As Eleanor wakes in the morning, she thinks to herself how “unbelievably happy” she is. After a sleepless, frightening night, she nonetheless feels purely joyful, and the refrain “Journeys end in lovers meeting” fills her head. Eleanor hears Theodora calling flirtatiously to Luke from her room, and then hears Theodora knock on her own door. As Theodora enters Eleanor’s room, she remarks on how beautiful Eleanor—whom she calls “Nell”—looks, and states that the “curious life” at Hill House agrees with her. Eleanor smiles, and notices that the life agrees with the radiant-looking Theodora, too.
Despite the terrors of the previous night, Eleanor and the others all awake feeling oddly refreshed and even rejuvenated. The bracing nature of fear, perhaps, is emboldening them all—or perhaps something more sinister is at work, grooming them for continued encounters with the bizarre and unnamable. The line “Journeys end in lovers meeting” is from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and enfolds the idea that Eleanor is longing to glean friendship and belonging from her “journey” of staying at the house.
Theodora and Eleanor race laughing down the stairs to the dining room, where they greet everyone happily. Luke, too, is in a sunny mood, and only Doctor Montague looks drawn and tired. Despite his appearance, he is excited and thrilled by the previous night’s events, and says he can’t wait to tell his wife. Eleanor reflects on the previous night—though she remembers being afraid, she can’t “imagine” the sensation of being frightened. Luke agrees that this morning he had to remind himself that the previous night’s events had all been real. The doctor admits he is “trouble[d]” by the good mood everyone shares—he wonders if they are falling under a spell. When everyone seems frightened by this, the doctor reminds them that there is no physical threat to any of them—ghosts break down people’s minds, not their bodies.
The house’s attempt to isolate and hoodwink its guests are clear—and the doctor is onto whatever is happening. He expresses skepticism about the glee and invincibility they’re all feeling, and warns the others not to succumb to the house’s subtle trickery.
Mrs. Dudley enters the dining room and announces that it is ten o’clock—time for her to clear the table. Montague asks if they can sit at the table another fifteen minutes or so, but Mrs. Dudley seems to panic, repeating over and over that she clears breakfast at ten o’clock. The doctor acquiesces, and says that Mrs. Dudley can clear the table. They all leave the dining room laughing at the odd woman. They retreat to the parlor, but the doctor has a hankering for coffee, and sends Luke—who, he believes, Mrs. Dudley must regard as her future “master,” to ask her to put on a pot.
Mrs. Dudley cannot deal with a break from routine—the depths of her fear are clearer than ever in this passage as she balks at a change to her schedule rather violently.
Just a few moments later, Luke bursts back into the parlor, white-faced and grinning. He urges everyone to come into the hall, and they all follow him; on the wall, there is writing in chalk. The lettering is huge and scraggly, taking up nearly the entire wall. The words read: “HELP ELEANOR COME HOME.” Eleanor is chilled and frightened, and begs the others to wipe the writing off the walls. Theodora puts an arm around Eleanor and guides her back into the parlor while Luke begins wiping the writing away with his handkerchief. Back in the parlor, Eleanor, paralyzed with fear, cries to Montague that the house knows her name. She begs Theodora to say she wrote it as a joke to frighten Eleanor, but the doctor assures Eleanor that none of them wrote it. Luke returns to the room and insists he didn’t write the message, either.
Though Eleanor and the others were feeling confident and even giddy in the wake of the previous night’s disturbances, this new happening—which directly attempts to communicate with or intimidate Eleanor—is a different level of terrifying. Eleanor is convinced that the others, not the house, have turned against her, showing that she believes in the badness of people more than she believes in the supernatural. Just as Eleanor wanted to believe neighbors, not poltergeists or other unseen forces, were assaulting her childhood home, she wants to believe a human is responsible for the writing on the wall.
Eleanor wonders why the house has chosen to taunt her. Theodora suggests that Eleanor wrote the letters herself, and the two begin quarreling quite viciously. Montague, after a minute or two, suggests that Theodora tried to make Eleanor angry in order to stop her from being afraid. A suspicion at the back of her mind, however, tells Eleanor that Theodora was not doing any such thing.
The budding rivalry between Eleanor and Theodora deepens in this passage as it becomes clear that despite the superficial closeness between the two, neither of them really trust one another.
The rest of the day passes “lazily.” The group explores the grounds, and spends some quiet time alone in their rooms, writing accounts of what has befallen them so far. The next morning, the group’s third morning in Hill House, Montague and Luke try to measure the cold spot while Eleanor and Theodora take notes for them. After the miserable work is done, the doctor, over lunch, suggests they all spend some time outside. Eleanor wonders if there is “still a world somewhere”—she is having trouble remembering the outside world. Luke agrees, saying that he feels as if he is marooned on an island. The doctor says that the outside world will soon be coming to them—his wife, Mrs. Montague, is arriving the day after tomorrow to join the group.
As the hours turn into days, Eleanor and the others feel themselves losing their grip on reality—and their connection to the world beyond Hill House. The doctor assures them all that the spell will soon be broken by the arrival of new guests, but he himself seems worn down by the frightening work at hand.
