Infomotions, Inc.The Extra Day / Blackwood, Algernon, 1869-1951



Author: Blackwood, Algernon, 1869-1951
Title: The Extra Day
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): uncle felix; judy; tim; felix; stumper; maria; uncle; aunt emily; back stumper; tramp
Contributor(s): Widger, David, 1932- [Editor]
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Identifier: etext5894
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Title: The Extra Day

Author: Algernon Blackwood

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and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.




THE EXTRA DAY

BY

ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

AUTHOR OF "THE CENTAUR," "A PRISONER IN FAIRYLAND,"
"INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES," ETC.

New York
1915

Set up and electrotyped. Published September, 1915.
Reprinted November, 1915.




CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I     THE MATERIAL

II    FANCY--SEED OF WONDER

III   DEATH OF A MERE FACT

IV    FACT--EDGED WITH FANCY

V     THE BIRTH OF WONDER

VI    THE GROWTH OF WONDER

VII   IMAGINATION WAKES

VIII  WHERE WONDER HIDES

IX    A PRIEST OF WONDER

X     FACT AND WONDER--CLASH

XI    JUDY'S PARTICULAR ADVENTURE

XII   TIM'S PARTICULAR ADVENTURE

XIII  TIME HESITATES

XIV   MARIA STIRS

XV    "A DAY WILL COME"

XVI   TIME HALTS

XVII  A DAY HAS COME

XVIII TIME GOES ON AGAIN--

XIX   --AS USUAL

XX    --BUT DIFFERENTLY!




CHAPTER I

THE MATERIAL


Judy, Tim, and Maria were just little children. It was impossible to
say exactly what their ages were, except that they were just the usual
age, that Judy was the eldest, Maria the youngest, and that Tim,
accordingly, came in between the two.

Their father did his best for them; so did their mother; so did Aunt
Emily, the latter's sister. It is impossible to say very much about
these three either, except that they were just Father, Mother, and
Aunt Emily. They were the Authorities-in-Chief, and they knew
respectively everything there was to be known about such remote and
difficult subjects as London and Money; Food, Health and Clothing;
Conduct, Behaviour and Regulations, both general and particular. Into
these three departments of activity the children, without realising
that they did so, classed them neatly. Aunt Emily, besides the special
duties assigned to her, was a living embodiment of No. While Father
allowed and permitted, while Mother wobbled and hesitated, Aunt Emily
shook her head with decision, and said distinctly No. She was too full
of warnings, advice, and admonitions to get about much. She wore gold
glasses, and had an elastic, pointed nose. From the children's point
of view she must be classed as invalid. Somewhere, deep down inside
them, they felt pity.

The trio loved them according to their just deserts; they grasped that
the Authorities did their best for them. This "best," moreover, was
done in different ways. Father did it with love and tenderness, that
is, he spoilt them; Mother with tenderness and love, that is, she felt
them part of herself and did not like to hurt herself; Aunt Emily with
affectionate and worthy desire to see them improve, that is, she
trained them. Therefore they adored their father, loved their mother,
and thought highly--from a distance preferably--of their aunt.

This was the outward and visible household that an ordinary person,
say, a visitor who came to lunch on Sunday after church, would have
noticed. It was the upper layer; but there was an under layer too.
There was Thompson, the old pompous family butler; they trusted him
because he was silent and rarely smiled, winked at their mischief,
pretended not to see them when he caught them in his pantry, and never
once betrayed them. There was Mrs. Horton, the fat and hot-tempered
family cook; they regarded her with excitement including dread,
because she left juicy cakes (still wet) upon the dresser, yet denied
them the entry into her kitchen. Her first name being Bridget, there
was evidently an Irish strain in her, but there was probably a dash of
French as well, for she was an excellent cook and _recipe_ was her
master-word--she pronounced it "recipee." There was Jackman, the
nurse, a mixture of Mother and Aunt Emily; and there was Weeden, the
Head Gardener, an evasive and mysterious personality, who knew so much
about flowers and vegetables and weather that he was half animal, half
bird, and scarcely a human being at all--vaguely magnificent in a
sombre way. His power in his own department was unquestioned. He said
little, but it "meant an awful lot"--most of which, perhaps, was not
intended.

These four constituted the under layer of the household, concealed
from visitors, and living their own lives apart behind the scenes.
They were the Lesser Authorities.

There were others too, of course, neighbours, friends, and visitors,
who dwelt outside the big iron gates in the Open World, and who
entered their lives from various angles, some to linger, some merely
to show themselves and vanish into mist again. Occasionally they
reappeared at intervals, occasionally they didn't. Among the former
were Colonel William Stumper, C.B., a retired Indian soldier who lived
in the Manor House beyond the church and had written a book on
Scouting; a nameless Station-Master, whom they saw rarely when they
accompanied Daddy to the London train; a Policeman, who walked
endlessly up and down the muddy or dusty lanes, and came to the front
door with a dirty little book in his big hands at Christmas-time; and
a Tramp, who slept in barns and haystacks, and haunted the great
London Road ever since they had once handed him a piece of Mrs.
Horton's sticky cake in paper over the old grey fence. Him they
regarded with a special awe and admiration, not unmixed with
tenderness. He had smiled so nicely when he said "Thank you" that
Judy, wondering if there was any one to mend his clothes, had always
longed to know him better. It seemed so wonderful. How could he live
without furniture, house, regular meals--without possessions, in a
word? It made him so real. It was "real life," in fact, to live that
way; and upon Judy especially the impression was a deep one.

In addition to these occasional intruders, there was another person,
an Authority, but the most wonderful Authority of all, who came into
their lives a little later with a gradual and overwhelming effect, but
who cannot be mentioned more definitely just now because he has not
yet arrived. The world, in any case, speaking generally, was enormous;
it was endless; it was always dropping things and people upon them
without warning, as from a clear and cloudless sky. But this
particular individual was still climbing the great curve below their
horizon, and had not yet poked his amazing head above the edge.

Yet, strange to say, they had always believed that some such person
would arrive. A wonderful stranger was already on the way. They rarely
spoke of it--it was just a great, passionate expectancy tucked away in
the deepest corner of their hearts. Children possess this sense of
anticipation all the world over; grown-ups have it too in the form of
an unquenchable, though fading hope: the feeling that some day or
other a Wonderful Stranger will come up the pathway, knock at the
door, and enter their lives, making life worth living, full of wonder,
beauty, and delight, because he will make all things new.

This wonderful stranger, Judy had a vague idea, would be--be like at
least--the Tramp; Tim, following another instinct, was of the opinion
he would be a "soldier-explorer-hunter kind of man"; Maria, if she
thought anything at all about him, kept her decision securely hidden
in her tight, round body. But Judy qualified her choice by the hopeful
assertion that he would "come from the air"; and Tim had a secret
notion that he would emerge from a big, deep hole--pop out like a
badger or a rabbit, as it were--and suddenly declare himself; while
Maria, by her non-committal, universal attitude, perhaps believed
that, if he came at all, he would "just come from everywhere at once."
She believed everything, always, everywhere. But to assert that belief
was to betray the existence of a doubt concerning it. She just lived
it.

For the three children belonged to three distinct classes, without
knowing that they did so. Tim loved anything to do with the ground,
with earth and soil, that is, things that made holes and lived in
them, or that did not actually make holes but just grubbed about;
mysterious, secret things, such as rabbits, badgers, hedgehogs, mice,
rats, hares, and weasels. In all his games the "earth" was home.

Judy, on the other hand, was indubitably an air person--birds amazed
her, filling her hungry heart with high aspirations, longings, and
desires. She looked, with her bright, eager face and spidery legs,
distinctly bird-like. She flitted, darted, perched. She had what Tim
called a "tweaky" nose, though whether he meant that it was beak-like
or merely twitched, he never stated; it was just "tweaky," and Judy
took it as a compliment. One could easily imagine her shining little
face peeping over the edge of a nest, the rest of her sitting warmly
upon half a dozen smooth, pink eggs. Her legs certainly seemed stuck
into her like pencils, as with a robin or a seagull. She adored
everything that had wings and flew; she was of the air; it was her
element.

Maria's passions were unknown. Though suspected of being universal,
since she manifested no deliberate likes or dislikes, approving all
things with a kind of majestic and indifferent omnipotence, they
remained quiescent and undeclared. She probably just loved the
universe. She felt at home in it. To Maria the entire universe
belonged, because she sat still and with absolute conviction--claimed
it.




CHAPTER II

FANCY--SEED OF WONDER


The country house, so ancient that it seemed part of the landscape,
settled down secretively into the wintry darkness and watched the
night with eyes of yellow flame. The thick December gloom hid it
securely from attack. Nothing could find it out. Though crumbling in
places, the mass of it was solid as a fortress, for the old oak beams
had resisted Time so long that the tired years had resigned themselves
to siege instead of assault, and the protective hills and woods
rendered it impregnable against the centuries. The beleaguered
inhabitants felt safe. It was a delightful, cosy feeling, yet
excitement and surprise were in it too. Anything _might_ happen, and
at any moment.

This, at any rate, was how Judy and Tim felt the personality of the
old Mill House, calling it Daddy's Castle. Maria expressed no opinion.
She felt and knew too much to say a word. She was habitually non-
committal. She shared the being of the ancient building, as the
building shared the landscape out of which it grew so naturally.
Having been born last, her inheritance of coming Time exceeded that of
Tim and Judy, and she lived as though thoroughly aware of her
prerogative. In quiet silence she claimed everything as her very own.

The Mill House, like Maria, never moved; it existed comfortably; it
seemed independent of busy, hurrying Time. So thickly covered was it
with ivy and various creepers that the trees on the lawn wondered why
it did not grow bigger like themselves. They remembered the time when
they looked up to it, whereas now they looked over it easily, and even
their lower branches stroked the stone tiles on the roof, patched with
moss and lichen like their own great trunks. They had come to regard
it as an elderly animal asleep, for its chimneys looked like horns, it
possessed a capacious mouth that both swallowed and disgorged, and its
eyes were as numerous as those of the forest to which they themselves
properly belonged. And so they accepted the old Mill House as a thing
of drowsy but persistent life; they protected and caressed it; they
liked it exactly where it was; and if it moved they would have known
an undeniable shock.

They watched it now, this dark December evening, as one by one its
gleaming eyes shone bright and yellow through the mist, then one by
one let down their dark green lids. "It's going to sleep," they
thought. "It's going to dream. Its life, like ours, is all inside. It
sleeps the winter through as we do. All is well. Good-night, old house
of grey! We'll also go to sleep."

Unable to see into the brain of the sleepy monster, the trees resigned
themselves to dream again, tucking the earth closely against their
roots and withdrawing into the cloak of misty darkness. Like most
other things in winter they also stayed indoors, leading an interior
life of dim magnificence behind their warm, thick bark. Presently,
when they were ready, something would happen, something they were
preparing at their leisure, something so exquisite that all who saw it
would dance and sing for gladness. They also believed in a Wonderful
Stranger who was coming into their slow, steady lives. They fell to
dreaming of the surprising pageant they would blazon forth upon the
world a little later. And while they dreamed, the wind of night passed
moaning through their leafless branches, and Time flew noiselessly
above the turning Earth.

