'Mine crystallised long ago, I fear.'
'Care and anxiety did that. You neglected it a little. But your husband's cousin has cleaned the channels out. He does it unconsciously, but he does it. He has belief and vision like a child, and therefore turns instinctively to children because they keep it alive in him, though he hardly knows why he seeks them. The world, too, is a great big child that is crying for its Fairyland....'
'But the practical—' objected Mother, true to her type of mind-an echo rather than an effort.
'—is important, yes, only it has been exaggerated out of all sane proportion in most people's lives. So little is needed, though that little of fine quality, and ever fed by starlight. Obeyed exclusively, it destroys life. It bricks you up alive. But now tell me,' she added, 'where would you like to go first? Whom will you help? There is time enough to cover .the world if you want to, before the interfering sun gets up.'
'You!' cried Mother, impulsively, then realised instantly that her friend was already developed far beyond any help that she could give. It was the light streaming from the older, suffering woman that was stimulating her own sympathies so vehemently. For years the process had gone on. It was at last effective.
'There are others, perhaps, who need it more than I,' flashed forth a lovely ray.
'But I would repay,' Mother cried eagerly, 'I would repay.' Gratitude for life rushed through her, and her friend must share it.
'Pass it on to others,' was the shining answer. 'That's the best repayment after all.' The stars themselves turned brighter as the thought flashed from her.
Then Ireland vanished utterly, for it had been mixed, Mother now perceived, with personal longings that were at bottom selfish. There were indeed many there, in the scenes of her home and childhood, whose lives she might ease and glorify by letting in the starlight while they slept; but her motive, she discerned, was not wholly pure. There was a trace in it, almost a little stain, of personal gratification— she could not analyse it quite—that dimmed the picture in her thought. The brilliance of her companion made it stand out clearly. Nearer home was a less heroic object, a more difficult case, some one less likely to reward her efforts with results. And she turned instead to this.
'You're right,' smiled the other, following her thought; 'and you couldn't begin with a better bit of work than that. Your old mother has cut herself off so long from giving sympathy to her kind that now she cannot accept it from others without feeling suspicion and distrust. Ease and soften her outlook if you can. Pour through her gloom the sympathy of stars. And remember,' she added, as Mother rose softly out of the trees and hovered a moment overhead, 'that if you need the Sweep or the Lamplighter, or the Gardener to burn away her dead leaves, you have only to summon them. Think hard, and they'll be instantly beside you.'
Upon an eddy of glowing wind Mother drifted across the fields to the corner of the village where her mother occupied a large single room in solitude upon the top floor, a solitude self-imposed and rigorously enforced.
'Use the finest quality,' she heard her friend thinking far behind her, 'for you have plenty of it. The Dustman gave it to you when you were not looking, gathered from the entire Zodiac... and from the careless meteor's track....'
The words died off into the forest.
That he keeps only For the old and lonely, (And is very strict about it) Who sleep so little that they need the best—'
The words came floating behind her. She felt herself brimful—charged with loving sympathy of the sweetest and most understanding quality. She looked down a moment upon her mother's roof. Then she descended.
And also there's a little star— So white, a virgin's it must be;— Perhaps the lamp my love in heaven Hangs out to light the way for me. Song, THEOPHILE MARZIALS.
In this corner of Bourcelles the houses lie huddled together with an air of something shamefaced; they dare not look straight at the mountains or at the lake; they turn their eyes away even from the orchards at the back. They wear a mysterious and secret look, and their shoulders have a sly turn, as though they hid their heads in the daytime and stirred about their business only after dark.
They lie grouped about a cobbled courtyard that has no fountain in it. The fair white road goes quickly by outside, afraid to look in frankly; and the entrance to the yard is narrow. Nor does a single tree grow in it. If Bourcelles could have a slum, this would be it.
Why the old lady had left her cosy quarters in Les Glycines and settled down in this unpleasant corner of the village was a puzzle to everybody. With a shrug of the shoulders the problem was generally left unsolved. Madame Jequier discussed it volubly a year ago when the move took place, then dismissed it as one of those mysteries of old people no one can understand. To the son-in-law and the daughter, who got nearer the truth, it was a source of pain and sadness beyond their means of relief. Mrs. 'Plume'—it was a play in French upon her real name,—had been four years in the Pension, induced to come from a lonely existence in Ireland by her daughter and throw in her lot with the family, and at first had settled down comfortably enough. She was over seventy, and possessed 80 pounds a year—a dainty, witty, amusing Irish lady, with twinkling eyes and a pernicketty strong will, and a brogue she transferred deliciously into her broken French. She loved the children, yet did not win their love in return, because they stood in awe of her sarcastic criticisms. Life had gone hardly with her; she had lost her fortune and her children, all but this daughter, with whose marriage she was keenly disappointed. An aristocrat to the finger-tips, she could not accept the change of circumstances; distress had soured her; the transplanting hastened her decline; there was no sweetness left in her. She turned her heart steadily against the world.
The ostensible cause of this hiding herself away with her sorrow and disappointment was the presence of Miss Waghorn, with whom she disagreed, and even quarrelled, from morning till night. They formed a storm-centre that moved from salon to dining-room, and they squabbled acutely about everything—the weather, the heating, the opening or shutting of windows, the details of the food, the arrangement of the furniture, even the character of the cat. Miss Waghorn loved. The bickerings were incessant. They only had to meet for hot disagreement to break out. Mrs. Plume, already bent with age, would strike the floor with the ebony stick she always carried, and glare at the erect, defiant spinster—'That horrud, dirrty cat; its always in the room!' Then Miss Waghorn: 'It's a very nice cat, Madame'—she always called her Madame—'and when I was a young girl I was taught to be kind to animals.'—'The drawing-room is not the place for animals,' came the pricking answer. And then the scuffle began in earnest.
Miss Waghorn, owing to her want of memory, forgot the squabble five minutes afterwards, and even forgot that she knew her antagonist at all. She would ask to be introduced, or even come up sweetly and introduce herself within half an hour of the battle. But Madame Plume forgot nothing; her memory was keen and accurate. She did not believe in the other's failing. 'That common old woman!' she exclaimed with angry scorn to her daughter.
'It's deliberate offensiveness, that's all it is at all!' And she left the Pension.
But her attitude to the harmless old Quaker lady was really in small her attitude to humanity at large. She drew away in disgust from a world that had treated her so badly. Into herself she drew, growing smaller every day, more sour, more suspicious, and more averse to her own kind. Within the restricted orbit of her own bitter thoughts she revolved towards the vanishing point of life which is the total loss of sympathy. She felt with no one but herself. She belonged to that, alas, numerous type which, with large expectations unrealised, cannot accept disillusionment with the gentle laughter it deserves. She resented the universe. Sympathy was dead.
And she had chosen this unsavoury corner to dwell in because 'the poor' of the village lived there, and she wished to count herself among them. It emphasised the spite, the grudge, she felt against humanity. At first she came into dejeuner and souper, but afterwards her meals were sent over twice a day from the Pension. She discovered so many reasons for not making the little journey of a hundred yards. On Sunday the 'common people' were in the streets; on Saturday it was cleaning-day and the Pension smelt of turpentine; Monday was for letter-writing, and other days were too hot or too cold, too windy or too wet. In the end she accomplished her heart's desire. Madame Cornu, who kept the grocer's shop, and lived on the floor below with her husband, prepared the two principal meals and brought them up to her on a tray. She ate them alone. Her breakfast cup of tea she made herself, Mme. Cornu putting the jug of milk outside the door. She nursed her bitter grievance against life in utter solitude. Acidity ate its ugly pattern into her heart.
The children, as in duty bound, made dolorous pilgrimages to that upper floor from time to time, returning frightened, and Mother went regularly twice a week, coming home saddened and distressed. Her husband rarely went at all now, since the time when she told him to his face he came to taunt her. She spent her time, heaven only knows how, for she never left the building. According to Mother she was exceedingly busy doing nothing. She packed, unpacked, and then repacked all her few belongings. In summer she chased bees in her room with a wet towel; but with venom, not with humour. The Morning Post came daily from London. 'I read my paper, write a letter, and the morning's gone,' she told her daughter, by way of complaint that time was so scanty. Mme. Cornu often heard her walking up and down the floor, tapping her ebony stick and talking softly to herself. Yet she was as sane as any old body living in solitude with evil thinking well can be. She starved-because she neither gave nor asked.
As Mother thought of her, thus finding the way in instantly, the church clock sounded midnight. She entered a room that was black as coal and unsweetened as an airless cellar. The fair rays that had been pouring out of her returned with a little shock upon themselves— repulsed. She felt herself reduced, and the sensation was so unpleasant at first that she almost gasped. It was like suffocation. She felt enclosed with Death. That her own radiance dimmed a moment was undeniable, but it was for a moment only, for, thinking instantly of her friend, she drew upon that woman's inexhaustible abundance, and found her own stores replenished.
Slowly, as a wintry sun pierces the mist in some damp hollow of the woods, her supply of starlight lit up little pathways all about her, and she saw the familiar figure standing by the window. The figure was also black; it stood like an ebony statue in an atmosphere that was thick with gloom, turgid, sinister, and wholly rayless. It was like a lantern in a London fog. A few dim lines of sombre grey issued heavily from it, but got no farther than its outer surface, then doubled back and plunged in again. They coiled and twisted into ugly knots. Her mother's atmosphere was opaque, and as dismal as a November fog. There was a speck of light in the room, however, and it came, the visitor then perceived, from a single candle that stood beside the bed. The old lady had been reading; she rarely slept before two o'clock in the morning.
