to walk into each room; instead, he pointed at them with an air of great disinterest. Mrs. Perdy smiled just the same, but when Mr. Vinden turned away, he thought he saw Mildred frowning.
Millie didn’t like Mr. Vinden. That was strange as Millie disliked very few things. She was overall a very agreeable child; however, she sometimes had a hard time being as polite as most other girls her age.
Besides this, she always found her mind somewhere far, far away from where she was in reality. She longed to be outdoors, away from everybody and everything that might make a fuss over something.
“Millie, come on. We’re going up to our rooms to get changed for dinner,” her mother whispered, squeezing her shoulder before leading her up the great marble staircase.
“Mother, I don’t like it here,” Millie whispered as she followed her mother upstairs. “Mr. Vinden is so rude, and I just want to go home!”
She sighed and wiped dust from the banister. Seriously, does this man ever dust?
“Now Millie, dear. Don’t be like that. I’m sure Mr. Vinden will be a very fine man once we get to know him.”
The way she worded it made Millie wonder if, deep down, her mother agreed with her.
Besides the dust and cold Mr. Vinden, the house really was gorgeous. It had beautiful oil paintings and soft woven rugs in every room, and the furniture, while out of date, was quite pretty.
Millie’s mother showed her to her room, then hurried off to get changed herself.
Millie’s room was quite simple, with just three pieces of furniture. However, the bed looked comfy and the desk had a fancy mirror above it. Millie’s house only had one mirror, and it was in her mother’s room, so she hardly got to look at herself in it.
“Cool! It has a window seat!” Millie exclaimed, running over to sit on it.
“Wait . . . I don’t remember this bay window from the tour!”
Millie was sure she would remember if she had seen it, as there was a beautiful cherry blossom tree outside, and falling blossoms made the scene look like a painting—too pretty and perfect to be real.
Millie quickly changed into one of her fanciest dresses. As I mentioned before, Millie is overall an agreeable person, but another thing she disliked was fancy dresses. The poofy skirts made it nearly impossible to run around. Though, even if they weren’t poofy, Millie probably wouldn’t be allowed to run and play in them anyway.
“Ready, darling?” came her mother’s voice.
“Yes, Mother!” Millie finished buttoning the pink dress and flounced out to her mother, who, in Millie’s opinion, looked especially pretty in her pale green, very fitted dress.
“Let’s go!” Millie’s mom took her hand and led her down the steps.
Mr. Vinden’s grandfather clock struck five. His guests still weren’t downstairs yet. Mr. Vinden despised people being late, especially to Sunday dinner. He glanced at his pocket watch to make sure his clock was showing the right time: 5:01. His guests were definitely late. Just then, Mildred, with a flushed face and wrinkled dress, came sprinting down the hall.
“Sorry we’re late, Mr. Vinden!” She curtsied and, following Mr. Vinden’s wrinkled nose, slid into an empty seat. “Mother will be down in a minute— she’s just slow.”
Mr. Vinden, who certainly didn’t approve of Mildred talking poorly of her mother, simply nodded and stated, “Yes, I’m sure you had your reasons.”
Mildred squirmed uncomfortably in her pink dress and clacked her shoes against the chair, making a very annoying sound.
According to her (and most other people in this town), Mr. Vinden was a devil who deserved loud, clomping feet and children poking fun at him.
“Stop that!” Mr. Vinden didn’t mean to be sharp (well, actually he did, but in his head he thought of himself as an agreeable person) but this was too much.
A few minutes later, Mildred’s mother gracefully came into the room, giving a light curtsy before taking her seat. “Good evening, Mr. Vinden.”
Mr. Vinden noticed she didn’t mention or apologize for being late, which he found appalling.
Before long, Ms. Amalie, along with a handful of other servants, brought out a large turkey and butternut soup.
“Mr. Vinden,” Mildred said, before letting him enjoy his dinner, “do you have a library?” She put down her fork and looked at Mr. Vinden, her eyes shining.
“Yes, Mildred. Of course I have a library. It is in the basement. Now sit down and eat your dinner.”
If Mildred found it strange that the library was in the basement, she didn’t say. She did something resembling an eye roll and ate her dinner.
“Well, am I allowed to read there? I have an assignment due for school.”
“Yes, Mildred. Just don’t touch anything from my back-left wall. That is my special collection.”
“This dinner is delectable, Mr. Vinden,” Mrs. Perdy complimented after a long, awkward silence. Her eyes sparkled in a way that was very similar to her daughter.
“Thank you,” Mr. Vinden answered, forcing his face muscles to scratch into a tight, painful smile. Judging by Mildred’s snort, he ended up looking like something between a demon and a businessman who had just come across something disgusting.
“Don’t laugh at me, young lady. Children such as you should hardly be allowed to sit at the dinner table, much less poke fun at the other people at it.”