Meanwhile, inside the old Mill House, the servants lit the lamps and
drew the blinds and curtains. Behind the closing eyelids, however,
like dream-chambers within a busy skull, there were rooms of various
shapes and kinds, and in one of these on the ground-floor, called
Daddy's Study, the three children stood, expectant and a little shy,
waiting for something desirable to happen. In common with all other
living things, they shared this enticing feeling--that Something
Wonderful was going to happen. To be without this feeling, of course,
is to be not alive; but, once alive, it cannot be escaped. At death it
asserts itself most strongly of all--Something Too Wonderful is going
to happen. For to die is quite different from being not alive. This
feeling is the proof of eternal life--once alive, alive for ever. To
live is to feel this yearning, huge expectancy.

Daddy had taught them this, though, of course, they knew it
instinctively already. And any moment now the door would open and his
figure, familiar, yet each time more wonderful, would cross the
threshold, close the door behind him, and ... something desirable
would happen.

"I wish he'd hurry," said Tim impatiently. "There won't be any time
left." And he glanced at the cruel clock that stopped all their
pleasure but never stopped itself. "The motor got here hours ago. He
can't STILL be having tea." Judy, her brown hair in disorder, her belt
sagging where it was of little actual use, sighed deeply. But there
was patience and understanding in her big, dark eyes. "He's in with
Mother doing finances," she said with resignation. "It's Saturday.
Let's sit down and wait." Then, seeing that Maria already occupied the
big armchair, and sat staring comfortably into the fire, she did not
move. Maria was making a purring, grunting sound of great contentment;
she felt no anxiety of any kind apparently.

But Tim was less particular.

"Alright," he said, squashing himself down beside Maria, whose podgy
form accommodated itself to the intrusion like a cat, "as long as Aunt
Emily doesn't catch him on the way and begin explaining."

"She's in bed with a headache," mentioned Judy. "She's safe enough."
For it was an established grievance against their mother's sister that
she was always explaining things. She was a terrible explainer. She
couldn't move without explaining. She explained everything in the
world. She was a good soul, they knew, but she had to explain that she
was a good soul. They rather dreaded her. Explanations took time for
one thing, and for another they took away all wonder. In bed with a
headache, she was safely accounted for, explained.

"She thinks we miss her," reflected Tim. He did not say it; it just
flashed through his mind, with a satisfaction that added vaguely to
his pleasurable anticipation of what was coming. And this satisfaction
increased his energy. "Shove over a bit," he added aloud to Maria, and
though Maria did not move of her own volition, she was nevertheless
shoved over. The pair of them settled down into the depths of the
chair, but while Maria remained quite satisfied with her new position,
her brother fussed and fidgeted with impatience born of repressed
excitement. "Run out and knock at the door," he proposed to Judy.
"He'll never get away from Mother unless we let him KNOW we're
waiting."

Judy, kneeling on a chair and trying to make it sea-saw, pulled up her
belt, sprang down, then hesitated. "They'll only think it's Thompson
and say come in," she decided. "That's no good."

Tim jumped up, using Maria as a support to raise himself. "I know
what!" he cried. "Go and bang the gong. He'll think it's dressing-
time." The idea was magnificent. "I'll go if you funk it," he added,
and had already slithered half way over the back of the chair when
Judy forestalled him and had her hand upon the door-knob. He
encouraged her with various instructions about the proper way to beat
the gong, and was just beginning a scuffle with the inanimate Maria,
who now managed to occupy the entire chair, when he was aware of a new
phenomenon that made him stop abruptly. He saw Judy's face hanging in
mid-air, six feet above the level of the floor. Her face was flushed
and smiling; her hair hung over her eyes; and from somewhere behind or
underneath her a gruff voice said sternly:

"What are you doing in my Study at this time of night? Who asked you
in?"

The expected figure had entered, catching Judy in the act of opening
the door. He was carrying her in his arms. She landed with a flop upon
the carpet. The desired and desirable thing was about to happen. "Get
out, you lump, it's Daddy." But Maria, accustomed to her brother's
exaggerated language, and knowing it was only right and manly, merely
raised her eyes and waited for him to help her out. Tim did help her
out; half dragging and half lifting, he deposited her in a solid heap
upon the floor, then ran to the figure that now dominated the dim,
fire-lit room, and hugged it with all his force, making sounds in his
throat like an excited animal: "Ugh! ugh! ugh!...!"

The hug was returned with equal vigour, but without the curious
sounds; Maria was hugged as well and set upon her feet; while Judy,
having already been sufficiently hugged, pushed the arm-chair closer
up to the fire and waited patiently for the proper business of the
evening to begin.

The figure, meanwhile, disentangled itself. It was tall and thin, with
a mild, resigned expression upon a kindly face that years and care had
lined before its time: old-fashioned rather, with soft, grey whiskers
belonging to an earlier day. A black tail-coat adorned it, and the
neck-tie was crooked in the turned-down collar. The watch-chain went
from the waist-coat button to one pocket only, instead of right
across, and one finger wore a heavy signet-ring that bore the family
crest. It was obviously the figure of an overworked official in the
Civil Service who had returned from its daily routine in London to the
evening routine of its family in the country, the atmosphere of
Government and the Underground still hanging round it. For sundry
whiffs of the mysterious city reached the children's nostrils,
bringing thrills of some strange, remote reality they had never known
at first-hand. They busied themselves at once. While Tim unbuttoned
the severe black coat and pulled it off, Judy brought a jacket of
dingy tweed from behind a curtain in the corner, and stood on a chair
to help the figure put it on. All knew their duties; the performance
went like clockwork. And Maria sat and watched in helpful silence.
There was a certain air about her as though she did it all.

"How they do spoil me, to be sure," the figure murmured to itself;
"yet Mother's always saying that _I_ spoil them. I wonder...!"

"Now you look decent at last," said Judy. "You smell like a nice
rabbit."

"It's my shooting-coat." The figure cleared its throat, apparently on
the defensive a little.

Tim and Judy sniffed it. "Rabbits and squirrels and earth and things,"
thought Tim.

"And flowers and burning leaves," said Judy. "It's his old garden-coat
as well." She sniffed very audibly. "Oh, I love that smoky smell."

"It's the good old English smell," said the figure contentedly, while
they put his neck-tie straight and arranged the pocket flaps for him.
"It's English country--England."

"Don't other countries smell, then?" inquired Tim. "I mean, could any
one tell you were English by your smell?" He sniffed again, with
satisfaction. "Weeden's the same," he went on, without waiting for an
answer, "only much stronger, and so's the potting shed."

"But yours is sweeter _much_," said Judy quickly. To share odours with
an Authority like the Head Gardener was distinctly a compliment, but
Daddy must come first, whatever happened. "How funny," she added, half
to herself, "that England should have such a jolly smell. I wonder
what it comes from?"

"Where _does_ England come from?" asked Tim, pausing a moment to stare
into the figure's face. "It's an island, of course--England--but--"

"A piece of land surrounded by water," began the figure, but was not
allowed to finish. A chorus of voices interrupted:

"Make a story of it, please. There's just time. There's half an hour.
It's nice and dark. Ugh! Something very awful or very silly,
please...."

There followed a general scuffle for seats, with bitter complaints
that he only had two pointed knees. Maria was treated with scant
respect. There was also criticism of life--that he had no lap, "no
proper lap," that it was too dark to see his face, that everybody in
turn had got "the best place," but, chiefly, that there was "very
little time." Time was a nuisance always: it either was time to go, or
time to stop, or else there was not time enough. But at length quiet
was established; the big arm-chair resembled a clot of bees upon a
honeycomb; the fire burned dully, and the ceiling was thick with
monstrous fluttering shadows, vaguely shaped.

"Now, please. We've been ready for ages."

A deep hush fell upon the room, and only a sound of confused breathing
was audible. The figure heaved a long, deep sigh as though it suffered
pain, paused, cleared its throat, then sighed again more heavily than
before. For the moment of creation was at hand, and creation is not
accomplished without much travail.

But the children loved the pause, the sigh, the effort. Not realising
with what difficulty the stories were ground out, nor that it was an
effort against time--to make a story last till help came from outside
--they believed that something immense and wonderful was on the way,
and held their breath with beating hearts. Daddy's stories were always
marvellous; this one would be no exception.

Marvellous up to a point, that is: something in them failed. "He's
trying," was their opinion of them; and it was the trying that they
watched and listened to so eagerly. The results were unsatisfying, the
effect incomplete; the climax of sensation they expected never came.
Daddy, though they could not put this into words, possessed fancy
only; imagination was not his. Fancy, however, is the seed of
imagination, as imagination is the blossom of wonder. His stories
prepared the soil in them at any rate. They felt him digging all round
them.

He began forthwith:

"Once, very long ago--"

"How long?"

"So long ago that the chalk cliffs of England still lay beneath the
sea--"

"Was Aunt Emily alive then?"

"Or Weeden?"

"Oh, much longer ago than that," he comforted them; "so long, in fact,
that neither your Aunt Emily nor Weeden were even thought of--there
lived a man who--"

"Where? What country, please?"

"There lived a man in England--"

"But you said England was beneath the sea with the chalk cliffs."

"There lived a man in a very small, queer little island called
Ingland, spelt 'Ing,' not 'Eng,' who--"

"It wasn't _our_ England, then?"

"On a tiny little island called Ingland, who was very lonely because
he was the only human being on it--"

"Weren't there animals and things too?"

"And the only animals who lived on it with him were a squirrel who
lived in the only tree, a rabbit who lived in the only hole, and a
small grey mouse who made its nest in the pocket of his other coat."

"Were they friendly? Did he love them awfully?"

"At first he was very polite to them only, because he was a civil
servant of his Government; but after a bit they became so friendly
that he loved them even better than himself, and went to tea with the
rabbit in its hole, and climbed the tree to share a nut-breakfast with
the squirrel, and--and--"

"He doesn't know what to do with the mouse," a loud whisper, meant to
be inaudible, broke in upon the fatal hesitation.

"And went out for walks with the mouse when the ground was damp and
the mouse complained of chilly feet. In the pocket of his coat, all
snug and warm, it stood on its hind legs and peered out upon the world
with its pointed nose just above the pocket flap--"

"Then he liked the mouse best?"

"What sort of coat was it? An overcoat or just an ordinary one that
smelt? Was that the only pocket in it?"

"It was made of the best leaves from the squirrel's tree, and from the
rabbit's last year's fur, and the mouse had fastened the edges
together neatly with the sharpest of its own discarded whiskers. And
so they walked about the tiny island and enjoyed the view together--"

"The mouse couldn't have seen much!"

"Until, one day, the mouse declared the ground was ALWAYS wet and was
getting wetter and wetter. And the man got frightened."

"Ugh! It's going to get awful in a minute!" And the children nestled
closer. The voice sank lower. It became mysterious.

"And the wetter it got the more the man got frightened; for the island
was dreadfully tiny and--"

"Why, please, did it get wetter and wetter?"