And at first, so disheartening, so hopeless seemed the task, that Mother wavered in her mission; a choking, suffocating sensation blocked all her channels of delivery. The very flowers on the window- sill, she noted, drooped in a languishing decline; they had a lifeless air as of flowers that struggle for existence in deep shadow and have never known the kiss of sunshine. Through the inch of opened window stole a soft breath of the night air, but it turned black and sluggish the moment it came in. And just then, as Mother hovered there in hesitating doubt, the figure turned and moved across to the bed, supporting herself with the ebony cane she always used. Stiffly she sank upon her knees. The habit was as strong as putting her shoes outside the door at night to be cleaned,-those shoes that never knew the stain of roadway dust-and equally devoid of spiritual significance. Yet, for a moment, as the embittered mind gabbled through the string of words that long habit had crystallised into an empty formula, Mother noticed that the lines of grey grew slightly clearer; the coil and tangle ceased; they even made an effort to emerge and leave the muddy cloud that obscured their knotted, intricate disorder.
The formula Mother recognised; it had hardly changed, indeed, since she herself had learned it at those very knees when days were brighter; it began with wholesale and audacious requests for self, then towards the end passed into vague generalities for the welfare of others. And just here it was that the lines of grey turned brighter and tried to struggle out of the murky atmosphere. The sight was pathetic, yet deeply significant. Mother understood its meaning. There was hope. Behind the prayer for others still shone at least an echo of past meaning.
'I believe in you, old, broken, disappointed heart,' flashed through her own bright atmosphere, 'and, believing, I can help you!'
Her skill, however, was slight, owing to lack of practice and experience. She moved over to the bed, trying first to force her own darting rays into the opaque, dull cloud surrounding the other; then seeking a better way-for this had no results—-she slipped somehow inside the mist, getting behind it, down at the very source. From here she forced her own light through, mixing her beams of coloured radiance with the thick grey lines themselves. She tried to feel and think as her mother felt and thought, moving beside her mind's initial working, changing the gloom into something brighter as she moved along. This was the proper way, she felt-to clean the source itself, rather than merely untie knots at the outer surface. It was a stifling business, but she persisted. Tiny channels cleared and opened. A little light shone through. She felt-with her mother, instead of arguing, as it were...
The old lady presently blew the candle out and composed herself to sleep. Mother laboured on....
'Oh dear,' she sighed, 'oh dear!' as she emerged from the gloom a moment to survey her patient and note results. To her amazement she saw that there was a change indeed, though a very curious one. The entire outer surface of the cloud seemed in commotion, with here and there a glimmering lustre as if a tiny lamp was at last alight within. She felt herself swell with happiness. Instantly, then, the grey lines shot out, fastening with wee loops and curves among her own. Some links evidently had been established. She had imparted something.
'She's dreaming! I do believe I've sown some dream of beauty in her!' she beamed to herself.
Some golden, unaccustomed sleep had fallen over the old lady. Stray shreds of darkness loosened from the general mass and floated off, yet did not melt entirely from sight. She was shedding some of her evil thoughts.
'The Sweep!' thought Mother, and turning, found him beside her in the room. Her husband, to her astonishment, was also there.
'But I didn't think of you!' she exclaimed.
'Not a definite thought,' he answered, 'but you needed me. I felt it. We're so close together now that we're practically one, you see.' He trailed his Pattern behind him, clothed now with all manner of rich new colouring, 'I've collected such heaps of new ideas,' he went on, 'and now I want her too. She's in the Story. I'll transfigure her as well.' He was bright as paint, and happy as a sand-boy. 'Well done, old Mother,' he added, 'you've done a lot already. See, she's dreaming small, soft, tender things of beauty that your efforts have let through.'
He glided across and poured from his own store of sympathy into that dry, atrophied soul upon the bed. 'It's a question how much she will be able to transmit, though,' he said doubtfully. 'The spiritual machinery is so stiff and out of gear from long disuse. In Miss Waghorn's case it's only physical—I've just been there—but this is spiritual blackness. We shall see to-morrow. Something will get through at any rate, and we must do this every night, you know.'
'Rather!' echoed Mother.
'Her actual self, you see, has dwindled so that one can hardly find it. It's smaller than a flea, and as hard and black.' They smiled a little sadly.
The Sweep, rushing out of the window with his heavy sack loaded to the brim, interrupted their low laughter. He was no talker, but a man of action. Busily all this time he had been gathering up the loose, stray fragments that floated off from the cloud, and stuffing them into the sack. He now flew, singing, into the night, and they barely caught the last words of his eternal song:—
'... a tremendously busy Sweep, Tossing the blacks in the Rubbish Heap Over the edge of the world.'
'Come,' whispered Daddy. 'It's getting late. The interfering sun is on the way, and you've been hours here already. All the trains are back, and every one is waiting for us.' Yet it had seemed so short a time really.
Wrapped together in the beauty of his Pattern, they left the old lady peacefully asleep, and sped across the roofs towards the forest.
But neither of them noticed, it seemed, the lovely little shining figure that hovered far in the air above and watched them go. It followed them all the way, catching even at the skirts of the flying Pattern as they went. Was it the Spirit of some unknown Star they had attracted from beyond the Milky Way? Or was it, perhaps, a Thought from some fair, exquisite heart that had been wakened by the rushing of the Expresses, and had flashed in to take a place in the wonderful story Daddy wove?
It had little twinkling feet, and its eyes were of brown flame and amber.
'No, they did not notice the starry, fluttering figure. It overtook them none the less, and with a flying leap was into the Pattern of his story—in the very centre, too!—as quickly as lightning passes through the foliage of the tree it strikes. Only the lightning stayed. The figure remained caught. The entire Pattern shivered to its outer fringes, then began to glow and shine all over. As the high harmonic crowns the end of a long cadenza on a violin, fulfilling bars of difficult effort, this point of exquisite beauty flashed life into the Pattern of the story, consummating the labour of construction with the true, inevitable climax. There was something of fairy insolence, both cheeky and delicious, in the proprietary way it chose the principal place, yet the only place still unoccupied, and sang 'I'm here. I've come!' It calmly fashioned itself a nest, as it were, curled up and made itself at home. It was at home. The audacity was justified. The Pattern seemed at last complete. Beauty and Truth shone at its centre. And the tiny voice continued singing, though no one seemed to know exactly whence the sound proceeded:—-
'While the busy Pleiades, Sisters to the Hyades, Seven by seven, Across the heaven, Light desire With their fire,
Flung from huge Orion's hand, Sweetly linking All our thinking In the Net of Sympathy that brings back Fairyland!'
No—neither Mother nor Daddy were aware of what had happened thus in the twinkling of an eye. Certainly neither guessed that another heart, far distant as the crow flies, had felt the stream of his vital, creative thinking, and had thus delicately responded and sent out a sympathetic message of belief. But neither did Adams and Leverrier, measuring the heavens, and calculating through years of labour the delicate interstellar forces, know that each had simultaneously caught Neptune in their net of stars—three thousand million miles away. Had they been 'out,' these two big, patient astronomers, they might have realised that they really worked in concert every night. But history does not relate that they slept well or ill; their biographies make no mention of what their 'Underneaths' were up to while their brains lay resting on the pillow; and private confession, if such exists, has never seen the light of print as yet. In that region, however, where Thinking runs and plays, thought dancing hand in hand with thought that is akin to it, the fact must surely have been known and recognised. They, too, travelled in the Starlight Express.
Mother and Daddy realised it just then as little as children are aware of the loving thoughts of the parent that hovers protectingly about them all day long. They merely acknowledged that a prodigious thrill of happiness pulsed through both of them at once, feeling proud as the group in the tree-tops praised their increased brightness and admired the marvellous shining of the completed Pattern they trailed above their heads. But more than that they did not grasp. Nor have they ever grasped it perhaps. That the result came through later is proved, however, by the published story, and by the strange, sweet beauty its readers felt all over the world. But this belongs to the private working of inspiration which can never be explained, not even by the artist it has set on fire. He, indeed, probably understands it least of all.
'Where are the trains, the Starlight Expresses?' asked Mother.
'Gone!' answered Jimbo. 'Gone to Australia where they're wanted. It's evening now down there.'
He pointed down, then up. 'Don't you see? We must hurry.' She looked across the lake where the monstrous wall of Alps was dimly visible. The sky was brightening behind them. Long strata of thin cloud glimmered with faintest pink. The stars were rapidly fading. 'What ages you've been!' he added.
'And where's Tante Anna?' she inquired quickly, looking for her brilliant friend.
'She's come and gone a dozen times while you've been skylarking somewhere else,' explained Monkey with her usual exaggeration. 'She's gone for good now. She sleeps so badly. She's always waking up, you know.' Mother understood. Only too well she knew that her friend snatched sleep in briefest intervals, incessantly disturbed by racking pain.
A stream of light flashed past her, dashing like a meteor towards the village and disappearing before she could see the figure.