Mildred looked noticeably stunned by the words for a second, then bounced back to her normal self.
“May I be excused from the table?” Mildred asked, setting down her napkin.
Worried that she might start with that dreadful kicking again, Mr. Vinden let her go.
Millie raced back upstairs, her shoes making loud clomping noises on every step. She didn’t care that the entire house could probably hear her. According to her (and most other people in this town), Mr. Vinden was a devil who deserved loud, clomping feet and children poking fun at him.
Once she had successfully stomped all the way up the stairs, she kicked over a flower pot and slammed the door to her room behind her.
Then, after thinking for a moment, she realized that the nice-looking Ms. Amalie would probably be the one who had to clean the flower pot up. So, she got up, fixed the flower pot, and slammed her door shut again.
She heard her mother’s forced laughter from downstairs. Millie knew this wasn’t her real laugh—her real laugh made birds sing and grumpy old racoons happy. This one sounded more like she was choking.
Millie put on her nightclothes and flopped onto her bed, wondering if Mr. Vinden had anything for kids to do. Judging by his attitude toward her, Millie decided he most likely didn’t.
Millie tried to be good and stay in her room—she really did. The sun was starting to set, but it wasn’t dark outside yet. A storm was approaching, and the wind was howling outside.
Millie loved storms. She loved the way the wind rustled the trees, making it seem as though they were whispering secrets to each other. She loved the way the rain went pitter-patter against the windows like a beating drum. She loved the way the birds perked up right before the storm, then settled down. The anticipation took some of the sting out of Millie’s situation. She disliked Mr. Vinden and his creaky old house, but at least she had the storm and her mother.
The first loud strike of thunder rattled the house, and Millie bounced up, a smile lighting up her young face.
She put on her ballet flats and opened the creaky old door. Surely nobody expected her to stay put at such an exciting time, right?
Mr. Vinden flopped into his favorite armchair in his library and massaged his face, which was exhausted from having to smile for Mrs. Perdy for so long. Mr. Vinden deeply despised chatterboxes. I mean honestly, did they ever stop talking?
He put on his glasses and picked up a book from the bookshelf closest to him. One thing to know about Mr. Vinden was that he read while sitting perfectly straight—not at all in a way that normal people could ever be comfortable.
Mr. Vinden waited until the scurrying footsteps and screeching chairs from the servants had died down upstairs. He then put down the boring book he was reading and went over to his special collection of books.
Careful not to disturb the books next to it, Mr. Vinden took the book he was reading off the shelf. He sat back in his armchair and slowly opened the book. He tapped the spine three times, flipped to page 657, tapped a word, then finally flipped to the page he was on and began to read.
Millie crept downstairs and into the basement, where Mr. Vinden said the library was. While she didn’t see the appeal of having a library in the basement, Mr. Vinden seemed to do things a little differently.
She crept into the room and froze when she saw Mr. Vinden’s familiar tall figure sitting perfectly straight with his back to her.
“Phew,” Millie breathed, tiptoeing behind a bookshelf. She was glad she had thought to wear her ballet slippers—though it wasn’t good for them to be doing so much walking, they kept her footsteps quiet.
Millie hoped Mr. Vinden didn’t come back to where she was hiding as she crouched down. She hugged her knees and watched a spider crawl up the wall. She didn’t even know why she was still there.
Actually—she knew exactly why she was there. She wanted to see why Mr. Vinden hadn’t wanted her reading from his “special collection.” I mean, as long as she was careful to cover her tracks, nobody would even know she was there. What was the worst that could happen? It was just a couple of books.
Millie dozed off for a bit, and when she woke up, Mr. Vinden was gone. She crept out of her hiding place and dusted off her knees. For some reason, even though nobody could see her, Millie was terrified that somebody would jump out and scare her, like the mean kids had done in her school back home.
She walked over to the shelf labeled “Special collection—personal property! Do not touch!” and picked out a book that had a garden-vine design on the spine. The wind howled outside, and for some reason, instead of making Millie feel homey and comfortable, it made her nervous. It seemed to howl warnings and fear, telling stories of troubles and suffering. Overall, it gave Millie a prickle on her neck that she couldn’t get to go away.
At first, she took the book and brought it to Mr. Vinden’s armchair. But that was lumpy in strange places since he was so tall. So instead she simply sat on the floor. She opened up the book to the first chapter and began to read. However, she was only a few sentences in when a large green vine, just like the one on the cover, came out and snapped at her!
Millie screamed and threw the book across the room, jumping into Mr. Vinden’s lumpy armchair. She hid behind the pillow as the vine grew longer, wrapping around bookshelves in an attempt to reach her.
The vine slithered like a snake over to Millie, faster than any human could ever move. She realized right then that she had no chance of escaping it. So, crouching behind that pillow on the armchair in mean old Mr. Vinden’s library, Millie let the vines wrap around her and slowly take her away.