"THAT," continued the man who earned his living in His Majesty's
Stationery Office by day, and by night justified his existence
offering the raw material of epics unto little children, "that was the
extraordinary part of it. For no one could discover. The man stroked
his beard and looked about him, the squirrel shook its bushy tail, the
rabbit lifted its upper lip and thrust its teeth out, and the mouse
jerked its head from side to side until its whiskers grew longer and
sharper than ever--but none of them could discover why the island got
wetter and wetter and wetter--"

"Perhaps it just rained like here."

"For the sky was always blue, it never rained, and there was so little
dew at night that no one even mentioned it. Yet the tiny island got
wetter every day, till it finally got so wet that the very floor of
the man's hut turned spongy and splashed every time the man went to
look out of the window at the view. And at last he got so frightened
that he stayed indoors altogether, put on both his coats at once, and
told stories to the mouse and squirrel about a country that was always
dry--"

"Didn't the rabbit know anything?"

"For all this time the rabbit was too terrified to come out of its
hole at all. The increasing size of its front teeth added to its
uneasiness, for they thrust out so far that they hid the view and made
the island seem even smaller than it was--"

"I like rabbits, though."

"Till one fine day--"

"They were all fine, you said."

"One finer day than usual the rabbit made a horrible discovery. The
way it made the discovery was curious--may seem curious to us, at
least--but the fact is, it suddenly noticed that the size of its front
teeth had grown out of all proportion to the size of the island.
Looking over its shoulder this fine day, it realised how absurdly
small the island was in comparison with its teeth--and grasped the
horrid truth. In a flash it understood what was happening. The island
was getting wetter because it was also getting--_smaller_!"

"Ugh! How beastly!"

"Did it tell the others?"

"It retired half-way down its hole and shouted out the news to the
others in the hut."

"Did they hear it?"

"It warned them solemnly. But its teeth obstructed the sound, and the
windings of its hole made it difficult to hear. The man, besides, was
busy telling a story to the mouse, and the mouse, anyhow, was sound
asleep at the bottom of his pocket, with the result that the only one
who caught the words of warning was--the squirrel. For a squirrel's
ears are so sharp that it can even hear the grub whistling to itself
inside a rotten nut; and it instantly took action."

"Ah! IT saved them, then?"

"The squirrel flew from the man's shoulder where it was perched,
balanced for a second on the top of his head, then clung to the
ceiling and darted out of the window without a moment's delay. It
crossed the island in a single leap, scuttled to the top of the tree,
peered about over the diminishing landscape, and--"

"Didn't it see the rabbit?"

"And returned as quickly as it went. It bustled back into the hut,
hopping nervously, and jerking its head with excitement. In a moment
it was perched again on the man's shoulder. It carefully kept its
bushy tail out of the way of his nose and eyes. And then it whispered
what it had seen into his left ear."

"Why into his left ear?"

"Because it was the right one, and the other had cotton wool in it."

"Like Aunt Emily!"

"What did it whisper?"

"The squirrel had made a discovery, too," continued the teller,
solemnly.

"Goodness! That's two discoveries!"

"But what _did_ it whisper?"

In the hush that followed, a coal was heard falling softly into the
grate; the night-wind moaned against the outside walls; Judy scraped
her stockinged foot slowly along the iron fender, making a faint
twanging sound. Breathing was distinctly audible. For several moments
the room was still as death. The figure, smothered beneath the clotted
mass of children, heaved a sigh. But no one broke the pause. It was
too precious and wonderful to break at once. All waited breathlessly,
like birds poised in mid-air before they strike ... until a new sound
stole faintly upon the listening silence, a faint and very distant
sound, barely audible as yet, but of unmistakable character. It was
far away in the upper reaches of the building, overhead, remote, a
little stealthy. Like the ominous murmur of a muffled drum, it had
approach in it. It was coming nearer and nearer. It was significant
and threatening.

For the first time that evening the ticking of the clock was also
audible. But the new sound, though somewhat in league with the
ticking, and equally remorseless, did not come from the clock. It was
a human sound, the most awful known to childhood. It was footsteps on
the stairs!

Both the children and the story-teller heard it, but with different
results. The latter stirred and looked about him, as though new hope
and strength had come to him. The former, led by Tim and Judy, broke
simultaneously into anxious speech. Maria, having slept profoundly
since the first mention of the mouse in its cosy pocket, gave no sign
at all.

"Oh, quick! quick! What did the squirrel whisper in his good right
ear? What was it? DO hurry, please!"

"It whispered two simple words, each of one syllable," continued the
reanimated figure, his voice lowered and impressive. "It said--_the
sea_!"

The announcement made by the squirrel was so entirely unexpected that
the surprise of it buried all memory of the disagreeable sound. The
children sat up and stared into the figure's face questioningly.
Surely he had made a slight mistake. How could the sea have anything
to do with it? But no word was spoken, no actual question asked. This
overwhelming introduction of the sea left him poised far beyond their
reach. His stories were invariably marvellous. He would somehow
justify himself.

"The Sea!" whispered Tim to Judy, and there was intense admiration in
his voice and eyes.

"From the top of its tree," resumed the figure triumphantly, "the
squirrel had seen what was happening, and made its great discovery. It
realised why the ground was wetter and wetter every day, and also why
the island was small and growing smaller. For it understood the awful
fact that--the sea was rising! A little longer and the entire island
would be under water, and everybody on it would be drowned!" "Couldn't
none of them swim or anything?" asked Judy with keen anxiety.

"Hush!" put in Tim. "It's what did they _do?_ And who thought of it
first?"

The question last but one was chosen for solution.

"The rabbit," announced the figure recklessly. "The rabbit saved them;
and in saving them it saved the Island too. It founded Ingland, this
very Ingland on which we live to-day. In fact, it started the British
Empire by its action. The rabbit did it."

"How? How?"

"It heard the squirrel's whisper half-way down its hole. It forgot
about its front teeth, and the moment it forgot them they, of course,
stopped growing. It recovered all its courage. A grand idea had come
to it. It came bustling out of its hiding-place, stood on its hind
legs, poked its bright eyes over the window-ledge, and told them how
to escape. It said, 'I'll dig my hole deeper and we'll empty the sea
into it as it rises. We'll pour the water down my hole!'"

The figure paused and fixed his eyes upon each listener in turn,
challenging disapproval, yet eager for sympathy at the same time. In
place of criticism, however, he met only silence and breathless
admiration. Also--he heard that distant sound _they_ had forgotten,
and realised it had come much nearer. It had reached the second floor.
He made swift and desperate calculations. He decided that it was
_just_ possible ... with ordinary good luck ...

"So they all went out and began to deepen the rabbit's hole. They dug
and dug and dug. The man took off both his coats; the rabbit scraped
with its four paws, using its tail as well--it had a nice long tail in
those days; the mouse crept out of his pocket and made channels with
its little pointed toes; and the squirrel brushed and swept the water
in with its bushy, mop-like tail. The rising sea poured down the ever-
deepening hole. They worked with a will together; there was no
complaining, though the rabbit wore its tail down till it was nothing
but a stump, and the mouse stood ankle-deep in water, and the
squirrel's fluffy tail looked like a stable broom. They worked like
heroes without stopping even to talk, and as the water went pouring
down the hole, the level of the sea, of course, sank lower and lower
and lower, the shores of the tiny island stretched farther and farther
and farther, till there were reaches of golden sand like Margate at
low tide, and as the level sank still lower there rose into view great
white cliffs of chalk where before there had been only water--until,
at last, the squirrel, scampering down from the tree where it had gone
to see what had been accomplished, reported in a voice that chattered
with stammering delight, 'We're saved! The sea's gone down! The land's
come up!'"

The steps were audible in the passage. A gentle knock was heard. But
no one answered, for it seemed that no one was aware of it. The figure
paused a moment to recover breath.

"And then, and then? What happened next? Did they thank the rabbit?"

"They all thanked each other then. The man thanked the rabbit, and the
rabbit thanked the squirrel, and the mouse woke up, and--"

No one noticed the slip, which proved that their attention was already
painfully divided. For another knock, much louder than before, had
interrupted the continuation of the story. The figure turned its head
to listen. "It's nothing," said Tim quickly. "It's only a sound," said
Judy. "What did the mouse do? Please tell us quickly."

"I thought I heard a knock," the figure murmured. "Perhaps I was
mistaken. The mouse--er--the mouse woke up--"

"You told us that."

The figure continued, speaking with greater rapidity even than before:

"And looked about it, and found the view so lovely that it said it
would never live in a pocket again, but would divide its time in
future between the fields and houses. So it pricked its whiskers up,
and the squirrel curled its tail over its back to avoid any places
that still were damp, and the rabbit polished its big front teeth on
the grass and said it was quite pleased to have a stump instead of a
tail as a memento of a memorable occasion when they had all been
nearly drowned together, and--they all skipped up to the top of the
high chalk cliffs as dry as a bone and as happy as--"

He broke off in the middle of the enormous sentence to say a most
ridiculous and unnecessary thing. "Come in," he said, just as though
there was some one knocking at the door. But no single head was
turned. If there was an entry it was utterly ignored.

"Happy as what?"

"As you," the figure went on faster than ever. "And that's why England
to-day is an island of quite a respectable size, and why everybody
pretends it's dry and comfortable and cosy, and why people never leave
it except to go away for holidays that cannot possibly be avoided."

"I beg your pardon, sir," began an awful voice behind the chair.

"And why to this day," he continued as though he had not heard, "a
squirrel always curls its tail above its back, why a rabbit wears a
stump like a pen wiper, and why a mouse lives sometimes in a house and
sometimes in a field, and--"

_"I beg your pardon, sir,"_ clanged the slow, awful voice in a tone
that was meant to be heard distinctly, "but it's long gone 'arf-past
six, and--"

"Time for bed," added the figure with a sound that was like the
falling of an executioner's axe. And, as if to emphasise the arrival
of the remorseless moment, the clock just then struck loudly on the
mantelpiece--seven times.

But for several minutes no one stirred. Hope, even at such moments,
was stronger than machinery of clocks and nurses. There was a general
belief that somehow or other the moment that they dreaded, the moment
that was always coming to block their happiness, could be evaded and
shoved aside. Nothing mechanical like that was wholly true. Daddy had
often used queer phrases that hinted at it: "Some day--A day is
coming--A day will come"; and so forth. Their belief in a special Day
when no one would say "Time" haunted them already. Yet, evidently this
evening was not the momentous occasion; for when Tim mentioned that
the clock was fast, the figure behind the chair replied that she was
half an hour overdue already, and her tone was like Thompson's when he
said, "Dinner's served." There was no escape this time.