'There goes Jinny,' cried some one, 'always working to the very last. The interfering sun'll catch her if she doesn't look out!'
There was movement and hurry everywhere. Already the world ran loose and soft in colour. Birds, just awake, were singing in the trees below. Several passed swiftly overhead, raking the sky with a whirring rush of wings. Everybody was asking questions, urging return, yet lingering as long as possible, each according to his courage. To be caught 'out' by the sun meant waking with a sudden start that made getting out of bed very difficult and might even cause a headache.
Rogers alone seemed unperturbed, unhurried, for he was absorbed in a discovery that made him tremble. Noting the sudden perfection of his cousin's Pattern, he had gone closer to examine it, and had—seen the starry figure. Instantly he forgot everything else in the world. It seemed to him that he had suddenly found all he had ever sought. He gazed into those gentle eyes of amber and felt that he gazed into the eyes of the Universe that had taken shape in front of him. Floating up as near as he could, he spoke—
'Where do you come from—from what star?' he asked softly in an ecstasy of wonder.
The tiny face looked straight at him and smiled.
'From the Pleiades, of course,—that little group of star-babies as yet unborn.'
'I've been looking for you for ever,' he answered.
'You've found me,' sang the tiny voice. 'This is our introduction. Now, don't forget. There was a lost Pleiad, you know. Try to remember me when you wake.'
'Then why are you here?' He meant in the Pattern.
The star-face rippled with laughter.
'It's yours—your Scheme. He's given it perfect shape for you, that's all. Don't you recognise it? But it's my Story as well. ...'
A ray with crimson in it shot out just then across the shoulder of the Blumlisalp, and, falling full upon the tiny face, it faded out; the Pattern faded with it; Daddy vanished too. On the little azure winds of dawn they flashed away. Jimbo, Monkey, and certain of the Sprites alone held on, but the tree-tops to which they clung were growing more and more slippery every minute. Mother, loth to return, balanced bravely on the waving spires of a larch. Her sleep that night had been so deep and splendid, she struggled to prolong it. She hated waking up too early.
'The Morning Spiders! Look out!' cried a Sprite, as a tiny spider on its thread of gossamer floated by. It was the Dustman's voice. Catching the Gypsy with one arm and the Tramp with the other, all three instantly disappeared.
'But where's my Haystack friend?' called Mother faintly, almost losing her balance in the attempt to turn round quickly.
'Oh, she's all right,' the Head Gardener answered from a little distance where he was burning something. 'She just "stays put" and flirts with every wind that comes near her. She loves the winds. They know her little ways.' He went on busily burning up dead leaves he had been collecting all night long—dead, useless thoughts he had found clogging a hundred hearts and stopping outlets.
'Look sharp!' cried a voice that fell from the sky above them.
'Here come the Morning Spiders, On their gossamer outriders!'
This time it was the Lamplighter flashing to and fro as he put the stars out one by one. He was in a frantic hurry; he extinguished whole groups of them at once. The Pleiades were the last to fade.
Rogers heard him and came back into himself. For his ecstasy had carried him even beyond the region of the freest 'thinking.' He could give no account or explanation of it at all. Monkey, Jimbo, Mother, and he raced in a line together for home and safety. Above the fields they met the spiders everywhere, the spiders that bring the dawn and ride off into the Star Cave on lost rays and stray thoughts that careless minds have left scattered about the world.
And the children, as they raced and told their mother to 'please move a little more easily and slipperily,' sang together in chorus:—
'We shall meet the Morning Spiders, The fairy-cotton riders, Each mounted on a star's rejected ray; With their tiny nets of feather
They collect our thoughts together, And on strips of windy weather Bring the Day. ...'
'That's stolen from you or Daddy,' Mother began to say to Rogers—but was unable to complete the flash. The thought lay loose behind her in the air.
A spider instantly mounted it and rode it off.
Something brushed her cheek. Riquette stood rover her, fingering her face with a soft extended paw.
'But it surely can't be time yet to get up!' she murmured. 'I've only just fallen asleep, it seems.' She glanced at her watch upon the chair beside the bed, saw that it was only four o'clock, and then turned over, making a space for the cat behind her shoulder. A tremendous host of dreams caught at her sliding mind. She tried to follow them. They vanished. 'Oh dear!' she sighed, and promptly fell asleep again. But this time she slept lightly. No more adventures came. She did not dream. And later, when Riquette woke her a second time because it was half-past six, she remembered as little of having been 'out' as though such a thing had never taken place at all.
She lit the fire and put the porridge saucepan on the stove. It was a glorious July morning. She felt glad to be alive, and full of happy, singing thoughts. 'I wish I could always sleep like that!' she said. 'But what a pity one has to wake up in the end!'
And then, as she turned her mind toward the coming duties of the day, another thought came to her. It was a very ordinary, almost a daily thought, but there seemed more behind it than usual. Her whole heart was in it this time—
'As soon as the children are off to school I'll pop over to mother, and see if I can't cheer her up a bit and make her feel more happy. Oh dear!' she added, 'life is a bag of duties, whichever way one looks at it!' But she felt a great power in her that she could face them easily and turn each one into joy. She could take life more bigly, carelessly, more as a whole somehow. She was aware of some huge directing power in her 'underneath.' Moreover, the 'underneath' of a woman like Mother was not a trifle that could be easily ignored. That great Under Self, resting in the abysses of being, rose and led. The pettier Upper Self withdrew ashamed, passing over the reins of conduct into those mighty, shadowy hands.
Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, Or loose the bands of Orion? Book of Job.
The feeling that something was going to happen—that odd sense of anticipation—which all had experienced the evening before at tea-time had entirely vanished, of course, next morning. It was a mood, and it had passed away. Every one had slept it off. They little realised how it had justified itself. Jane Anne, tidying the Den soon after seven o'clock, noticed the slip of paper above the mantelpiece, read it over—'The Starlight Express will start to-night. Be reddy!'—and tore it down. 'How could that. have amused us!' she said aloud, as she tossed it into the waste-paper basket. Yet, even while she did so, some stray sensation of delight clutched at her funny little heart, a touch of emotion she could not understand that was wild and very sweet. She went singing about her work. She felt important and grown- up, extraordinarily light-hearted too. The things she sang made up their own words—such odd snatches that came she knew not whence. An insect clung to her duster, and she shook it out of the window with the crumbs and bits of cotton gathered from the table-cloth.
'Get out, you Morning Spider, You fairy-cotton rider!'
she sang, and at the same minute Mother opened the bedroom door and peeped in, astonished at the unaccustomed music. In her voluminous dressing-gown, her hair caught untidily in a loose net, her face flushed from stooping over the porridge saucepan, she looked, thought Jinny, 'like a haystack somehow.' Of course she did not say it. The draught, flapping at her ample skirts, added the idea of a covering tarpaulin to the child's mental picture. She went on dusting with a half-offended air, as though Mother had no right to interrupt her with a superintending glance like this.
'You won't forget the sweeping too, Jinny?' said Mother, retiring again majestically with that gliding motion her abundant proportions achieved so gracefully.
'Of course I won't, Mother,' and the instant the door was closed she fell into another snatch of song, the words of which flowed unconsciously into her mind, it seemed—
'For I'm a tremendously busy Sweep, Dusting the room while you're all asleep, And shoving you all in the rubbish heap, Over the edge of the tiles'
—a little wumbled, it is true, but its source unmistakable.
And all day long, with every one, it was similar, this curious intrusion of the night into the day, the sub-conscious into the conscious—a kind of subtle trespassing. The flower of forgotten dreams rose so softly to the surface of consciousness that they had an air of sneaking in, anxious to be regarded as an integral part of normal waking life. Like bubbles in water they rose, discharged their puff of fragrant air, and disappeared again. Jane Anne, in particular, was simply radiant all day long, and more than usually clear-headed. Once or twice she wumbled, but there was big sense in her even then. It was only the expression that evaded her. Her little brain was a poor transmitter somehow.
'I feel all endowed to-day,' she informed Rogers, when he congratulated her later in the day on some cunning act of attention she bestowed upon him. It was in the courtyard where they all sat sunning themselves after dejeuner, and before the younger children returned to afternoon school.
'I feel emaciated, you know,' she added, uncertain whether emancipated was the word she really sought.
'You'll be quite grown-up,' he told her, 'by the time I come back to little Bourcelles in the autumn.' Little Bourcelles! It sounded, the caressing way he said it, as if it lay in the palm of his big brown hand.
'But you'll never come back, because you'll never go,' Monkey chimed in. 'My hair, remember—-'
'My trains won't take you,' said Jimbo gravely.
'Oh, a train may take you,' continued Monkey, 'but you can't leave. Going away by train isn't leaving.'
'It's only like going to sleep,' explained her brother. You'll come back every night in a Starlight Express—-'
'Because a Starlight Express takes passengers—whether they like it or not. You take an ordinary train, but a starlight train takes you!' added Monkey.
Mother heard the words and looked up sharply from her knitting. Something, it seemed, had caught her attention vividly, though until now her thoughts had been busy with practical things of quite another order. She glanced keenly round at the faces, where all sat grouped upon the stone steps of La Citadelle. Then she smiled curiously, half to herself. What she said was clearly not what she had first meant to say.
