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1. He pointed me toward the opening in the tree.

2. She gasped with excitement and shouted over the noise from the helicopter.

3. In heroes it’s the flaw that most endears


Shellwood House was my home for several years. I should tell you that at once, because it has a bearing on the happenings at Scovill Manor, a few miles away.

I was six when I arrived at Shellwood, orphaned and alone, with only an ancient aunt to claim me. My Aunt Emily took me in because that’s the way things were done in those days. An obligation to family was above all, as Aunt Emily took pains to remind me. She had lived in Shellwood House since she was born some seventy years before. If she ever had friends or lovers, I was not aware of it and, truly, at the time of my residence there I had no need to know.

When I arrived, the house seemed monstrous to me, a huge, dark edifice with dozens of rooms and only Aunt Emily to inhabit them. I found in time that a woman from town came to Shellwood every few days to clean and to carry groceries and supplies, and at regular intervals a silent man appeared with rakes and shovels to keep the garden tidy.

I always knew Aunt Emily had no affection for me, but I was a solitary child by nature, and it pleased me well enough to be left alone to read. The library at Shellwood held racks of books, none, I realize now, designed for a small child, but as alluring to me as if I truly understood all the words.

I could read fairly easily, sounding out words that were unfamiliar and deducing the meaning from the context of the page. I couldn’t even at that young age remember a time when I hadn’t read.

“Just don’t get dirty,” Aunt Emily would say to me, “and put the book back in its proper place.” She didn’t worry about me at all, except to be sure I didn’t disrupt her orderly life.

As far as I knew Aunt Emily never read any of the books at all. I discovered that some of the pages had never been slit, and I carefully used scissors borrowed from her sewing basket to cut them apart and reveal the hidden words. I believed—and I still believe—that the secret words were the most precious.

One day after I’d been at Shellwood for several months, a messenger brought an invitation. It seemed that our nearest neighbor had come to know of my existence and thought I might make a good occasional companion for her son. I was delighted at the thought of a playmate, having never had a friend in the seven long years of my life. Aunt Emily grumbled about the inconvenience, but eventually it was agreed that, if a carriage would come from Scovill Manor to pick me up, I would be allowed to visit.