Accordingly the children slowly disentangled themselves; they rose and
stretched like animals; though all still ignored the figure behind the
chair. A ball of stuff unrolled and became Maria. "Thank you, Daddy,"
she said. "It was just lovely," said Judy. "But it's only the
beginning, isn't it?" Tim asked. "It'll go on to-morrow night?" And
the figure, having escaped failure by the skin of its teeth, kissed
each in turn and said, "Another time--yes, I'll go on with it."
Whereupon the children deigned to notice the person behind the chair.
"We're coming up to bed now, Jackman," they mentioned casually, and
disappeared slowly from the room in a disappointed body, robbed,
unsatisfied, but very sleepy. The clock had cheated them of something
that properly was endless. Maria alone made no remark, for she was
already asleep in Jackman's comfortable arms. Maria was always
carried.

"Time's up," Tim reflected when he lay in bed; "time's always up. I do
wish we could stop it somehow," and fell asleep somewhat gratified
because he had deliberately not wound up his alarum-clock. He had the
delicious feeling--a touch of spite in it--that this would bother Time
and muddle it.

Yet Time, as a monster, chased him through a hundred dreams and thus
revenged itself. It pursued him to the very edge of the daylight, then
mocked him with a cold bath, lessons, and a windy sleet against the
windows. It was "time to get up" again.

Yet, meanwhile, Time helped and pleased the children by showing them
its pleasanter side as well. It pushed them, gently but swiftly, up
the long hill of months and landed them with growing excitement into
the open country of another year. Since the rabbit, mouse, and
squirrel first woke in their hearts the wonder of common things, they
had all grown slightly bigger. Time tucked away another twelve months
behind their backs: each of them was a year older; and that in itself
was full of a curious and growing wonder.

For the birth of wonder is a marvellous, sweet thing, but the
recognition of it is sweeter and more marvellous still. Its growth,
perhaps, shall measure the growth and increase of the soul to whom it
is as eyes and hands and feet, searching the world for signs of hiding
Reality. But its persistence--through the heavier years that would
obliterate it--this persistence shall offer hints of something coming
that is more than marvellous. The beginning of wisdom is surely--
Wonder.




CHAPTER III

DEATH OF A MERE FACT


There was a man named Jinks. In him was neither fancy, imagination,
nor a sign of wonder, and so he--died.

But, though he appears in this chapter, he disappears again so quickly
that his being mentioned in a sentence all by himself should not lead
any one astray. Jinks made a false entry, as it were. The children
crossed him out at once. He became illegible. For the trio had their
likes and dislikes; they resented liberties being taken with them.
Also, when there was no one to tell them stories, they were quite able
to amuse themselves. It was the inactive yet omnipotent Maria who
brought about indirectly the obliteration of Mr. Jinks.

And it came about as follows:

Maria was a podgy child of marked individuality. It was said that she
was seven years old, but _she_ declared that eight was the figure,
because some uncle or other had explained, "you're in your eighth
year." Wandering uncles are troublesome in this kind of way. Every
time her age was mentioned she corrected the informant. She had a
trick of moving her eyes without moving her head, as though the round
face was difficult to turn; but her big blue eyes slipped round
without the least trouble, as though oiled. The performance gave her
the sly and knowing aspect of a goblin, but she had no objection to
that, for it saved her trouble, and to save herself trouble--according
to nurses, Authorities, and the like--was her sole object in
existence.

Yet this seemed a mistaken view of the child. It was not so much that
she did not move unnecessarily as that it was not necessary for her to
move at all, since she invariably found herself in the middle of
whatever was going on. While life bustled anxiously about her,
hurrying to accomplish various ends, she remained calm and contented
at the centre, completely satisfied, mistress of it all. And her face
was symbolic of her entire being; whereas so many faces seem
unfinished, hers was complete--globular like the heavenly bodies,
circular like the sun, arms and legs unnecessary. The best of
everything came to her _because_ she did not run after it. There was
no hurry. Time did not worry her. Circular and self-sustaining, she
already seemed to dwell in Eternity.

"And this little person," one of these inquisitive, interfering
visitors would ask, smiling fatuously; "how old is she, I wonder?"

"Seven," was the answer of the Authority in charge.

Maria's eyes rolled sideways, and a little upwards. She looked at the
foolish questioner; the Authority who had answered was not worth a
glance.

"No," she said flatly, with sublime defiance, "I'm more. I'm in my
eighth year, you see."

And the visitor, smiling that pleasant smile that makes children
distrust, even dislike them, and probably venturing to pinch her cheek
or pat her on the shoulder into the bargain, accepted the situation
with another type of smile--the Smile-that-children-expect. As a
matter of fact, children hate it. They see through its artificial
humbug easily. They prefer a solemn and unsmiling face invariably.
It's the latter that produces chocolates and sudden presents; it's the
stern-faced sort that play hide-and-seek or stand on their heads. The
Smilers are bored at heart. They mean to escape at the first
opportunity. And the children never catch their sleeves or coattails
to prevent them going.

"So you're in your eighth year, are you?" this Smiler chuckled with a
foolish grin. He patted her cheek kindly. "Why, you're almost a grown-
up person. You'll be going to dinner-parties soon." And he smiled
again. Maria stood motionless and patient. Her eyes gazed straight
before her. Her podgy face remained expressionless as dough.

"Answer the kind gentleman," said the Authority reprovingly.

Maria did not budge. A finger and thumb, both dirty, rolled a portion
of her pinafore into a pointed thing like a string, distinctly black.
She waited for the visitor to withdraw. But this particular visitor
did not withdraw.

"_I_ knew a little girl--" he began, with a condescending grin that
meant that her rejection of his advances had offended him, "a little
girl of about your age, who--"

But the remainder of the rebuke-concealed-in-a-story was heard only by
the Authority. For Maria, relentless and unhumbugged, merely walked
away. In the hall she discovered Tim, discreetly hiding. "What's _he_
come for?" the brother inquired promptly, jerking his thumb towards
the hall.

Maria's eyes just looked at him.

"To see Mother, I suppose," he answered himself, accustomed to his
sister's goblin manners, "and talk about missions and subshkiptions,
and all that. Did he give you anything?"

"No, nothing."

"Did he call us bonny little ones?" His face mentioned that he could
kill if necessary, or if his sister's honour required it.

"He didn't _say_ it."

"Lucky for him," exclaimed Tim gallantly, rubbing his nose with the
palm of his hand and snorting loudly. "What _did_ he say, then--the
old Smiler?"

"He said," replied Maria, moving her head as well as her eyes, "that I
wasn't really old, and that he knew another little girl who was nicer
than me, and always told the truth, and--"

"Oh, come on," cried Tim, impatiently interrupting. "My trains are
going in the schoolroom, and I want a driver for an accident. We'll
put the Smiler in the luggage van, and he'll get smashed in the
collision, and _all_ the wheels will go over his head. Then he'll find
out how old you really are. We'll fairly smash him."

They disappeared. Judy, who was reading a book on the Apocalypse, in a
corner of the room, looked up a moment as they entered.

"What's up?" she asked, her mind a little dazed by the change of focus
from stars, scarlet women, white horses, and mysterious "Voices," to
dull practical details of everyday existence. "What's on?" she
repeated.

"Trains," replied Tim. "We're going to have an accident and kill a man
dead."

"What's he done?" she inquired.

"Humbugged Maria with a lot of stuff--and gave her nothing--and didn't
believe a single word she told him."

Judy glanced without much interest at the railway laid out upon the
floor, murmured "Oh, I see," and resumed her reading of the wonderful
book she had purloined from the top shelf of a neglected bookcase
outside the gun-room. It absorbed her. She loved the tremendous words,
the atmosphere of marvel and disaster, and especially the constant
suggestion that the end of the world was near. Antichrist she simply
adored. No other hero in any book she knew came near him.

"Come and help," urged Tim, picking up an engine that lay upon its
side. "Come on."

"No, thanks. I've got an Apocalypse. It's simply frightfully
exciting."

"Shall we break _both_ legs?" asked Maria blandly, "or just his neck?"

"Neck," said Tim briefly. "Only they must find the heart beneath the
rubbish of the luggage van."

Judy looked up in spite of herself. "Who is it?" she inquired, with an
air of weighing conflicting interests.

"Mr. Jinks." It was Maria who supplied the information.

"But he's Daddy's offiss-partner man," Judy objected, though without
much vim or heat.

Maria did not answer. Her eyes were glued upon the other engine.

"All black and burnt and--full of the very horridest diseases," put in
Tim, referring to the heart of the destroyed Mr. Jinks beneath the
engine.

He glanced up enticingly at his elder sister, whom he longed to draw
into the vindictive holocaust.

"He said things to Maria," he explained persuasively, "and it's not
the first time either. Last Sunday he called me 'his little man,' and
he's never given me a single thing since ever I can remember, years
and years ago."

Then Judy remembered that he invariably kissed her on both cheeks as
though she was a silly little child.

"Oh, _that_ man!" she exclaimed, realising fully now the enormities he
had committed. She appeared to hesitate a moment. Then she flung down
her Apocalypse suddenly. "Put him on a scarlet horse," she cried,
"pretend he's the Beast, and I'll come."

Maria's blue eyes wheeled half a circle towards Tim. She did not move
her head. It signified agreement. Tim knew. Only her consent, as the
insulted party, was necessary before he could approve.

"All right," he cried to Judy. "We'll put him in a special carriage
with his horse, and I'll make out a label for the window, so that
every one will know." He went over to the table and wrote "BEAST" in
capital letters on a half-sheet of paper. The cumbersome quill pen
made two spongy blots.

"It's the end of the world _really_ at the same time," decided Judy,
to a chorus of general approval, "not only the end of Mr. Jinks." She
liked her horrors on a proper scale.

And the railway line was quickly laid across the room from the window
to the wall. The lamps of oil on both engines were lit. The trains
faced one another. Mr. Jinks and his scarlet horse thought themselves
quite safe in their special carriage, unaware that it was labelled
"Beast" with a label that overlapped the roof and hid all view of the
landscape through the windows on one side. Apparently they slept in
opposite corners, with full consciousness of complete security. Mr.
Jinks was tucked up with woolly rugs, and a newspaper lay across his
knee. The scarlet horse had its head in a bag of oats, and its bridle
was fastened to the luggage rack above. Both were supplied with iron
foot-warmers. There was a _fearful_ fog; and the train was going at a
_TREMENDOUS_ pace.

So was the other train. They approached, they banged, they smashed to
atoms. It was the most appalling collision that had ever been heard
of, and the Guard and Engine-Driver, as well as the Ticket-Collectors
and Directors of the Company, were all executed by the Government the
very next day from gallows that an angry London built in half an hour
on the top of St. Paul's Cathedral dome.

It took place between the footstool and the fireplace in the thickest
fog that England had ever known. And the horrid black heart of Mr.
Jinks was discovered beneath the wreckage of a special carriage next
to the luggage van. It was simply black as coal and very nasty indeed.
The little boy who found it was a porter's son, whose mother was so
poor that she took in washing for members of Parliament, who paid
their bills irregularly because they were very busy governing Ireland.
He knew it was a cinder, but did not discover it was a heart until he
showed it to his mother, and his mother said it was far too black to
wash.

The accident to Mr. Jinks, therefore, was a complete success. The
butler helped with the mending of the engine, and Maria informed at
least one Authority, "We do not know Mr. Jinks. We have other
friends."