'Children, you're not sitting on the cold stone, are you?' she inquired, but a little absent-mindedly.
'We're quite warm; we've got our thick under-neathies on,' was the reply. They realised that only part of her mind was in the, question, and that any ordinary answer would satisfy her.
Mother resumed her knitting, apparently satisfied.
But Jinny, meanwhile, had been following her own train of thought, started by her cousin's description of her as 'grown-up.' The picture grew big and gracious in her mind.
'I wonder what I shall do when my hair goes up?' she observed, apparently a propos de bottes. It was the day, of course, eagerly, almost feverishly, looked forward to.
'Hide your head in a bag probably,' laughed her sister. Jinny flushed; her hair was not abundant. Yet she seemed puzzled rather than offended.
'Never mind,' Rogers soothed her. 'The day a girl puts up her hair, a thousand young men are aware of it,—and one among them trembles.' The idea of romance seemed somehow in the air.
'Oh, Cousinenry!' She was delighted, comforted, impressed; but perplexity was uppermost. Something in his tone of voice prevented impudent comment from the others.
'And all the stars grow a little brighter,' he added. 'The entire universe is glad.'
'I shall be a regular company promoter!' she exclaimed, nearer to wit than she knew, yet with only the vaguest inkling of what he really meant.
'And draw up a Memorandum of Agreement with the Milky Way,' he added, gravely smiling.
He had just been going to say 'with the Pleiades,' when something checked him. A wave of strange emotion swept him. It rose from the depths within, then died away as mysteriously as it came. Like exquisite music heard from very far away, it left its thrill of beauty and of wonder, then hid behind the breath of wind that brought it. 'The whole world, you see, will know,' he added under his breath to the delighted child. He looked into her queer, flushed face. The blue eyes for a moment had, he thought, an amber tinge. It was a mere effect of light, of course; the sun had passed behind a cloud. Something that he ought to have known, ought to have remembered, flashed mockingly before him and was gone. 'One among them trembles,' he repeated in his mind. He himself was trembling.
'The Morning Spiders,' said some one quietly and softly, 'are standing at their stable doors, making faces at the hidden sun.'
But he never knew who said it, or if it was not his own voice speaking below his breath. He glanced at Jimbo. The small grave face wore an air of man-like preoccupation, as was always the case when he felt a little out of his depth in general conversation. He assumed it in self-protection. He never exposed himself by asking questions. The music of that under-voice ran on:—
'Sweet thoughts, like fine weather, Bind closely together God's stars with the heart of a boy.'
But he said it aloud apparently this time, for the others looked up with surprise. Monkey inquired what in the world he was talking about, only, not quite knowing himself, he could not answer her. Jimbo then, silent and preoccupied, found his thoughts still running on marriage. The talk about his sister's hair going up no doubt had caused it. He remembered the young schoolmistress who had her meals at the Pension, and the Armenian student who had fallen in love with, and eventually married, her. It was the only courtship he had ever witnessed. Marriage and courtship seemed everywhere this morning.
'I saw it all with Mlle. Perette,' he informed the party. 'It began already by his pouring out water for her and passing the salt and things. It always begins like that. He got shawls even when she was hot.'
He looked so wise and grave that nobody laughed, and his sisters even seemed impressed rather. Jinny waited anxiously for more. If Mother did make an odd grimace, it was not noticed, and anyhow was cleverly converted into the swallowing of a yawn. There was a moment's silence. Jimbo, proudly conscious that more was expected of him, provided it in his solemn little voice.
'But it must be horrid,' he announced, 'to be married—always sticked to the same woman, like that.' No sentence was complete without the inevitable 'already' or 'like that,' translated from the language he was more at home in. He thought in French. 'I shall never marry myself (me marier) he decided, seeing his older sister's eyes upon him wonderingly. Then, uncertain whether he had said an awfully wise or an awfully foolish thing, he added no more. Anyhow, it was the way a man should talk—with decision.
'It's bad enough to be a wife,' put in Monkey, 'but it must be worse still to have one!'
But Jane Anne seemed shocked. A man, Jimbo reflected, can never be sure how his wisdom may affect the other sex; women are not meant to know everything. She rose with dignity and went upstairs towards the door, and Monkey, rippling with laughter, smacked her as she went. This only shocked her more.
'That was a slight mistake behind,' she said reprovingly, looking back; 'you should have more reserve, I think,' then firmly shut the door.
All of which meant—so far as Jane Anne was concerned—that an important standard of conduct—grown-up, dignified, stately in a spiritual sense—was being transferred to her present behaviour, but transferred ineffectively. Elsewhere Jane Anne lived it, was it. She knew it, but could not get at the part of her that knew it. The transmitting machinery was imperfect. Connecting links and switches were somehow missing. Yearning was strong in her, that yearning which is common to all the world, though so variously translated. Once out of the others' sight, she made a curious face. She went into her room between the kitchen and the Den, flung herself on the bed, and burst into tears. And the fears brought relief. They oiled the machinery perhaps. At any rate, she soon felt better.
'I felt so enormous and unsettled,' she informed Mother later, when the redness of her eyes was noticed and she received breathlessly a great comforting hug. I never get anything right.'
'But you are right, darling,' Mother soothed her, little guessing that she told the perfect truth. 'You are all right, only you don't know it. Everybody's wumbled somewhere.' And she advised her—ah, Mother was profoundly wise instinctively—not to think so much, but just go ahead as usual and do her work.
For Mother herself felt a little queer that day, as though something very big and splendid lay hiding just beyond her reach. It surged up, vanished, then surged up again, and it came closest when she was not thinking of it. The least effort of the mind to capture it merely plunged her into an empty gulf where she could not touch bottom. The glorious thing ran instantly underground. She never ceased to be aware of it, but any attempt to focus resulted in confusion. Analysis was beyond her powers, yet the matter was very simple really, for only when thought is blank, and when the mind has forgotten to think, can inspiration come through into the heart. The intellect interprets afterwards, sets in order, regulates, examines the wonder and beauty the heart distils alchemically out of the eternal stream in which life everywhere dips its feet. If Reason interferes too soon, or during transmission, it only muddles and destroys. And Mother, hitherto, had always been so proud of being practical, prosaic, reasonable. She had deliberately suppressed the other. She could not change in a single day just because she had been 'out' and made discoveries last night. Oh, how simple it all was really, and yet how utterly most folk convert the wonder of it into wumbling!
Like Jane Anne, her miniature, she felt splendid all day long, but puzzled too. It was almost like those religious attacks she had experienced in early youth. She had no definite creed by which she could explain it. Though nominally Christian, like her husband, she could not ascribe her joy to a 'Holy Spirit,' or to a 'God' working in her. But she was reminded of her early 'religious attacks' because she now experienced that large sensation of glorious peace and certainty which usually accompanies the phenomenon in the heart called 'conversion.' She saw life whole. She rested upon some unfailing central Joy. Come what might, she felt secure and 'saved.' Something everlasting lay within call, an ever-ready help in trouble; and all day she was vaguely conscious that her life lay hid with—with what? She never found the word exactly, for 'Joy' was but one aspect of it. She fell back upon the teachings of the big religions which are the police regulations of the world. Yet all creeds shared these, and her feeling was far deeper than mere moral teachings. And then she gave up thinking about it. Besides, she had much knitting to do.
'It's come to stay anyhow; I feel in sympathy with everybody,' she said, and so dismissed vain introspection, keeping the simple happiness and peace. That was her strength, as it was also Jinny's. A re-formation had begun.
Jimbo, too, felt something in his microcosmic way, only he said little and asked no single question. It betrayed itself, however, to his Mother's widened vision. He was all stirred up. He came back again from school at three o'clock—for it was Thursday and he did not take the singing lesson from three to four—put down his books with a very business-like air, forgot to kiss his Mother—and went out.
'Where are you off to, Jimbo?' She scented mischief. He was so affaire.
He turned obediently at once, the face grave and puckered.
'Going over to the carpenter's house, Mummy.'
'What for, dear? Why don't you stay and play here?' She had the feeling that her husband was absorbed in his work and would not like to be disturbed.
The boy's reply was evasive too. 'I want to have a long discuss with Daddy,' he said.
'Can't you have your long discuss with me instead?' she asked.
He shook his head. 'You see,' he answered solemnly, 'it's about things.'
'But Daddy's working just now; he'll be over to tea at four. Can't it wait till then?'
She understood too well to inquire what 'things' might be. The boy wished to speak with one of his own sex—as one man to another man.
'When a man's at work,' she added, 'he doesn't like to be disturbed.'
'All right,' was the reply. 'We can wait a little,' and he settled down to other things in a corner by himself. His mind, clearly, was occupied with grave considerations he could not discuss with anybody, least of all with women and children. But, of course, busy men must not be interrupted. For a whole hour in his corner he made no sound, and hardly any movement.
But Daddy did not come at four o'clock. He was evidently deep in work. And Mother did not send for him. The carpenter's wife, she knew, would provide a cup of tea.
He came late to supper, too, at the Pension, nodded to Mother with an expression which plainly said, 'I've finished the story at last'; winked to his cousin, meaning, 'It came out all right, I'm satisfied,' and took his seat between Jinny and Mlle. Vuillemot, the governess who had earned her meal by giving a music lesson that afternoon to a pensionnaire. Jinny looked sideways at him in a spirit of examination, and picked the inevitable crumb deftly from his beard.
