Chapter By Chapter: Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall, Chapter Two
Chapter Two: In which we meet Madame Duret.
So they get to the door and a lady answers it and OBVIOUSLY Dan speaks for everyone—he introduces himself by name and Kit by name, but Kit’s mom is just introduced as “my wife,” which is pretty much Dan in a nutshell, ugh—and hilariously the lady’s like NOPE WE’RE NOT OPEN YET and she’s going to slam the door in their faces, but then Madame Duret shows up and puts everything right, etc., etc.
She and her “gaze so intense that it could almost be felt physically” and her slight “suggestion of a French accent” ushers them all into the living room—she prefers to call it the parlor, likely because the book is showing us that she’s European or classy or pretentious or all three—and the grown-ups have sherry (gross) and chat. The highlight for me here is when Madame Duret regales them with stories about the houses’s reputation around town:
Teenagers from the village used to come here to park on dates and they would go home with all sorts of weird stories about lights in the windows and bodiless creatures floating through the garden.
Which doesn’t seem to be the best way of putting a new student at ease, but okay.
And Dan just can’t get out of there fast enough:
Dan glanced at his watch. “I hate to rush things, but we have a long drive ahead of us. I’d better go out and bring in Kit’s suitcases.”
But—and I like to read this as a Power Play on Duret’s part, which is probably a complete stretch, but you know, head canons are fun—right after he says that, Duret is like OH NOW I SHALL TAKE YOU ON A TOUR OF THE HOUSE.
ANOTHER MENTION OF FIRE!!:
“The original building was well constructed. The only actual rebuilding that had to be done was in the upstairs dormitory wing where there had once been a fire.”
The music room! If I’m remembering correctly, the tape recorder is Very Important:
She paused at one door, opened it, and flicked on the light. A baby grand piano took up one whole corner of the room, while along the far wall there stood an array of musical instruments. Music racks, comfortable chairs, and a large and intricate-looking tape recorder completed the furnishings.
Madame Duret brings attention to her art collection, which… as the arc of this book is coming back to me, I feel that an argument could be made that her Master Plan might devalue the work of the various artists involved, because if there’s an infinite number of pieces, then each one means less? Or does it? Maybe that’s just monetary value? I don’t know. It’s POSSIBLE that I’m overthinking things.
ANYWAY, then she makes a big show of unlocking Kit’s bedroom door—the room is beautiful and ornate and plush and has a canopy bed and lots of red velvet—and handing her the key, and I’m pretty sure this is all a Very Big Deal:
“We believe in privacy at Blackwood,” she said. “Each student carries her own room-key and is encouraged to keep her room locked when she is not in it. And here, Kathryn, is where you will be making your nest.”
Ugh, Dan, shut up:
“Hello, there!” Dan’s voice called from the top of the stairs. “I’ve got a couple bags here that feel as though they must be stuffed with bricks. Where do you want them?”
Subtext: OH YOU LADIES AND YOUR BAUBLES WHY CAN’T YOU PACK LIGHT LIKE ME I’M A BIG STRONG PRACTICAL MAN
Kit’s mother—whose name, by the way, is Ginny—has FEELINGS and is like KIT NO WE DON’T HAVE TO LEAVE YOU WE CAN CHANGE OUR PLANS, but then we wouldn’t have a story, so:
At that moment, Kit felt her resentment leave her. She had won, and she could not take advantage of the winning. Putting her arms around her mother, she gave her a warm hug.
That actually works for me, that Kit lets go because her mother made the offer, and also because she’s clearly a considerate kid who wants her mother to be happy, even if it means having to stay at this creepy-ass house for a year. I mean, it’s not necessarily the SMARTEST choice, but there wouldn’t be a story if she ran away screaming in Chapter Two, so here we are.
The chapter ends with another classic Lois Duncan line:
There had been a question nagging at the back of her mind. It slid away now and was forgotten. It did not really matter why her bedroom at Blackwood had a lock on the outside — but not the inside — of its door.
INSERT EMOJI SCREAM HERE OMG OF COURSE IT MATTERS KIT WHAT ARE YOU THINKING
End Chapter Two!