"But, remember," said Judy, "we mustn't mention it to Daddy, because
Mr. Jinks is his partner-in-the-offiss."

"_Was_," said Tim. The remains they decided to send to what they
called the "Hospital for Parilysed Ineebrits with Incurable
Afflictions of the Heart."




CHAPTER IV

FACT--EDGED WITH FANCY


But the children were not always so vindictive and blood-thirsty. All
three could be very tender sometimes. Even Maria was not wholly
implacable and merciless, she had a pretty side as well. Their
neighbour at the Manor House, Colonel William Stumper, C.B.,
experienced this gentler quality in the trio. He was Mother's cousin,
too.

They were inclined to like this Colonel Stumper, C.B. For one thing he
limped, and that meant, they decided, that he had a wooden leg. They
never called it such, of course, but indicated obliquely that the
injured limb was made of oak or walnut, by referring to the other as
"his living leg," "his good leg," and so forth. For another thing, he
did not smile at them; and for a third, he did not ask foolish
questions in an up-and-down voice (assumed for the moment), as though
they were invalids, idiots, or tailless puppies who could not answer.
He frowned at them. He said furiously, "How are you, creatures?" And--
he gave usually at least a shilling to each.

"That makes three shillings altogether," as Tim cleverly explained.

"But not three shillings for each of us," Maria qualified the praise.
"_I_ only got one." She took it out of her mouth and showed it by way
of proof.

"You'll swallow it," warned Judy, "and then you won't have none at
all."

If received early in the week, they reported their good fortune to the
Authorities; but if Sunday was too near, they waited. Daddy had a
queer idea of teasing sometimes. "Just in time for to-morrow's
collection," he would be apt to say; and though he did not really mean
it perhaps, there was a hint of threat in the suggestion that quenched
high spirits at the moment.

"You see, he takes the plate round," Judy told them, "and so feels
ashamed." She did not explain the feeling ashamed. It was just that
her father, who always did things thoroughly, had to say something,
and so picked on that. "Monday or Tuesday's safest," was her judgment.

Maria rolled her eyes round like a gigantic German doll.

"Never's best," she gave as her opinion.

But that was sly. The others reproved her quickly.

"Daddy likes to know," they told her. "Monday or Tuesday's all right."
They agreed just to mention the matter only. There was no need to "say
a lot."

So they liked this Colonel Stumper, C.B. They liked his "title,"
declaring that the letters stood for "Come Back," and referring to
their owner as "Come Back Stumper." Some day, when he was gone for
good, he was to be promoted to K.C.B., meaning "Kan't-Come-Back." But
they preferred him as he was, plain C.B., because they did not want to
lose him. They declared that "Companion to the Bath" was just nonsense
invented by a Radical Government. For in politics, of course, they
followed their father's lead, and their father had _distinctly_ stated
more than once that "the policy of a Radical Government was some-
funny-word-or-other nonsense," which statement helped them enormously
in forming their own opinions on several other topics as well. In
personal disagreements, for instance--they never "squabbled"--the
final insult was to say, "My dear, you're as silly as a something-or-
other Radical Govunment," for there was no answer to this anywhere in
the world.

Come-Back Stumper, therefore, though casual outsiders might never have
guessed it, was a valuable ally. He was what Mother called "a
character" as well, and if the children used this statement in praise
of him, while adopting in their carelessness a revised version, "he
has no character," this was not Come-Back Stumper's fault. He was also
an "extinguished soldger," and had seen much service in foreign parts.
India with its tigers, elephants, and jungles, was in his heated
atmosphere deliciously, and his yellow tint, as of an unripe orange,
was due to something they had learned from hearsay to describe as
"curried liver trouble." All this, and especially his dead or wooden
leg, was distinctly in his favour. Come-Back Stumper was real. Also,
he was hard and angular in appearance, short, brisk in manner, square-
shouldered, and talked like a General who was bothered about something
in a battle. His opinions were most decided. His conversation
consisted of negatives, refusals and blank denials. If Come-Back
Stumper agreed with what was said, it meant that he was feeling unwell
with an attack of curried-liver-trouble. The children understood him.
He understood the children, too.

"It's a jolly morning, William," from Daddy would be met with "Might
be worse" and a snort like the sneeze of the nursery cat, but a direct
invitation of any sort was simply declined point blank. "Care to see
The Times, William?" ensured the answer, "Oh, _no_, thanks; there's
never anything worth reading in it." This was as regular as breakfast
when Cousin William was staying in the house. It was, in fact, Daddy's
formula when he settled into his armchair for a quiet half-hour's
read. Daddy's question was the mere politeness of a host. It was sham,
but Cousin William's answer was as real as breakfast. The formula was
a mechanical certainty, as certain as that pressing a button in the
wall produced Thompson in the room.

Accordingly, when Mother said, "Now, don't bother your Cousin William,
children; he doesn't want you," this individual would instantly
shoulder arms and state the exact contrary with fiery emphasis.

"If you've no objection," came the testy answer, "and if it's all the
same to you, Cecilia"--a shade sarcastically, this--"it's precisely
what I _do_ want."

And he would look at the children in a way that suggested the most
intimate of secret understanding between himself and them. More, he
would rise and leave the room with the impetus of a soldier going out
to fight, and would play with Judy, Tim, and Maria in a fashion that
upset the household routine and made the trio unmanageable for the
Authorities for hours afterwards.

"He's an honourable gentleman like the gentlemen in Parliament,"
declared Judy, "and that's my opinion of why I think him nice."

"And when I'm grown-up," was Tim's verdict, "I'll be a soldger just
exactly the same, only not yellow, and taller, and not so thick in the
middle, and much, much richer, and with C.B. in front of my name as
well as at the end."

Maria, not being present at the time, said nothing audible. But she
liked him, too, unquestionably. Otherwise she would have announced the
fact without delay. "He _is_ a lump rather," she had been heard to
remark, referring to his actual bulk and slowness of movement when in
play. But it was nicely, very nicely meant.

"I am sure your Cousin William would rather be left alone to read
quietly," said Mother, seeing the trio approach that individual
stealthily after tea in the library one evening. He was deep in a big
armchair, and deep in a book as well. The children were allowed
downstairs after their schoolroom tea for an hour when nothing
particular was on. "Wouldn't you, William?" she added. She went on
knitting a sort of muffler thing she held up close to the lamp. She
expected no reply, apparently.

Cousin William made none. But he raised the level of his book so that
it hid his face. A moment before, the eyes had been looking over the
top at the advancing trio, watching their movements narrowly.

The children did not answer either. They separated. They scouted. They
executed a flank attack in open order. Three minutes later Colonel
Stumper was surrounded. And no word was spoken; the scouts just
perched and watched him. He was not actually reading, for he had not
turned a page for about ten minutes, and it was _not_ a picture book.
The difficulty was, however, to get him started. If only Mother would
help them! Then Mother, unwittingly, did so. For she dropped her ball
of wool, and finding no one at hand to recover it, she looked vaguely
round the room--and saw them. And she shook her head at them.

"Don't bother him just now," she whispered again, "he's got a cold.
Here, Maria, pick up my wool, darling, will you?" But while Tim (for
Maria only moved her eyes) picked up the wool obediently, Cousin
William picked up himself with difficulty, tossed his book into the
deep arm-chair, and stalked without a single word towards the door.
Mother watched him with one eye, but the children did not stir a
muscle.

"William, you're not going to bed, are you?" she asked kindly, "or
would you like to, perhaps? And have your dinner in your room, and a
warm drink just before going to sleep? That's the best thing for a
cold, I always think."

He turned at the door and faced her. "Thank you very much," he said
with savage emphasis, "but I am _not_ ill, and I am _not_ going to
bed." The negatives sounded like pistol shots. "My cold is nothing to
speak of." And he was gone, leaving a trail of fire in the air.

The children, cunning in their generation, did not move. There were
moments in life, and this was one of them, when "stir a finger and
you're a dead man" was really true. No finger stirred, no muscle
twitched; one pair of eyelids fluttered, nothing more. And Mother,
happy with her recovered ball of wool, was presently lost in the
muffler thing she knitted, forgetful of their presence, if not of
their very existence. Signals meanwhile were made and answered by
means of some secret code that birds and animals understand. The plan
was matured in silence.

"Good-night, Mother," said Judy innocently, a few moments later,
stepping up and kissing her.

"Good-night," said Tim gravely, doing likewise.

Maria kissed, but said no word at all. They did not linger, as their
custom was, to cuddle in or hear a fairy story. To-night they were
good and businesslike.

"Good-night, duckies," said Mother, glancing at the clock on the
mantelpiece. "It's not _quite_ bed-time yet, but it's been a long day,
and you're tired out. I shall be up presently to hear your prayers and
tuck you up. And, Judy, you might tell Jackman--"

But the room was empty, the children vanished. The door banged softly,
cutting off the sentence in its middle, and Mother resumed her
knitting, smiling quietly to herself. And in the hall outside Come-
Back Stumper was discovered, warming his Army back before the open
fire of blazing logs. He looked like a cart-horse, the shadows made
him spread so. Maria pushed him to one side. She pushed, at least, but
he did not move exactly. Yet somehow, by a kind of sidling process, he
took up a new position in regard to the fire and themselves, the
result of which was that they occupied the best places, while he stood
at one corner in an attitude which resisted attack and yet invited it.

"Good-evening," remarked Maria; "are you warm?"

"Oh, no," exclaimed Tim, "that's not it at all. The thing is, shall we
play hide-and-seek, or would you really rather go to bed, as Mother
said, and have dinner and hot drinks?"

"Nonsense," cried Judy with authority. "He's got an awful cold, and
he's got to go to bed at once. He's shivering all over. It's Nindian
fever."

"No, really, really--" began Stumper, but was not allowed to finish.

"Thin captain biscuits soaked in hot milk with ginger, nutmeg, lemon,
and whisky," announced Judy, "would be best." And she shot towards the
door, her hair untied and flying.

"But, my dear, I assure you--"

"Or Bath Olivers," she interrupted, "because they soak better. _You_
know nothing," she added motheringly; "no man ever does." There was
contempt in her voice as well as pity.

"_Why_ do you know nothing?" inquired Maria, with a blaze of staring
eyes, as the door slammed upon her vanishing sister.

"_I_ think you know everything," said Tim with pride, decidedly, "only
you've forgotten it in India. I think it's silly."

"The milk and stuff?" agreed the soldier. "Yes, so do I. And I hate
biscuits, and ginger makes me hot and ill--"

"Iller than you are already?" asked Maria, "because that means bed."

"Maria," he snapped angrily, "I'm not ill at all. If you go on saying
I'm ill, of course I shall get ill. I never felt better in my life."

Tim turned round like a top. "Then let's play hide-and-seek," he
cried. "Let's hide before Judy gets back, and she can come and never
find us!"

Cousin William suggested they were not enough to play that game, and
was of opinion that Aunt Emily might be invited too.

"Oh, no," Tim gave his decided verdict, "not women. They can't hide
properly. They bulge."

And at that moment Judy appeared in the doorway across the hall.