'Reminiscences!' she observed slyly. 'You did have some tea, then.' Her long word was well chosen for once; her mind unusually logical, too.
But Daddy made no reply; he went on eating whatever was set before him with an air of complete detachment; he devoured cold ham and salad automatically; and the children, accustomed to this absorption, ignored his presence. He was still in the atmosphere of his work, abstracted, lost to the outer world. They knew they would only, get wumbled answers to their questions and remarks, and they did not dare to tease him. From time to time he lifted his eyes—very bright they were—and glanced round the table, dimly aware that he was in the midst of a stream of noisy chatter, but unable to enter it successfully at any point. Mother, watching him, thought, 'He's sitting on air, he's wrapped in light, he's very happy'; and ate an enormous supper, as though an insatiable hunger was in her.
The governess, Mlle. Vuillemot, who stood in awe of the 'author' in him, seized her opportunity. She loved to exchange a mot with a real writer, reading all kinds of unintended subtlety into his brief replies in dreadful French. To-night she asked him the meaning of a word, title of a Tauchnitz novel she had been reading—Juggernaut; but, being on his deaf side, he caught 'Huguenot' instead, and gave her a laboured explanation, strangled by appalling grammar.
The historical allusions dazed her; the explanation ended on a date. She was sorry she had ventured, for it made her feel so ignorant.
'Shuggairnort,' she repeated bravely. She had a vague idea he had not properly heard before.
But this time he caught 'Argonaut,' and swamped her then with classical exposition, during which she never took her eyes off him, and decided that he was far more wonderful than she had ever dreamed. He was; but not for the reasons she supposed.
'Thank you,' she said with meek gratitude at the end, 'I thank you.'
'Il n'y a pas de quar,' replied Daddy, bowing; and the adventure came to an end. The others luckily had not heard it in full swing; they only caught the final phrase with which he said adieu. But it served its unwitting purpose admirably. It brought him back to the world about him. The spell was broken. All turned upon him instantly.
'Snay pas un morsow de bong.' Monkey copied his accent, using a sentence from a schoolboy's letter in Punch. 'It's not a bit of good.' Mother squelched her with a look, but Daddy, even if he noticed it, was not offended. Nothing could offend him to-night. Impertinence turned silvery owing to the way he took it. There was a marvellous light and sweetness about him. 'He is on air,' decided Mother finally. 'He's written his great Story—our story. It's finished!'
'I don't know,' he said casually to the others, as they stood talking a few minutes in the salon before going over to the Den, 'if you'd like to hear it; but I've got a new creature for the Wumble Book. It came to me while I was thinking of something else—-'
'Thinking of one thing while you were thinking of another!' cried Monkey. It described exaccurately his state of mind sometimes.
'—-and I jotted down the lines on my cuff. So it's not very perfect yet.'
Mother had him by the arm quickly. Mlle. Vuillemot was hovering in his neighbourhood, for one thing. It seemed to her they floated over, almost flew.
'It's a Haystack Woman,' he explained, once they were safely in the Den grouped about him. 'A Woman of the Haystack who is loved by the Wind. That is to say, the big Wind loves her, but she prefers the younger, handsomer little Winds, and—-'
He was not allowed to finish. The children laid his cuff back in a twinkling, drawing up the coat sleeve.
'But surely I know that,' Mother was saying. 'I've heard of her before somewhere. I wonder where?' Others were saying the same thing. 'It's not new.'
'Impossible,' said Daddy, 'for the idea only came to me this morning while I was—-'
'Thinking of something else,' Monkey again finished the sentence for him.
Mother felt that things were rushing about her from another world. She was vaguely conscious—deliciously, bewilderingly—of having heard this all before. Imaginative folk have built the certainty of a previous existence upon evidence as slight; for actual scenery came with it, and she saw dim forest trees, and figures hovering in the background, and bright atmosphere, and fields of brilliant stars. She felt happy and shining, light as a feather, too. It all was just beyond her reach, though; she could not recover it properly. 'It must have been a dream she told me,' was her conclusion, referring to Mlle. Lemaire. Her old friend was in it somewhere or other. She felt sure of that.
She hardly heard, indeed, the silly lines her husband read aloud to the children. She liked the sound of his voice, though; it suggested music she had known far away—in her childhood.
'It's high spirits really,' whispered Rogers, sitting beside her in the window. 'It's a sort of overflow from his story. He can't do that kind of rhyme a bit, but it's an indication—-'
'You think he's got a fine big story this time?' she asked under her breath; and Cousin Henry's eyes twinkled keenly as he gave a significant nod and answered: 'Rather! Can't you feel the splendour all about him, the strength, the harmony!'
She leaped at the word. Harmony exactly described this huge new thing that had come into the family, into the village, into the world. The feeling that they all were separate items, struggling for existence one against the other, had gone for ever. Life seemed now a single whole, an enormous pattern. Every one fitted in. There was effort— wholesome jolly effort, but no longer the struggle or fighting that were ugly. To 'live carelessly' was possible and right because the pattern was seen entire. It was to live in the whole.
'Harmony,' she repeated to herself, with a great swelling happiness in her heart, 'that's the nunculus of the matter.'
'The what?' he asked, overhearing her.
'The nunculus,' she repeated bravely, seeing the word in her mind, yet unable to get it quite. Rogers did not correct her.
'Rather,' was all he said. 'Of course it is.' What did the pronunciation of a word matter at such a time? Her version even sounded better than the original. Mother saw things bigger! Already she was becoming creative!
'And you're the one who brought it,' she continued, but this time so low that he did not catch the words. 'It's you, your personality, your thinking, your atmosphere somehow that have brought this gigantic sense of peace and calm security which are au fond nothing but the consciousness of harmony and the power of seeing ugly details in their proper place—in a single coup d'oeil—and understanding them as parts of a perfect whole.'
It was her thought really running on; she never could have found the words like that. She thought in French, too, for one thing. And, in any case, Rogers could not have heard her, for he was listening now to the uproar of the children as they criticised Daddy's ridiculous effusion. A haystack, courted in vain by zephyrs, but finally taken captive by an equinoctial gale, strained nonsense too finely for their sense of what was right and funny. It was the pictures he now drew in the book that woke their laughter. He gave the stack a physiognomy that they recognised.
'But, Mother, he's making it look like you!' cried Monkey—only Mother was too far away in her magnificent reverie to reply intelligently.
I know her; she's my friend,' she answered vaguely. 'So it's all right.'
'Majestic Haystack'—it was the voice of the wind addressing her:—
'Majestic Haystack, Empress of my life, Your ample waist Just fits the gown I fancy for my wife, And suits my taste; Yet there you stand, flat-footed, square and deep, An unresponsive, elephantine heap, Coquetting with the stars while I'm asleep, O cruel Stack!
Coy, silent Monster, Matron of the fields, I sing to you; And all the fondest love that summer yields I bring to you; Yet there you squat, immense in your disdain, Heedless of all the tears of streaming rain My eyes drip over you—your breathless swain; O stony Stack!
Stupendous Maiden, sweetest when oblong, Does inner flame Now smoulder in thy soul to hear my song Repeat thy name? Or does thy huge and ponderous heart object The advances of my passion, and reject My love because it's airy and elect? O wily Stack!
O crested goddess, thatched and top-knotted, O reckless Stack! Of wives that to the Wind have been allotted There is no lack; You've spurned my love as though I were a worm; But next September when I see thy form, I'll woo thee with an equinoctial storm! I have that knack!'
'Far less wumbled than usual,' thought Rogers, as the children danced about the room, making up new ridiculous rhymes, of which 'I'll give you a whack' seemed the most popular. Only Jane Anne was quiet. A courtship even so remote and improbable as between the Wind and a Haystack sent her thoughts inevitably in the dominant direction.
'It must be nice when one is two,' she whispered ambiguously to Mother with a very anxious face, 'but I'm sure that if a woman can't cook, love flies out of the window. It's a positive calamity, you know.'
But it was Cousin Henry's last night in Bourcelles, and the spirit of pandemonium was abroad. Neither parent could say no to anything, and mere conversation in corners was out of the question. The door was opened into the corridor, and while Mother played her only waltz, Jimbo and Monkey danced on the splintery boards as though it were a parquet floor, and Rogers pirouetted somewhat solemnly with Jane Anne. She enjoyed it immensely, yet rested her hand very gingerly upon his shoulder. 'Please don't hold me quite so tight,' she ventured. 'I've never danced with a strange man before, you see'; and he no more laughed at her than he had laughed at Mother's 'nunculus.' Even Jane Anne, he knew, would settle down comfortably before long into the great big pattern where a particular nook awaited—aye, needed—her bizarre, odd brilliance. The most angular fragments would nest softly, neatly in. A little filing, a little polishing, and all would fit together. To force would only be to break. Hurry was of the devil. And later, while Daddy played an ancient tune that was written originally as a mazurka yet did duty now for a two-step, he danced with Mother too, and the children paused to watch out of sheer admiration.
'Fancy, Mother dancing!' they exclaimed with glee—except Jinny, who was just a little offended and went to stand by the piano till it was over. For Mother danced as lightly as a child for all her pride of measurement, and no frigate ever skimmed the waves more gracefully than Mother glided over those uneven boards.