After lunch, Theodora and Eleanor head upstairs, planning to take naps. Shortly after entering her room, though, Eleanor hears Theodora scream. Eleanor hurries out to the hall to find Theodora staring “aghast” in the hall. Eleanor peers into Theodora’s room to find that there is red paint everywhere, all over Theodora’s things. Eleanor remarks that the room smells awful—Theodora, swooning, realizes that her room has been covered in blood. Both girls realize, at the same time, that there is more writing on the wall, but don’t step far enough into the room to see what it says. Eleanor suggests they call for Luke and Montague; Theodora implies that Eleanor is responsible for the damage, asking if she doesn’t want to keep the massacre a “secret just for the two of us.”
The rivalry and suspicion between Eleanor and Theodora intensifies in this passage, as the house attacks Theodora’s room and possessions. The house seems to be mirroring Theodora’s painting of Eleanor’s toenails by painting Theodora’s own room in bright-red blood—Theodora believes Eleanor is responsible for the attack, and cruelly says so.
Theodora runs into her room and opens up the wardrobe to find that all her clothes are torn and stained with blood. Eleanor calls calmly for Montague and Luke, who come upstairs to find Theodora sobbing and kicking on the floor of her room in a full-on tantrum. Eleanor, entering the room for the first time, sees that the writing on the wall reads, once again, “HELP ELEANOR COME HOME ELEANOR.”
The fact that the message on the wall is again meant for Eleanor seems to incriminate her more deeply—or demonstrate that she’s in more profound danger than the others. Whether the happenings in the house are supernatural or psychological is cast into even further doubt by this latest development.
Eleanor urges Montague and Luke to take Theodora into Eleanor’s own room to get her away from the horrible smell. Eleanor wonders what is happening, and why her name has again appeared on a wall of Hill House. The doctor returns from Eleanor’s room and tells Eleanor that Theodora will have to stay in there a while, and share Eleanor’s clothes, too. Eleanor tells the doctor that she’s not as frightened as she should be, and keeps thinking the writing must be paint, or even toenail polish—not blood. The doctor suggests they close up the room for the time being, and only return to study the writing on the wall once everyone has calmed down.
Eleanor is just as distraught as Theodora, and yet seems to be at a calm remove from what’s happening. Her own intense fear is causing her to dissociate, which isolates her from the others. The house has a clear mechanism for picking off its victims psychologically rather than physically, as Montague warned it would.
Eleanor returns to her room where she helps Theodora clean blood off her face and hands. Theodora laments to Montague that she and Eleanor will have to share a room and clothes—they’ll be, she says, “practically twins.” Eleanor says “cousins” quietly, but no one hears her.
Eleanor and Theodora’s doubling or mirroring is deepening, even as the two of them experience a growing sense of resentment towards one another.
Later, in the parlor, Eleanor finds herself disturbed by cruel and even violent thoughts about Theodora. She is angry with Theodora for having accused her of being responsible for the writing—and hates seeing her new roommate dressed in all her clothes. Theodora has tenderly apologized to Eleanor for behaving so irately and cruelly earlier, and Eleanor has pretended to accept Theodora’s apology.
The rift between Eleanor and Theodora continues as Eleanor begins to see Theodora, not necessarily the house or its malevolent presence, as her enemy.
The group muses on the nature of fear—Montague posits that people are only afraid of themselves, and Luke adds that what people truly fear is seeing themselves “clearly and without disguise.” Theodora, sitting on the floor at Eleanor’s feet, adds that people are afraid of knowing what they “really want,” and presses her cheek against Eleanor’s hand, but Eleanor pulls her hand away. Eleanor remarks how violated she feels at the thought of whatever haunts Hill House using her name against her. She feels she’s splitting in half, she says, between her fearful self and her rational self, and wishes she could “surrender.” The others seem perturbed by this comment, and Eleanor apologizes, but they assure her she has nothing to be sorry for.
As Eleanor expresses out loud the fact that despite fearing the house, she feels a sympathy with it—and even wishes she could give it what it wants from her, or ally herself with it—she upsets the others, who remain in abject fear of what the house’s goals are. While the others want to resist the house’s attempts to isolate and frighten them, Eleanor wants to give herself over to the house, and this might put her at odds with the rest of the group.
That night, another bed is moved into Eleanor’s room for Theodora. The two of them sit up in their pushed-together beds, holding hands—they can hear the sound of a low voice in Theodora’s room. It laughs and warbles, and the two women hold hands in the dark, clutching each other for comfort. Eleanor drifts in and out of sleep, clinging all the while to Theodora’s hand, and believes that the sounds from the next room are the cries of a tortured child. Eleanor squeezes Theodora’s hand tightly and calls for whoever is torturing the child to “STOP IT”—then wakes with a start to find the lights in the room on, and Theodora, in her own bed, asking what the matter is. Eleanor wonders with a fright whose hand she was holding.
Shortly after Eleanor expresses her desire to surrender to the house, the house contacts her directly by creating the illusion that Eleanor is holding hands with Theodora—when really the house is reaching out to her. Eleanor is horrified, but also realizes that she’s getting exactly what she asked for: the house is making it harder and harder for Eleanor to defend herself against it.