"It's coming," she cried. "I've ordered everything--hot milk and Bath
Olivers and preserved ginger and--"

Cousin William took the matter into his own hands then, for the
situation was growing desperate. "Look here," he suggested gravely,
yet without enthusiasm, "I'll take the milk and stuff upstairs when
I've got into bed, and meanwhile we'll do something else. I'm--that
is, my cold is too bad to play a game, but I'll tell you a story
about--er--about a tiger--if you like?" The last three words were
added as a question. An answer, however, was not immediately
forthcoming. For the moment was a grave one. It was admitted that
Come-Back Stumper could play a game with credit and success, even an
active game like hide-and-seek; but it was not known yet that he could
tell a story. The fate of the evening, therefore, hung upon the
decision.

"A tiger!" said Tim, doubtfully, weighing probabilities. "A tiger you
shot, was it, or just--a tiger?" A sign, half shadow and half pout,
was in his face. Maria and Judy waited upon their brother's decision
with absolute confidence, meanwhile.

Colonel Stumper moved artfully backwards towards a big horsehair sofa,
beneath the deer heads and assegais from Zululand. He did it on
tiptoe, aware that this mysterious and suggestive way of walking has a
marked effect on children in the dark. "I did not shoot it," he said,
"because I lived with it. It was the most extraordinary tiger that was
ever known--"

"In India?"

"In the world. And I ought to know, because, as I say, I lived with it
for days--"

"Inside it?"

"Nearly, but not quite. I lived in its cave with the cubs and other
things, half-eaten deer and cows and the bones of Hindus--"

"Were the bones black? However did you escape? Why didn't the tiger
eat you?"

He drew the children closely round him on the sofa. "I'll tell you,"
he said, "for this is an inaugural occasion, and I've never told the
story before to any one in the world. The experience was incredible,
and no one would believe it. But the proof that it really happened is
that the tiger has left its mark upon me till I die--"

"But you haven't died--yet, I mean," Maria observed.

"He means teeth, silly," Tim squelched her.

"Died in another sense than the one you mean," the great soldier and
former administrator of a province continued, "dyed yellow--"

"Oh-h-h! Is that why--?"

"That is why," he replied pathetically. "For living with that tiger
family so long, I almost turned into one myself. The tiger nature got
into me. I snarl and growl, I use my teeth ferociously when hungry, I
walk stealthily on tiptoe, I let my whiskers grow, and my colour has
the tint of Indian tigers' skins."

"Have you got a tail, too?"

He glared into the blue eyes of Maria, sternly. "It's growing," he
whispered horribly, "it's growing."

There was a pause in which credulity shook hands with faith. Belief
was in the air. If doubt did whisper, "Let me see, please," it was too
low to be quite audible. Come-Back Stumper was surrounded by an
atmosphere of black-edged glory suddenly; he wore a halo; his feet
were dipped in mystery.

"Then what's an orgully occasion?" somebody asked.

"This!" replied Stumper. But he uttered it so savagely that no one
cared to press for further details. Clearly it was a secret and
confidential moment, and "inaugural occasion" had something to do with
the glory of wearing an incipient tail. Glory and mystery clothed
Stumper from that moment with Indian splendour. At least, _he_ thought
so....

"And the tiger?" came the whispering question.

"Ugh-h-h-h!" he shuddered; "I'll tell you. But I must think a moment
quietly first."

"His tail hurts," Maria told Tim beneath her breath, while they waited
for the story to begin.

"So would yours," was the answer, "if you had a cold at the same time,
too. A girl would simply cry." And he looked contempt at her, but
unutterable respect at his soldier friend.

"This tiger," began the traveller, in a heavy voice, "was a--a very
unusual tiger. I met it, that is to say, most unexpectedly. It was in
a tropical jungle, where the foliage was so thick that the sunlight
hardly penetrated at all. It was dark as night even in the daytime.
There were monkeys overhead and snakes beneath, and bananas were so
plentiful that every time my elephant knocked against a tree a shower
of fruit fell down like hail and tickled its skin."

"You were on an elephant, then?"

"We were all on elephants. On my particular elephant there was a man
to load for me and a man to guide the beast. We moved slowly and
cautiously. It was dark, as I said, but the showers of falling bananas
made yellow streaks against the black that the elephant constantly
mistook for tigers flying through the air as they leaped in silent
fury against the howdah in which we crouched upon his back. The
howdah, you know, is the saddle."

"Was the elephant friendly?"

"_Very_ friendly indeed; but he found it difficult to see, and all of
a sudden he would give a hop and a jump that nearly flung me off his
shoulders. For a long time--"

"That was the bananas tickling him, I suppose?"

"This continued without anything dangerous happening, but all at once
he gave a tremendous leap into the air, lifted his trunk, trumpeted
like an Army bugle, and then set off at full speed through the tangled
jungle. He had stupidly stepped upon a cobra! And the cobra, before it
was squashed to pulp, had stung him between the big and little toe."

"On purpose?" Judy asked.

"In an Indian jungle everything's done on purpose. My elephant raced
away, trumpeting in agony, at twenty miles an hour. The driver lost
his balance and fell off; the other man, scrambling along to take his
place and steer the monster, fell off after him, taking both my guns
with him as he went; and I myself, crouching in the swaying howdah,
and holding on for grim death, continued to tear through the jungle on
top of my terrified and angry elephant. Then, suddenly, the branch of
a tree caught the howdah in the middle and swept it clear. The
elephant rushed on. The howdah, with myself inside it, swung in mid-
air like a caught balloon. But I saw it could not hold on long. There
was just time to scramble out of it into safety upon the branch when
there came a sound of ripping, and the thing fell smash upon the
ground some twenty feet below, leaving me alone in an Indian jungle--
up a tree."

And he paused a moment to produce the right effect and reap the
inevitable glory of applause.

Out of the breathless silence sprang a voice at once: "Was the
elephant badly hurt?" And then another: "I thought elephants were too
big to feel a bite like that." Followed by a third--Maria's: "It
wasn't fair to step on it and expect it to do nothing."

But no single word about his own predicament--its horror, danger,
loneliness, and risk. No single syllable. Even the Hindus, the driver,
and the man who carried the guns, were left unmentioned. Bananas were
equally ignored. The tiger itself had passed into oblivion.

"Thanks most awfully," said Tim, politely, after an interval. "It must
have been awful for you." It was said as spokesman for the other
listeners. All were kind and grateful, but actual interest there was
none. They took the pause to mean that the story was at an end; but
they had not cared about it because they--did not believe it.

"Simply awful," the boy added, as though, perhaps, he had not made it
quite clear that he wished to thank yet could not honestly praise.
"Wasn't it, Judy?" And he jerked his head round towards his elder
sister.

"Oh, _awful_--yes," agreed that lady.

But neither of them risked inviting the opinion of Maria. Her
uncompromising nature was too well known for that. Nevertheless,
unasked, she offered her criticism too: "Awful," she said, her podgy
face unmoved, her blue eyes fixed upon the ceiling. And the whole room
seemed to give a long, deep sigh.

Now, for the hero, this was decidedly an awkward moment; he had done
his best and miserably failed. He was no story-teller, and they had
found him out. None the less, however, he was a real hero. He faced
the situation as a brave man should:

      For his tale was mediocre,
      And his face of yellow ochre
      Took a tinge of saffron sorrow in his fright;
      Yet he rose to the occasion,
      Without anger or evasion,
      And did his best to put the matter right.

"Tell me how you knew," he asked at length, facing the situation.
"What made you guess?"

"Because, in the first place, you're not an atom _like_ a tiger,
anyhow," explained Judy.

"And you made the jungle so very dark," said Tim, "that you simply
couldn't have seen the bananas falling."

"And we _know_ you haven't got a tail at all," Maria added,
clinchingly.

"Of course," he agreed; "your discernment does you credit, very great
credit indeed. Few of the officials under me in India had as much."

Judy looked soothingly at him and stroked his sleeve. Somehow or other
she divined, it seemed, he felt mortified and ashamed. He was a dear
old thing, whatever happened.

"Never mind," she whispered, "it really doesn't matter. It was very
nice to hear about your tiger. Besides--it must hurt awfully, having a
cold like this."

"I knew," put in Tim sympathetically, "the moment you began about the
bananas falling. But I didn't say anything, because I knew it couldn't
last--anything that began like that."

"But it got wonderful towards the end," insisted Judy.

"Till he was in the tree," objected her brother. "He never could
really have got along a branch like that."

"No," agreed Judy, thoughtfully, "that _was_ rather silly."

They continued discussing the story for some time as though its
creator was elsewhere. He kept very still. Maria already slept in a
soft and podgy ball on his lap....

"I am a lonely old thing," he said suddenly, with a long sigh, for in
reality he was deeply disappointed at his failure, and had aspired to
be their story-teller as well as playmate. Ordinary life bored him
dreadfully. He had melancholy yearnings after youth and laughter.
"Let's do something else now. What do you say to a turn of hide-and-
seek? Eh?"

The miraculous Maria woke at this, yawned like a cat, and nearly
rolled off on to the floor. "I dreamed of a real tiger," she informed
every one. But no one was listening. Judy and Tim were prancing
wildly.

"If your cold isn't _too_ bad," cried Judy, "it would be lovely." No
grown-up could have been more thoughtful of his welfare than she was.

"I'll hide," he said, "and in five minutes you come and find me." He
went towards the door into the passage.

"Choose a warm place, and keep out of draughts," she cried after him.
And he was gone. He nearly collided with a servant carrying a tray,
but the servant, hearing his secret instructions, vanished again
instantly in the direction of the kitchen. Five minutes later--an
alleged five minutes--the children began their search. But they never
found him. They hunted high and low, from attic to cellar, in gun-
room, scullery, and pantry, even climbing up the ladder from the box-
room to the roof, but without result. Colonel Stumper had disappeared.
He was K.C.B.

"D'you think he's offended?" suggested Judy, as they met at length in
the hall to consider the situation.

"Of course not," said Tim emphatically, "a man like that! He's written
a book on Scouting!"

"I've finished," Maria mentioned briefly, and sat down.

On Judy's puzzled face there appeared an anxious expression then. His
cold, she remembered, was very heavy. "I looked under every sofa and
into every cupboard," she said, as though she feared he might have
choked or suffocated. They stood in front of the fireplace and began
to talk about other things. Their interest in the game was gone, they
were tired of looking; but at the back of their minds was a secret
annoyance, though at the same time a sense of great respect for the
man who could conceal himself so utterly from sight. A touch of the
marvellous was in it somehow.

"There's no good hiding like _that_," they felt indignantly. Still it
was rather wonderful, after all. A man "like that" could do anything.
He might even be up a chimney somewhere. He might be anywhere! They
felt a little creepy....