'The Wind and the Haystack' of course, was Monkey's description.
'You'll wind and haystack to bed now,' was the reply, as Mother sat and fanned herself in the corner. The 'bed-sentence' as the children called it, was always formed in this way. Whatever the child was saying when the moment came, Mother adopted as her verb. 'Shall I put some peat on, Mother?' became 'Peat yourself off to bed-it's nine o'clock'—and the child was sorry it had spoken.
Good-byes had really been said at intervals all day long, and so to- night were slight enough; the children, besides, were so 'excitey- tired,' as Monkey put it, that they possessed no more emotion of any kind. There were various disagreeable things in the immediate future of To-morrow—getting up early, school, and so forth; and Cousin Henry's departure they lumped in generally with the mass, accepted but unrealised. Jimbo could hardly keep his eyes alight, and Monkey's hair was like a baby haystack the wind had treated to an equinoctial storm. Jinny, stiff, perplexed, and solemn with exhaustion, yet dared not betray it because she was older, in measurable distance of her hair going up.
'Why don't you play with the others, child?' asked Mother, finding her upright on a sofa while the romp went on.
'Oh, to-night,' Jinny explained, 'I sit indifferent and look on. I don't always feel like skedivvying about!'
To skedivvy was to chivvy and skedaddle—its authority not difficult to guess.
'Good-bye, Cousinenry,' each gasped, as his big arms went round them and squeezed out the exclamation. 'Oh, thank you most awfully,' came next, with another kiss, produced by his pressing something hard and round and yellow into each dirty little hand. 'It's only a bit of crystallised starlight,' he explained, 'that escaped long ago from the Cave. And starlight, remember, shines for everybody as well as for yourselves. You can buy a stamp with it occasionally, too,' he added, 'and write to me.'
'We will. Of course!'
Jimbo straightened up a moment before the final collapse of sleep.
'Your train leaves at 6.23,' he said, with the authority of exclusive information. 'You must be at the station at six to get the bagages enregistrees. It's a slow train to Pontarlier, but you'll find a wagon direct for Paris in front, next to the engine. I shall be at the station to see you off.'
'I shan't,' said Monkey.
Rogers realised with delight the true meaning of these brief and unemotional good-byes. 'They know I'm coming back; they feel that the important part of me is not going away at all. My thinking stays here with them.'
Jinny lingered another ten minutes for appearance's sake. It was long past her bed-time, too, but dignity forbade her retiring with the others. Standing by the window she made conversation a moment, feeling it was the proper, grown-up thing to do. It was even expected of her.
'Look! It's full moon,' she observed gravely, as though suggesting that she could, if she liked, go out and enjoy the air. 'Isn't it lovely?'
'No, yesterday was full moon,' Rogers corrected her, joining her and looking out. 'Two nights ago, to be exact, I think.'
'Oh,' she replied, as solemnly as though politics or finance were under discussion, 'then it's bigger than full moon now. It goes on, does it, getting fuller and fuller, till—'
'Now, Jinny dear, it's very late, and you'd better full-moon off to bed,' Mother interrupted gently.
'Yes, Mother; I'm just saying good-night.' She held her hand out, as though she was afraid he might kiss her, yet feared he would not. 'Good-bye, Mr. Cousin Henry, and I hope you'll have an exceedingly happy time in the train and soon come back and visit us again.'
'Thank you,' he said, 'I'm sure I shall.' He gave her a bit of solid starlight as he said it, then suddenly leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. Making a violent movement like an experienced boxer who dodges an upper cut, Jinny turned and fled precipitately from the room, forgetting her parents altogether. That kiss, she felt, consumed her childhood in a flash of fiery flame. In bed she decided that she must lengthen her skirts the very next day, and put her hair up too. She must do something that should give her protection and yet freedom. For a long time she did not sleep. She lay thinking it over. She felt supremely happy—wild, excited, naughty. 'A man has kissed me; it was a man; it was Mr. Rogers, Daddy's cousin.... He's not my cousin exactly, but just "a man."' And she fell asleep, wondering how she ought to begin her letter to him when she wrote, but, more perplexing still, how she ought to—end it! That little backward brain sought the solution of the problem all night long in dreams. She felt a criminal, a dare-devil caught in the act, awaiting execution. Light had been flashed cruelly upon her dark, careful secret—the greatest and finest secret in the world. The child lay under sentence indeed, only it was a sentence of life, and not of death.
Asia. ... I feel, I see Those eyes which burn through smiles that fade in tears, Like stars half quenched in mists of silver dew. Prometheus Unbound, SHELLEY.
It was only ten o'clock, really, and the curfew was ringing from every village on the mountain-side. The sound of the bells, half musical, half ominous, was borne by the bise across the vineyards, for the easterly wind that brings fine weather was blowing over lake and forest, and seemed to drive before it thin sheets of moonlight that turned the whole world soft. The village lay cosily dreaming beneath the sky. Once the curfew died away there was only the rustling of the plane trees in the old courtyard. The great Citadelle loomed above the smaller houses, half in shadow half in silver, nodding heavily to the spire of the Church, and well within sight of the sentinelle poplar that guarded the village from the forest and the mountains. Far away, these mountains now lowered their enormous shoulders to let night flow down upon the sleeping world. The Scaffolding that brought it had long since sailed over France towards the sea....
Mother, still panting from the ritual of fastening the younger children into bed, had gone a moment down the passage to say good- night to Mlle. Lemaire, and when she returned, the three of them— herself, her husband, and Cousin Henry—dropped into chairs beside the window and watched the silvery world in silence for a time. None felt inclined to speak. There was drama somehow in that interval of silence—that drama which lurks everywhere and always behind life's commonest, most ordinary moments. Actions reveal it—sometimes—but it mostly lies concealed, and especially in deep silences like this, when the ticking of a cuckoo clock upon the wall may be the sole hint of its presence.
It was not the good-byes that made all three realise it so near, though good-byes are always solemn and momentous things; it was something that stirred and rose upon them from a far deeper strata of emotion than that caused by apparent separation. For no pain lay in it, but a power much more difficult to express in the sounds and syllables of speech—Joy. A great joy, creative and of big significance, had known accomplishment. Each felt it, knew it, realised it. The moonlit night was aware of it. The entire universe knew it, too. The drama lay in that. There had been creation—of more light.... The world was richer than it had been. Some one had caught Beauty in a net, and to catch Beauty is to transform and recreate all common things. It is revelation.
Through the mind of each of these three flowed the stream of casual thinking—images, reflections, and the shadowy scaffoldings of many new emotions—sweeping along between the banks of speech and silence. And this stream, though in flood, did not overflow into words for a long time. With eyes turned inwards, each watched the current pass. Clear and deep, it quietly reflected—stars. Each watched the same stream, the same calm depths, the same delicate reflections. They were in harmony with themselves, and therefore with the universe....
Then, suddenly, one of the reflections—it was the Pleiades—rose to the surface to clasp its lovely original. It was the woman who netted the golden thought and drew it forth for all to see.
'Couldn't you read it to us, Daddy?' she whispered softly across the silence.
'If it's not too long for you.' He was so eager, so willing to comply.
'We will listen till the Morning Spiders take us home,' his cousin said.
'It's only the shorter version,' Daddy agreed shiningly, 'a sketch for the book which, of course, will take a year to write. I might read that, perhaps.'
'Do,' urged Mother. 'We are all in it, aren't we? It's our story as well as yours.'
He rose to get the portfolio from the shelf where he had laid it, and while Rogers lit the lamp, Riquette stole in at the window, picking her way daintily across the wet tiles. She stood a moment, silhouetted against the sky; then shaking her feet rapidly each in turn like bits of quivering wire, she stepped precisely into the room. 'I am in it too,' she plainly said, curling herself up on the chair Daddy had just vacated, but resigning herself placidly enough to his scanty lap when he came back again and began to read. Her deep purring, while he stroked her absent-mindedly, became an undercurrent in the sound of his voice, then presently ceased altogether....
On and on he read, while the moon sailed over La Citadelle, bidding the stars hush to listen too. She put her silvery soft hands across their eyes that they might hear the better. The blue wind of night gathered up the meaning and spread it everywhere. The forest caught the tale from the low laughter in the crest of the poplar, and passed it on to the leagues of forest that bore it in turn across the frontiers into France. Thence snowy Altels and the giant Blumlisalp flashed it south along the crowding peaks and down among the Italian chestnut woods, who next sent it coursing over the rustling waves of the Adriatic and mixed it everywhere with the Mediterranean foam. In the morning the shadows upon bare Grecian hills would whisper it among the ancient islands, and the East catch echoes of it in the winds of dawn. The forests of the North would open their great gloomy eyes with wonder, as though strange new wild-flowers had come among them in the night. All across the world, indeed, wherever there were gardened minds tender enough to grow fairy seed, these flakes of thought would settle down in sleep, and blossom in due season into a crop of magic beauty.
He read on and on.... The village listened too, the little shadowy street, the familiar pine woods, the troubled Pension, each, as its image was evoked in the story, knew its soul discovered, and stirred in its sleep towards the little room to hear. And the desolate ridges of La Tourne and Boudry, the clefts where the wild lily of the valley grew unknown, high nooks and corners where the buzzards nested, these also knew and answered to the trumpet summons of the Thought that made them live. A fire of creation ran pulsing from this centre. All were in the Pattern of the Story.
