"Come out and play, why don't you?" he called. "I know where there's a fine swimming pool." But there was no answer to his invitation. Instead there was sudden and utter silence. He was disappointed, for he did want a playmate, and he had almost given up looking for Wild Thyme.
After walking for a long while he came at last to one of the windings of the Forest stream, and gratefully stepped into the shallow, clear water, dark with shadows. His feet were burning, and his head was hot. So he drank a long drink of the cold, delicious water, ducked his head, and finally washed his face. Then he waded on with no purpose in mind now but just to keep his feet in the water.
It was so he came to the deepest place; where not even Ivra had ever been. It was almost cool there, and more like twilight than early afternoon. And right in the deepest place, in a nest of smooth leaves, with his feet in the water, lay Wild Star. When Eric first caught sight of him he thought he was asleep, for his wings were lying on the leaves half folded and dropped, and his knees were higher than his head. But when Eric went close enough to see his eyes he knew that he was very wide awake, for they were wide open, watchful and intent,—and purple like the early morning. Such wide-awake eyes were startling in such a sleepy, still place. Eric expected him to spread his wings in a flash and dart away. But the wings stayed half open, purple shadows on the leaves, and Wild Star did not even raise his head. Only his eyes greeted Eric.
But Eric knew without words that Wild Star was glad to see him. So he stepped up out of the water and stretched himself on a mound of silvery moss near by. With his chin resting in his palms and his elbows supporting, he faced the Wind Creature, his clear blue eyes open to the intent purple ones.
It was Wild Star who spoke first.
"I thought, little Eric, you would have crossed the sea before this, and be out of the Forest. I expected to find you next fall on the other side of the world."
Eric was amazed, for he had not said one word of his dream about that to any one. "How did you know I wanted to go?" he cried.
"Oh, you are an Earth Child, after all, and I knew you would want to be going on, as soon as you saw the sea."
"But why do I want to go on?" asked Eric, his face clouding with the puzzle of it. "I am so happy here, and Helma is my mother now. There can't be another mother across the sea for me. And if there were I wouldn't want her,—not after Helma! No, Helma is my only mother, and Ivra is my comrade. And still I want to leave them,—and go on and away over there. It is very funny."
"No," said Wild Star. "It isn't funny. You are a growing Earth Child, not a fairy. It is your own kind calling you. It is the music of your human life."
"I don't know what you mean," said Eric.
"It is like this: you know when you begin to sing a song, you go on and on to the end without thinking about it at all. It is the theme that carries you. Well, a human life is made like a song,—it carries itself along. You do not stop to think why. It can't stop in the middle, on one chord, for long. Yours now is resting, on a chord of happiness. But soon it will go on again. You want it to. Life in the Forest, though, isn't like that. Here it is music without any theme, like the music we dance to. Thrum, thrum, thrum, thrummmmmmmm. But there is more than that to an Earth Child's life. It runs on like this stream. The stream is happy here in the Forest, too, but it goes on seeking the sea just the same."
There was a long stillness while Eric looked down into the green depths of the water. At last he asked, "But how could I ever get across the sea? And when I got there how could I get back?"
"Time enough to think about getting back when you are there," laughed Wild Star. "But as to getting there, Helma is the one to tell you that. She has been an Earth Child, too, you know. She felt just as you did, that spring night on the shore. She has felt it many times. It is only Ivra that keeps her in the Forest. Ivra docs not belong out in the world of humans, and Helma will never leave her. But she will understand your longing. All you have to do is tell her."
Eric clapped his hands, a habit he had caught from Ivra. "Oh, I shall cross in a ship," he cried, "and see all the foreign lands. And when I come back, think of the World Stories I shall have to tell Helma and Ivra!"
He sprang up in his joy, and felt as though he had wings on his shoulders like Wild Star, and had only to spread them out to go beating around the world. For a second the Wind Creature and the Earth Child looked very much alike. And indeed, the only difference was that Wild Star had to wait for the wind, and Eric need wait for no wind or no season. His wings were inside of his head, but they were as strong as Wild Star's. And he had only to spread them and lift them to go anywhere he wanted.
Now he wanted to get back to Helma and tell her all about it. Wild Star pointed him the shortest way, and off he ran, jumping the stream and the moss beds beyond, and disappearing into the underbrush.
"I'll look for you next time the other side of the world!" Wild Star shouted after him.
It was twilight when he reached home. Helma and Ivra were sitting on the door stone, hand in hand. They made room for Eric. But he did not snuggle up. He stayed erect, his face lifted towards the first dim stars, and told Helma all about his wanting to go away from them out through the Forest and across the sea, and all that Wild Star had said about music and Earth People's lives. And he told her, too, of the vision of success he had had when he caught Wild Thyme that first day by her bushy hair.
Helma listened quietly, and said nothing for many minutes after he was through. But at last she spoke, putting a hushing hand on Eric's dreamful head.