"P'raps he _is_ a sort of tiger thing," whispered some one ... and
they were rather relieved when the drawing-room door opened and Mother
appeared, knitting her scarlet muffler as she walked. The scene of
scolding, explanation, and excuses that followed--for it was half an
hour after bed-time--was cut short by Maria informing the company that
she was "awfully tired," with a sigh that meant she would like to be
carried up to bed. She was carried. The procession moved slowly, Tim
and Judy bringing up the rear. But while Tim talked about a water-rat
he meant to kill next day with an air-gun, Judy used her eyes
assiduously, still hoping to discover Cousin William crumpled up in
some incredible hiding-place. They told their mother nothing. The
matter was private. It was between themselves and him. It would have
to be cleared up on the morrow--if they remembered. On the upper
landing, however, there was a curious sound. Maria, half asleep in the
maternal arms, did not hear it, apparently, but the other two children
exchanged sudden, recriminating glances. A door stood ajar, and light
came through it from the room within. This curious sound came with it.
It was a sneeze--a regular Nindian sneeze.

"We never thought of looking _there_," they said reproachfully. Come-
Back Stumper had simply gone to bed.




CHAPTER V

THE BIRTH OF WONDER


Meanwhile their father alone grew neither older nor larger. His
appearance did not change. They could not imagine that he would ever
change. He still went up to London in the morning, he still came down
again, he still continued to grind out stories which they thought
wonderful, and he still, on occasions, said mysteriously, "A day will
come," or its variants, "Some day," and "A day is coming." Yet, though
he had Fancy, he had not Imagination. He did not satisfy them. For
while Fancy may attend the birth of Wonder, Imagination alone
accompanies her growth. Daddy was too full of stationery and sealing-
wax in his daily work to have got very far.

Aunt Emily also still was there, explaining everything and saying No,
shaking her head at them, or holding up a warning finger. Their
outward life, indeed, showed little change, but it included one
important novelty that affected all their present and all their
subsequent existence, too. They made a new friend--their father's
brother.

When first his visit was announced, they had their doubts about him--
"your Uncle Felix" had a very questionable sound indeed, but the fact
that he lived in Paris and was a writer of sea-stories and historical
novels counterbalanced the handicap of the unpleasant "Felix." For to
their ears Felix was not a proper sort of name at all; it was all
right for a horse or a dog or even for a town, but for a man who was
also a relation it was a positive disaster. It would not shorten for
one thing, and for another it reminded them of "a king, or some one in
a history book," and thus did not predispose them in his favour. It
was simply what Tim called a "beastly name." Aunt Emily, however, was
responsible for their biggest prejudice against him: "You must
remember not to bother him, children; you must never disturb him when
he's working." And as Uncle Felix was coming to stay for several weeks
in the Mill House, they regarded him in advance as some kind of
horrible excitement they must put up with.

However, as most things in life go by contraries, this Uncle Felix
person turned out just the opposite. Within an hour of his arrival he
was firmly established as friend and ally, yet so quickly and easily
was this adjustment brought about that no one could say exactly how it
happened. They themselves said nothing--just stood and stared at him;
Daddy and Mother said the expected things, and Aunt Emily, critical
and explanatory as usual, found it necessary to add: "You'll find it
such a quiet house to work in, Felix, and the children will never
interfere or get in your way." She was evidently proud of her relative
and his famous books. "They'll be as good as gold--won't you, Judy?"
by which name she referred to the trio as a whole.

Whereupon Judy smiled and nodded shyly, Tim bent down and scratched
his stocking, and Maria, her face expressionless, merely stared at her
aunt as though she--Emily, that is--were a piece of inanimate
furniture.

"I see," said Uncle Felix carelessly, and glanced down at the trio.

That was all he said. But it was the way he said it that instantly
explained his position. He looked at them and said, "I see"; no more
than that--and it was done. They knew, he knew, Aunt Emily also knew.
Two little careless words--and then continued to talk of Paris, the
Channel crossing, and the weather.

"Didn't he squash her just!" remarked Tim, when they were alone
together. "She expected him to thank her awfully and give her a kiss."
And, accordingly, none of them were in the least surprised when he
suddenly poked his head inside the door as they lay in bed and
explained that he had just looked in to say good-night, and when he
left them a moment later added gravely from the door: "Mind, you never
disturb me, children; because, if you do--!" He shook a warning finger
and was gone. He looked enormous in the doorway.

From that moment Uncle Felix became an important factor in their
lives. The mysterious compact between them all was signed and sealed,
yet none could say who drew it up and worded it. His duties became
considerable. He almost took Daddy's place. The Study, indeed, at
certain hours of the evening, became their recognised nesting place,
and Daddy was as pleased as they themselves were. He seemed relieved.
He rarely ground out epics now when his brain was tired and full of
Government stationery and sealing-wax. Uncle Felix held the wizard's
wand, and what he did with it was this: he raised the sense of wonder
in them to a higher level. Daddy had awakened it, and fed it with
specimens they could understand. But Uncle Felix poked it into yet
greater activity by giving them something that no one could ever
possibly understand! He stimulated it so that it worked in them
spontaneously and of its own accord. He made it _grow_. And no amount
of Aunt Emilies in the world could stop him.

Their father felt no jealousy. When the story-hour came round, he
produced a set of sentences he kept slyly up his sleeve for the
occasion. "Ask your Uncle Felix; he's better at stories and things
than I am. It's his business." This was the model. A variation ran:
"Oh, don't bother me just now, children. I've got a lot of figures to
digest." But the shortest version was simply, "Run and plague your
uncle. I'm too busy."

"Try Mother" was used when Uncle Felix was in hiding. Only it had no
result. Mother's mind was too diffuse to carry conviction. It was
soaked in servants and things. In another sense it was too exact. The
ingredients of her stories were like a cooking recipe. Besides, hers
was the unpardonable fault of never forgetting the time. On the very
stroke of the clock she broke off abruptly with "Now it's bed-time;
you shall hear the rest another night." Daddy forgot, or pleaded for
"ten minutes more." Uncle Felix, however, said flatly, "They can't go
till it's finished"--and he meant it. His voice was deep and gruff--
"like a dog's," according to Maria--and his laugh was like a horse's
neigh; it made the china rattle. He was "frightfully strong," too,
stronger than Weeden, for he could take a child under each arm and
another on his back--and run! He never smiled when he told his
stories, and, though this made them seem extra real, it also alarmed
deliciously--in the terrible places. Perched on his gigantic knees,
they felt "like up the cedar," and when he stretched an arm or leg it
was the great cedar branch swaying in the wind.

His manner, too, was stern to severity, and his voice was so deep
sometimes that they could "feel it rumbling inside," as though he had
"swallowed the dinner gong." He was a very important man somewhere;
Daddy was just in the Stationery Office, but Uncle Felix was an
author, and the very title necessarily included awe. He wrote
"storical-novuls." His name was often in the newspapers. They
connected him with the "Govunment." It had to do somewhere with the
Police. No one trifled with Uncle Felix. Yet, strange to say, the
children never could be properly afraid of him, although they tried
very hard. Their audacity, their familiarity, their daring astonished
everybody. The gardeners and coachmen, to say nothing of the indoor
servants, treated him as though he was some awful emperor. But the
children simply pushed him about. He might have been a friendly
Newfoundland dog that wore tail-coats and walked on his hind legs, for
all they feared reprisals.

He gave them a taste of his quality soon after his arrival.

"No, children, it's impossible now. I'm busy over a scene of my
storicalnovul. Ask your father." He growled it at them, frowning
darkly.

The parental heels had just that instant vanished round the door.

"Father's got the figures and says he can't."

"Or your mother--" he said, gruffly.

"Mother's doing servants in the housekeeper's room."

"Take your foot out of my waistcoat pocket this instant," he roared.

"Why?" enquired Maria. "How else can I climb up?"

He shook and swayed like the cedar branch, but he did not shake her
off. "Because," he thundered, "there's money in it, and you've got
holes in your stockings, and toes with you are worse than fingers."

And he strode across the floor, Tim clinging to one leg with both feet
off the ground, and Judy pushing him behind as though he were a heavy
door that wouldn't open. He was very angry indeed. He told them
plainly what he thought about them. He explained the philosophy of
authors to them in brutal sentences. "Leave me alone, you little
botherations!" he cried. "I'm in the middle of a scene in a
storicalnovul." It was disgraceful that a man could lose his temper
so. "Leave me alone, or I'll ..."

In the corner of the big nursery sofa there was sudden silence. It was
a chilly evening in early spring. Between the bars across the windows
the wisteria leaves sifted the setting sunlight. The railway train lay
motionless upon the speckled carpet. A cat, so fat it couldn't unroll,
lay in a ball of mystery against the high guard of wire netting before
the fire. Outside the wind went moaning.

And Time ran backwards, or else the clock stopped dead. Dusk slipped
in between the window bars. The cedars on the lawn became gigantic.
They heard the haystacks shuffling out of their tarpaulins. The whole
house rose into the air and floated off. Mother, Daddy, Nurses, beds
dropped from the windows as it sailed away. All were left behind,
forgotten details of some stupid and uncomfortable life elsewhere.

"Quite ready," sighed the top of one cedar to the other.

"And waiting, too," an answer came from nowhere.

And then the Universe paused and settled with a little fluttering
sound of wonder. The onceuponatime Moment entered the room....

"There was a thing that nobody could understand," began the deep,
gruff voice. "And this thing that nobody could understand was
something no one understood at all."

"That's twice they couldn't understand it," observed Judy, in the
slight pause he made for effect.

"It was alive," he went on, "and very beautiful, so beautiful, in
fact, that people were astonished and felt rather ashamed because they
couldn't understand it. Some declared it wasn't worth understanding at
all; others said it might be worth understanding if they had the time
to think about it; and the rest decided that it was nothing much, and
promptly forgot that it existed. Their lives grew rather dull in
consequence. A few, however, set to work to discover what it was. For
the beauty of it set something in them strangely burning."

"It was a firework, I think," remarked Maria, then felt she had said
quite an awful thing. For Tim just looked at her. "It's alive, Uncle
Felix told you," he stated. She was obliterated--for the moment.

"Yes," resumed the story-teller, "it was alive, and its beauty set the
hearts of a few people on fire to know what it meant. It was difficult
to find, however, and difficult to see properly when found.

"These people tried to copy it, and couldn't. Though it looked so
simple it was impossible to imitate. It went about so quickly, too,
that they couldn't catch hold of it and--"

"But have _you_ seen it?" asked Judy, her head bobbing up into his
face with eager curiosity.

It was a vital question. All waited anxiously for his reply.

"I have," he answered convincingly. "I saw it first when I was about
your age, and I've never forgotten it."

"But you've seen it since, haven't you? It's still in the world, isn't
it?"

"I've seen it since, and it's still in the world. Only no one knows to
this day why it's there. No one can explain it. No one can understand
it. It's so beautiful that it makes you wonder, and it's so mysterious
that it makes you--"

"What?" asked Tim for the others, while he paused a moment and stared
into their gazing faces.

"Wonder still more," he added.

Another pause followed.

"Then is your heart still burning, Uncle Felix?" Judy enquired,
prodding him softly. "And does it matter much?"

"It matters a great deal, yes, because I want to find out, and cannot.
And the burning goes on and on whenever I see the thing-that-nobody-
can-understand, and even when I don't see it but just think about it--
which is pretty often. Because, if I found out why it's there, I
should know so much that I should give up writing storicalnovuls and
become a sort of prophet instead."