To the two human listeners it seemed as familiar as a tale read, in childhood long ago, and only half forgotten. They always knew a little of what was coming next. Yet it spread so much further than mere childhood memories, for its golden atmosphere included all countries and all times. It rose and sang and sparkled, lighting up strange deep recesses of their unconscious and half-realised life, and almost revealing the tiny silver links that joined them on to the universe at large. The golden ladders from the Milky Way were all let down. They climbed up silvery ropes into the Moon....
'It's not my own idea,' he said; 'I'm convinced of that. It's all flocked into me from some other mind that thought it long ago, but could not write it, perhaps. No thought is lost, you see—never can be lost. Like this, somehow, I feel it:—
Now sinks to sleep the clamour of the day, And, million-footed, from the Milky Way, Falls shyly on my heart the world's lost Thought— Shower of primrose dust the stars have taught To haunt each sleeping mind, Till it may find
A garden in some eager, passionate brain That, rich in loving-kindness as in pain, Shall harvest it, then scatter forth again It's garnered loveliness from heaven caught.
Oh, every yearning thought that holds a tear, Yet finds no mission, And lies untold,
Waits, guarded in that labyrinth of gold,— To reappear Upon some perfect night, Deathless—not old— But sweet with time and distance, And clothed as in a vision Of starry brilliance For the world's delight.'
In the pauses, from time to time, they heard the distant thunder of the Areuse as it churned and tumbled over the Val de Travers boulders. The Colombier bells, as the hours passed, strung the sentences together; moonlight wove in and out of every adventure as they listened; stars threaded little chapters each to each with their eternal golden fastenings. The words seemed written down in dew, but the dew crystallised into fairy patterns that instantly flew about the world upon their mission of deliverance. In this ancient Network of the Stars the universe lay fluttering; and they lay with it, all prisoners in Fairyland.
For the key of it all was sympathy, and the' delicate soul of it was tender human love. Bourcelles, in this magic tale, was the starting- point whence the Starlight Expresses flashed into all the world, even unto unvisited, forgotten corners that had known no service hitherto. It was so adaptable and searching, and knew such tiny, secret ways of entrance. The thought was so penetrating, true, and simple. Even old Mother Plume would wake to the recovery of some hitherto forgotten fragrance in her daily life... just as those Northern forests would wake to find new wild-flowers. For all fairytales issue first from the primeval forest, thence undergoing their protean transformation; and in similar fashion this story, so slight but so tremendous, issued from the forest of one man's underthinking—one deep, pure mind, wumbled badly as far as external things were concerned, yet realising that Bourcelles contained the Universe, and that he, in turn contained Bourcelles. Another, it is true, had shown it to him, though all unwittingly, and had cleaned in his atmosphere the channels for the entrance of the glorious pattern. But the result was the same. In his brain—perhaps by Chance, perhaps by God—lay the machinery which enabled him to give it out to others—the power and ability to transmit. It was a fairy-tale of the world, only the world had forgotten it. He brought back its fairyland again.
And this fairyland, what and where was it? And how could this tale of its recovery bring into his listeners' hearts such a sense of peace and joy that they felt suddenly secure in the world and safe mid all the confusion of their muddled lives? That there were tears in Mother's eyes seems beyond question, because the moonlight, reflected faintly from a wet cobble in the yard below, glistened like a tiny silver lantern there. They betrayed the fact that something in her had melted and flowed free. Yet there was no sadness in the fairy-tale to cause it; they were tears of joy.
Surely it was that this tale of Starlight, Starlight Expresses and Star Caves, told as simply as running water, revealed the entire Universe—as One, and that in this mighty, splendid thing each of them nested safe and comfortable. The world was really thinking, and all lay fluttering in the grand, magnificent old Net of Stars. What people think, they are. All can think Beauty. And sympathy—to feel with everything—was the clue; for sympathy is love, and to love a star was to love a neighbour. To be without sympathy was to feel apart, and to think apart was to cut oneself off from life, from the Whole, from God and joy—it was Death. To work at commonplace duties because they were duties to the Universe at large, this was the way to find courage, peace, and happiness, because this was genuine and successful work, no effort lost, and the most distant star aware of it. Thinking was living, whether material results were visible or not; yearning was action, even though no accomplishment was apparent; thought and sympathy, though felt but for a passing moment, sweetened the Pleiades and flashed along the Milky Way, and so-called tangible results that could prove it to the senses provided no adequate test of accomplishment or success. In the knowledge of belonging to this vast underlying unity was the liberation that brings courage, carelessness, and joy, and to admit failure in anything, by thinking it, was to weaken the entire structure which binds together the planets and the heart of a boy. Thoughts were the fairies that the world believed in when it was younger, simpler, less involved in separation; and the golden Fairyland recovered in this story was the Fairyland of lovely thinking....
In this little lamp-lit room of the Citadelle, the two listeners were conscious of this giant, delicate network that captured every flying thought and carried it streaming through the world. God became a simple thing: He fashioned Rogers's Scheme, even though it never materialised in bricks and mortar. God was behind Mother, even when she knitted or lit the fire in the Den. All were prisoners in His eternal Fairyland....
And the symbolism of the story, the so-called fantasy, they also easily understood, because they felt it true. To be 'out' of the body was merely to think and feel away from self. As they listened they realised themselves in touch with every nation and with every time, with all possible beliefs and disbeliefs, with every conceivable kind of thinking, that is, which ever has existed or ever shall exist....
The heat and radiance given out by the clear delivery of this 'inspirational' fairy-tale must have been very strong; far-reaching it certainly was....
'Ah!' sighed Rogers to himself, 'if only I could be like that!' not realising that he was so.
'Oh dear!' felt the Woman, 'that's what I've felt sometimes. I only wish it were true of me!' unaware that it could be, and even by the fact of her yearning, was so.
'If only I could get up and help the world!' passed like a flame across the heart of the sufferer who lay on her sleepless bed next door, listening to the sound of the droning voice that reached her through the wall, yet curiously ignorant that this very longing was already majestically effective in the world of definite action.
And even Mother Plume, pacing her airless room at the further end of the village and tapping her ebony stick upon the floor, turned suspiciously, as at a passing flash of light that warmed her for a sudden instant as it went.
'Perhaps, after all, they don't mean all these unkind things they do to me!' she thought; 'I live so much alone. Possibly I see things less clearly than I used to do!'
The spell was certainly very potent, though Daddy himself, reading out the little shining chapters, guessed as little as the rest of them how strong. So small a part of what he meant to say, it seemed, had been transferred to the paper. More than he realised, far, far more, lay between the lines, of course. There was conviction in it, because there was vision and belief. Not much was said when he put his roll of paper down and leaned back in his chair. Riquette opened her eyes and blinked narrowly, then closed them again and began to purr. The ticking of the cuckoo clock seemed suddenly very loud and noticeable.
'Thank you,' said Mother quietly in an uncertain kind of voice. 'The world seems very wonderful now—quite different.'
She moved in her chair—the first movement she had made for over two hours. Daddy rubbed his eyes, stroked his beard, and lit a cigarette; it went out almost immediately, but he puffed on at it just the same, till his cousin struck a match and stood over him to see it properly alight.
'You have caught Beauty naked in your net of stars,' he murmured; 'but you have left her as you found her—shining, silvery, unclothed. Others will see her, too. You have taken us all back into Fairyland, and I, for one, shall never get out again.'
'Nor I,' breathed some one in the shadows by the window....
The clock struck two. 'Odd,' said Mother, softly, 'but I never heard it strike once while you were reading!'
'We've all been out,' Rogers laughed significantly, 'just as you make them get out in the story'; and then, while Riquette yawned and turned a moment from the window-sill to say thank you for her long, warm sleep, Mother lit the spirit-lamp and brewed the cups of chocolate. She tiptoed in next door, and as she entered the sick-room she saw through the steam rising from the cup she carried a curious thing—an impression of brilliance about the bed, as though shafts of light issued from it. Rays pulsed and trembled in the air. There was a perfume of flowers. It seemed she stepped back into the atmosphere of the story for an instant.
'Ah, you're not asleep,' she whispered. 'We've brewed some chocolate, and I thought you might like a cup.'
'No, I'm not asleep,' answered the other woman from the bed she never would leave until she was carried from it, 'but I have been dreaming. It seemed the stars came down into my room and sang to me; this bed became a throne; and some power was in me by which I could send my thoughts out to help the world. I sent them out as a king sends messengers—to people everywhere—even to people I've never heard of. Isn't it wonderful?'
'You've had no pain?' For Mother knew that these sleepless hours at night brought usually intense suffering. She stared at her, noting how the eyes shone and glistened with unshed moisture.
'None,' was the answer, 'but only the greatest joy and peace I've ever known.' The little glass of calmant was untouched; it was not a drug that had soothed the exhausted nerves. In this room at any rate the spell was working still. 'I was carried through the air by stars, as though my ceaseless yearning to get up and work in the world for once was realised.'