"I understand," she said. "I knew you would want to go on sometime. And I have a friend across there who will help us. He has a school for boys and I got to know him very well behind the gray stone wall. He asked me about the Forest and you children. And he said that Eric sometime would surely want to go back to humans, and when he did he would help him. He understands boys. It is to him you had better go, Eric, and when you are really ready I will tell you how, and start you on your way."
Eric sighed with contentment, and leaned his head against Helma's shoulder.
But Ivra stayed at her mother's other side, as still and silent as a shadow. Soon the fireflies began their nightly dance in the garden. But Ivra did not go darting after them as usual to make their dance the swifter. And Eric's head was too full of dreams and his eyes too full of visions of the sea to notice them at all.
MORE MAGIC IN A MIST
Indian summer had come round again before Eric really made up his mind to go. The flowers were asleep in the garden, and there was a steady, gentle shower of yellow leaves down the Forest. That morning when he woke the little house seemed suspended in a golden mist. As he stood in the doorway he felt as though it might drift away up over the trees and into space any minute. But after a little he knew it was not Helma's little forest house that was to go swinging away into space and adventure,—it was himself. And suddenly he wanted to go then,—to the sea and over and beyond. He called the news in to Helma and Ivra, who were still within doors. Helma came swiftly out to him.
"The trees are beckoning again, mother," he cried. "The way they did a year ago when I first came here. Now it is just as Wild Star said. The music is beginning to go on. There's magic out to-day. Oh, what made Wild Star know so much?"
"Sit down," said Helma. She took his hand and drew him down beside her on the door stone. Then she held it firmly while very slowly and distinctly, but once only, she gave him directions about how to go, where to go and what to do, so that he might follow the magic.
Eric sat and listened attentively, in spite of the high beating of his heart, and the magic working in his head. As soon as she was done, he wanted to go right away that minute. For even in his happiness he knew that saying good-by to all his friends in the Forest would be too sad a task. They did not say good-by when they went on long adventures, or followed summer south. They simply disappeared one day, and those who stayed behind forgot them until next season. So Eric would do as they.
Only last week Helma had made him a warm brown suit for the coming winter. The new strong sandals on his feet he had made himself. His cap was new, too, and Helma had stuck two new little brown feathers in it as in the old one; so he still had a look of flying. There was really nothing to delay his departure further. Helma called to Ivra, and she came out slowly. There was no need to explain things to her, for she had heard everything.
Helma lifted Eric's chin in her palms and looked long and earnestly at the child she was letting go away from her all alone out into the queer world of Earth People. She picked him up in her strong arms then, as though he were a very little boy, and kissed him. She ran with him to the opening in the hedge and set him down there, laughing.
"Run along now 'round the world," she said. "And when you come back bring a hundred new World Stories with you!"
Eric laughed too, and promised and stood on tiptoes to kiss her again. He stroked her short flower petal hair, and kissed her cool brown cheek over and over. But he did not cling to her. And he did not say another word, but ran to catch up with Ivra who was to walk with him until noon and had gone on ahead.
The children did not scuffle through the banks of leaves, or jump and run and burst into play as they were used to doing. They walked steadily forward, saying very little, neither hurrying nor delaying their steps. Once when Eric's sandal came untied Ivra knelt to fix it, for she was still more skillful with knots than he.
But when the sun showed that it was noon, Ivra's steps grew slower and slower, dragged and dragged, until at last she stood still in a billow of leaves.
"I have to go back now," she said.
In a flash all the magic swept out of the day for Eric. He knew he could never say good-by to Ivra, so he stayed silent, looking ahead into the fluttering, golden forest. But even as he looked the trees began to beckon with their high fingers, and 'way away, down long avenues of trees he almost glimpsed the sea.
Ivra threw her arms about his neck and kissed him. "Good-by, comrade," was all she said.
He kissed her cheeks. "I'll come back," he promised. But before he had gone many steps he turned to see her again. She was standing in the billow of leaves, a lonely-looking little girl, her face paler than it had been even on that day of the wind-hunt. He wanted to run back to her and tell her he would be her playmate always, and never leave the Forest. But he wanted, too, to go on and across the sea and into foreign lands. He stayed irresolute.
And then quite suddenly, standing just behind Ivra, he saw Tree Mother. She was not looking at him at all, but at Ivra, and her eyes were kind stars. When Ivra turned to go home she must walk right into Tree Mother's arms and against her breast. So Eric was happy again, Ivra could not be lonely with dear Tree Mother. Perhaps she would take her up in her air-boat high above the falling leaves, where she could look down on the magic. He waved, calling, "Remember me to the Snow Witches when they come." That was not because he really wanted to be remembered to them but because he knew that Ivra liked them best of all, and it would please her.
She nodded and waved too, and threw him a kiss. Then a shower of fluttering leaves came between the playmates.
When it was clear again Eric had run on out of sight, and was lost to Ivra in the Forest. On and on and on through the showers of golden leaves he went, magic at his elbow and around him, and beckoning ahead of him. And after long walking and many thoughts, at last he did see the sea, gleaming blue and white sparkles between the golden trees.