'You can do everything from your bed,' her friend murmured, sitting down beside her. 'You do. Your thoughts go out so strongly. I've often felt them myself. Perhaps that's why God put you here in bed like this,' she added, surprised at the power in herself that made her say such things—'just to think and pray for the world.'
'I do pray sometimes for others,' the tortured woman answered modestly, 'but this time I was not conscious of praying at all. It all swept out of me of its own accord. The force in me seemed so free and inexhaustible that it overflowed. It was irresistible. I felt able to save the world.'
'You were out,' said Mother softly, 'out of yourself, I mean,' she corrected it. 'And your lovely thoughts go everywhere. You do save the world.'
There fell a long silence then between them.
'You've been reading aloud,' Mlle. Lemaire said presently. 'I heard the drone of the voice through the wall—-'
'Daddy was reading his new story to us,' the other said. 'It didn't disturb you?'
'On the contrary. I think it was the voice somehow that brought the vision. I listened vaguely at first, trying to sleep; then, opening my eyes suddenly, the room, as I told you, was full of stars. Their rays caught hold of me and drew these forces out of my very heart. I yielded, giving and giving and giving ... such life flowed from me, and they carried it away in streams.... Oh, it was really like a divine sensation.' 'It was divine,' said Mother, but whether she meant the story or her friend's experience, she hardly knew herself.
'And the story—was it not about our little Bourcelles?' asked the other.
Mother held her hands up as though words failed her. She opened her arms wide. She was not quite sure of her voice.
'It was,' she said at length, 'but Bourcelles had grown into the universe. It's a fairy-tale, but it's like a great golden fire. It warmed my heart till my whole body seemed all heart, and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It makes you see that the whole world is one, and that the sun and moon and stars lie in so small and unimportant a thing as, say, Jimbo's mischief, or Monkey's impudence, or Jinny's backwardness and absurdity. All are in sympathy together, as in a network, and to feel sympathy with anything, even the most insignificant, connects you instantly with the Whole. Thought and sympathy are the Universe—they are life.'
While Mother paused for breath, her old friend smiled a curious, meaning smile, as though she heard a thing that she had always known.
'And all of us are in the story, and all the things we think are alive and active too, because we have created them. Our thoughts populate the world, flying everywhere to help or hinder others, you see.'
The sound of a door opening was heard. Mother got up to go. Shafts of light again seemed to follow her from the figure in the bed.
'Good-night,' she whispered with a full heart, while her thought ran suddenly—'You possess the secret of life and of creation, for suffering has taught it to you, and you have really known it always. But Daddy has put it into words for everybody.' She felt proud as a queen.
There were whispered good-nights then in the corridor, for Rogers and her husband were on their way home to bed.
'Your chocolate is getting cold,' said Daddy kindly.
'We thought you would probably stay in there. We're going over now. It's very late,' Rogers added. They said good-night again.
She closed and locked the great door of the Citadelle behind them, hearing their steps upon the cobbles in the yard, and for some time afterwards upon the road. But their going away seemed the same as coming nearer. She felt so close to everything that lived. Everything did live. Her heart included all that existed, that ever had existed, that ever could exist. Mother was alive all over. 'I have just been created,' she laughed, and went back into the Den to drink her cup of tepid chocolate.
See, the busy Pleiades, Sisters to the Hyades, Seven by seven Across the heaven, Light desire With their fire, Working cunningly together in a soft and tireless band,
Sweetly linking All our thinking In the Net of Sympathy that brings back Fairyland. A Voice.
The prophecy of the children that Bourcelles was a difficult place to get away from found its justification next morning, for Rogers slept so heavily that he nearly missed his train. It was six o'clock when he tumbled downstairs, too late for a real breakfast, and only just in time to get his luggage upon the little char that did duty for all transport in this unsophisticated village. The carpenter pulled it for him to the station.
'If I've forgotten anything, my cousin will send it after me,' he told Mme. Michaud, as he gulped down hot coffee on the steps.
'Or we can keep it for you,' was the answer. 'You'll be coming back soon.' She knew, like the others, that one always came back to Bourcelles. She shook hands with him as if he were going away for a night or two. 'Your room will always be ready,' she added. 'Ayez la bonte seulement de m'envoyer une petite ligne d'avance.'
'There's only fifteen minutes,' interrupted her husband, 'and it's uphill all the way.'
They trundled off along the dusty road, already hot in the early July sun. There was no breath of wind; swallows darted in the blue air; the perfume of the forests was everywhere; the mountains rose soft and clear into the cloudless sky. They passed the Citadelle, where the awning was already being lowered over the balcony for Mlle. Lemaire's bed to be wheeled out a little later. Rogers waved his handkerchief, and saw the answering flutter inside the window. Riquette, on her way in, watched him from the tiles. The orchards then hid the lower floors; he passed the tinkling fountain; to the left he saw the church and the old Pension, the wistaria blossoms falling down its walls in a cascade of beauty.
The Postmaster put his head out and waved his Trilby hat with a solemn smile. 'Le barometre est tres haut...' floated down the village street, instead of the sentence of good-bye. Even the Postmaster took it for granted that he was not leaving. Gygi, standing in the door of his barn, raised his peaked hat and smiled. 'Fait beau, ce matin,' he said, 'plus tard il fera rudement chaud.' He spoke as if Rogers were off for a walk or climb. It was the same everywhere. The entire village saw him go, yet behaved as if he was not really leaving. How fresh and sweet the morning air was, keen mountain fragrance in it, and all the delicious, delicate sharpness of wet moss and dewy fields.
As he passed the courtyard near the Guillaume Tell, and glanced up at the closed windows of Mother Plume's apartment, a pattering step startled him behind, and Jimbo came scurrying up. Rogers kissed him and lifted him bodily upon the top of his portmanteau, then helped the carpenter to drag it up the hill. 'The barriers at the level crossing are down, the warning gongs are ringing. It's signalled from Auvernier.' They were only just in time. The luggage was registered and the train panting up the steep incline, when Monkey, sleep still thick in her eyes, appeared rolling along the white road. She was too breathless to speak; she stood and stared like a stuffed creature in a Museum. Jimbo was beside the engine, having a word with the mecanicien.
'Send a telegram, you know—like that,' he shouted, as the carriage slid past him, 'and we'll bring the char.' He knew his leader would come back. He took his cap off politely, as a man does to a lady—the Bourcelles custom. He did not wave his handkerchief or make undignified signs. He stood there, watching his cousin to the last, and trying to see the working of the engine at the same time. He had already told him the times and stopping places, and where he had to change; there was nothing more for a man to say.
Monkey, her breath recovered now, shouted something impudent from the road. 'The train will break down with you in it before it gets to Pontarlier, and you'll be back for tea—worse luck!' He heard it faintly, above the grinding of the wheels. She blew him a kiss; her hair flew out in a cloud of brown the sunshine turned half golden. He almost saw the shining of her eyes. And then the belt of the forest hid her from view, hid Jimbo and the village too. The last thing he saw of Bourcelles was the top of the church spire and the red roof of the towering Citadelle. The crest of the sentinel poplar topped them both for a minute longer, waved a slight and stately farewell, then lowered itself into the forest and vanished in its turn.
And Rogers came back with a start and a bump to what is called real life.
He closed his eyes and leaned back in his corner, feeling he had suddenly left his childhood behind him for the second time, not gradually as it ought to happen, but all in one dreadful moment. A great ache lay in his heart. The perfect book of fairy-tales he had been reading was closed and finished. Weeks had passed in the delicious reading, but now the last page was turned; he came back to duty—duty in London—great, noisy, overwhelming London, with its disturbing bustle, its feverish activities, its complex, artificial, unsatisfying amusements, and its hosts of frantic people. He grew older in a moment; he was forty again now; an instant ago, just on the further side of those blue woods, he had been fifteen. Life shrank and dwindled in him to a little, ugly, unattractive thing. He was returning to a flat in the dolorous edifice of civilisation. A great practical Scheme, rising in sombre bricks and mortar through a disfiguring fog, blocked all the avenues of the future.
The picture seemed sordid somewhere, the contrast was so striking. In a great city was no softness; hard, sharp angles everywhere, or at best an artificial smoothness that veiled ugliness and squalor very thinly. Human relationship worked like parts of a machine, cramped into definite orbits, each wheel, each pulley, the smallest deviation deemed erratic. In Bourcelles, the mountain village, there was more latitude, room for expansion, space. The heart leaped up spontaneously like a spring released. In the city this spring was held down rigidly in place, pressed under as by a weight; and the weight, surely, was that one for ever felt compelled to think of self—self in a rather petty, shameful way—personal safety. In the streets, in the houses, in public buildings, shops, and railway stations, even where people met to eat and drink in order to keep alive, were Notice Boards of caution and warning against their fellow kind. Instead of the kindly and unnecessary, even ridiculous little Gygi, there were big, grave policemen by the score, a whole army of them; and everywhere grinned the Notice Boards, like automatic, dummy policemen, mocking joy with their insulting warnings. The heart was oppressed with this constant reminder that safety could only be secured by great care and trouble— safety for the little personal self; protection from all kinds of robbery, depredation, and attack; beware of pickpockets, the proprietor is not responsible for overcoats and umbrellas even! And burglar alarms and doors of steel and iron everywhere—an organised defence from morning till night—against one's own kind.