They stared in great bewilderment. Their curiosity was immense. They
were dying to know what the thing was, but it was against the Rules to
ask outright.

"Were their lives _very_ dull?"--Maria set this problem, suddenly
recalling something at the beginning of the story.

"Oh, very dull indeed. They had no sense of wonder--those who forgot."

"How awful for them!"

"Awful," he agreed, in a long-drawn whisper, shuddering.

And that shudder ran through every one. The children turned towards
the darkening room. The gloomy cupboard was a blotch of shadow. The
table frowned. The bookshelves listened. The white face of the cuckoo
clock peered down upon them dimly from the opposite wall, and the
chairs, it seemed, moved up a little closer. But through the windows
the stars were beginning to peep, and they saw the crests of the
friendly cedars waving against the fading sky.

He pointed. High above the cedars, where the first stars twinkled, the
blue was deep and exquisitely shaded from the golden streak below it
into a colour almost purple.

"The thing that nobody could understand was even more wonderful than
_that_," he whispered. "But no one could tell why it was there; no one
could guess; no one could find out. And to this day--no one _can_ find
out."

His voice grew lower and lower and lower still.

"To-morrow I'll show it to you. You shall see it for yourselves."

They hardly heard him now. The voice seemed far away. What could it
be--this very, very wonderful thing?

"We'll go out and find one...by the stream ...where the willows
bend...and shake their pointed leaves.... We'll go to-morrow...."

His voice died away inside his waistcoat. Not a sound was audible. The
children were very close against him. In his big hands he took each
face in turn and put his lips inside the rim of three small ears.

He told the secret then, while wonder filled the room and hovered
exquisitely above the crowded chair....

Awakened by the silence, presently, the ball of black unrolled itself
beside the wire fender, it stretched its four black legs. And the
children, hushed, happy, and with a mysterious burning in their
hearts, went off willingly to bed, to dream of wonder all night long,
and to ask themselves in sleep, _"Why God has put blue dust upon the
body of a dragon-fly?"_




CHAPTER VI

THE GROWTH OF WONDER


The story of the dragon-fly marked a turning-point in their lives;
they realised that life was crammed with things that nobody could
understand. Daddy's reign was over, and Uncle Felix had ascended the
throne. Wonder--but a growing wonder--ruled the world. The great
Stranger they had always been vaguely expecting had drawn nearer; it
was not Uncle Felix, yet he seemed the forerunner somehow. That "Some
Day" of Daddy's--they had almost forgotten its existence--became more
and more a possibility. Life had two divisions now: Before Uncle Felix
came--and Now. To Maria alone there seemed no interval. To her it was
always Now. She had so much wonder in her that she _knew_.

Outwardly the household ran along as usual, but inwardly this enormous
change was registered in three human hearts. The adventures they had
before Uncle Felix came were the ordinary kind all children know; they
invented them themselves. Their new adventures were of a different
order--impossible but true. Their uncle had brought a key that opened
heaven and earth.

He did not know that he had brought this key. It was just natural--he
let himself in because it was his nature so to do; the others merely
went in with him. He worked away in his room, covering reams of paper
with nonsense out of his big head; and the trio never disturbed him or
knocked at his door, or even looked for him: they knew that his real
life ran with theirs, and the moment he had covered so many dozen
sheets he would appear and join them. All people had their duties; his
duty was to fill so many sheets a day for printers; but his important
life belonged to them and they just lived it naturally together. He
would never leave the Old Mill House. The funny thing was--whatever
had he done with himself before he came there!

Everything he said and did lit up the common things of daily life with
this strange, big wonder that was his great possession. Yet his method
was simple and instinctive; he never thought things out; he just--
knew.

And the effect of his presence upon the other Authorities was
significant. Not that the Authorities admitted or even were aware of
it, but that the children saw them differently. Aunt Emily, for
instance, whom they used to dread, they now felt sorry for. She was so
careful and particular that she was afraid of life, afraid of living.
Prudence was slowly killing her. Everything must be done in a certain
way that made it safe; only, by the time it was safe it was no longer
interesting. They saw clearly how she missed everything owing to the
excessive caution and preparation in her: by the time she was ready,
the thing had simply left. Instead of coming into the hayfield at once
and enjoying it, she uttered so many warnings and gave so much advice
against disaster--"better take this," and "better not take that"--that
by the time they got there the hayfield had lost all its wonder. It
was just a damp, untidy hayfield.

Daddy, however, gained in glory. He approved of his big brother. On
his return from London every evening the first thing he asked was,
"What have you all been up to to-day? Has Uncle Felix given you the
moon or rolled the sun and stars into a coloured ball?" Weeden, too,
had grown in mystery--he made the garden live, and understood the
secret life of every growing thing; while Thompson and Mrs. Horton,
each in their separate ways, led lives of strange activity in the
lower regions of the house till the kitchen seemed the palace of an
ogress and the pantry was its haunted vestibule. "Mrs. Horton's
kitchen" was a phrase as powerful as "Open Sesame"; and "the butler's
pantry" edged the world of mighty dream.

Above all, Mother occupied a new relationship towards them that made
her twice as splendid as before. Until Uncle Felix came, she was
simply "Mother," who loved them whatever they did and made allowances
for everything. That was her duty, and unless they provided her with
something to make allowances for they had failed in what was expected
of them. Her absorption in servants and ordering of meals, in choosing
their clothes and warning Jackman about their boots--all this was a
chief reason for her existence, and if they didn't eat too much
sometimes and wear their boots out and tear their clothes, Mother
would have been without her normal occupation. Whereas now they saw
her in another light, touched with the wonder of the sun and stars. It
was proper, of course, for her to have children, but they realised now
that she contrived to make the whole world work somehow for their
benefit. Mother not only managed the entire Household, from the
dinner-ordering slate at breakfast-time to the secret whisperings with
Jackman behind the screen at bedtime, or the long private interviews
with Daddy in his study after tea: she led a magnificent and
stupendous life that regulated every smallest detail of their
happiness. She was for ever thinking of them and slaving for their
welfare. The wonder of her enormous love stole into their discerning
hearts. They loved her frightfully, and told her all sorts of little
things that before they had kept concealed. There were heaps and heaps
of mothers in the world, of course; they were knocking about all over
the place; but there was only one single Mother, and that was theirs.

Yet, in his own peculiar way, it was Uncle Felix who came first. Daddy
believed in a lot of things; Mother believed in many things; Aunt
Emily believed in certain things done at certain times and in a
certain way. But Uncle Felix believed in everything, everywhere and
always. To him nothing was ever impossible. He held, that is, their
own eternal creed. He was akin to Maria, moreover, and Maria, though
silent, was his spokesman often.

"Why _does_ a butterfly fly so dodgy?" inquired Tim, having vainly
tried to catch a Painted Lady on the lawn.

Daddy made a grimace and shrugged his shoulders, yet left the insect
quite as wonderful as it was before. Mother looked up from her
knitting with a gentle smile and said, "Does it, darling? I hadn't
noticed." Aunt Emily, balancing her parasol to keep the sun away,
observed in an educational tone of voice, "My dear Tim, what foolish
questions you ask! It's because its wings are so large compared to the
rest of its body. It can't help itself, you see." She belittled the
insect and took away its wonder. She explained.

Tim, unsatisfied, moved over to the wicker chair where Uncle Felix sat
drowsily smoking his big meerschaum pipe. He pointed to the vanishing
Painted Lady and repeated his question in a lower voice, so that the
others could not hear:

"Why does it fly like that--all dodgy?" Whatever happened, the boy
knew his Uncle would leave the butterfly twice as wonderful as he
found it.

But no immediate answer came. They watched it for a moment together in
silence. It behaved in the amazing way peculiar to its kind. Nothing
in the world flies like a butterfly. Birds and other things fly
straight, or sweep in curves, or rise and drop in understandable
straight lines. But the Painted Lady obeyed no such rules. It dodged
and darted, it jerked and shot, it was everywhere and anywhere, least
of all where it ought to have been. The swallows always missed it. It
simply doubled--and disappeared round the corner of the building.

Then, puffing at his pipe, Uncle Felix looked at Tim and said, "I
couldn't tell you. It's one of the things nobody can understand, I
think."

"Yes," agreed Tim, "it must be."

There was a considerable pause.

"But there must be some way of finding out," the boy said presently.
He had been thinking over it.

"There is." The man rose slowly from his chair.

"What is it?" came the eager question.

"Try it ourselves, and see if we can do the same!"

And they went off instantly, hand in hand, and vanished round the
corner of the building.

The adventures they had since Uncle Felix came were of this impossible
and marvellous order. That strange and lovely cry, "There's some one
coming," ran through the listening world. "I believe there is," said
Uncle Felix. "Some day he'll come and a tremendous thing will happen,"
was another form of it, to which the answer was, "I know it will."

It was much nearer to them than before. It was just below the edge of
the world, the edge of life. It was in the air. Any morning they might
wake and find the great thing was there--arrived in the night while
they were sound asleep. So many things gave hints. A book _might_ tell
of it between the lines; each time a new book was opened a thrill
slipped out from the pages in advance. Yet no book they knew had ever
told it really. Out of doors, indeed, was the more likely place to
expect it. The tinkling stream either ran towards it, or else came
from it; that was its secret, the secret it was always singing about
day and night. But it was impossible to find the end or beginning of
any stream. Wind, moreover, announced it too, for wind didn't tear
about and roar like that for nothing. Spring, however, with its
immense hope and expectation, gave the clearest promise of all. In
winter it hid inside something, or at least went further away; yet
even in winter the marvellous something or some one lay waiting
underneath the snow, behind the fog, above the clouds. One day, some
day, next day, or the day after to-morrow--and it would suddenly be
there beside them.

Whence came this great Expectancy they never questioned, nor what it
was exactly, nor who had planted it. This was a mystery, one of the
things that no one can understand. They felt it: that was all they
knew. It was more than Wonder, for Wonder was merely the sign and
proof that they were seeking. It was faint and exquisite in them, like
some far, sweet memory they could never quite account for, nor wholly,
even once, recapture. They remembered almost--almost before they were
born.

"We'll have a look now," Uncle Felix would say every walk they took;
but before they got very far it was always time to come in again.
"That's the bother of everything," he agreed with them. "Time always
prevents, doesn't it? If only we could make it stop--get behind time,
as it were--we might have a chance. Some day, perhaps, we shall."

He left the matter there, but they never forgot that pregnant remark
about stopping time and getting in behind it. No, they never forgot
about it. At Christmas, Easter, and the like, it came so near that
they could almost smell it, but when these wonderful times were past
they looked back and knew it had not really come. The holidays cheated
them in a similar way. Yet, when it came, they knew it would be as
natural and simple as eating honey, though at the same time with
immense surprise in it. And all agreed that it was somehow connected
with the Dawn, for the Dawn, the opening of a new day, was something
they had heard about but never witnessed. Dawn must be exceedingly
wonderful, because, while it happened daily, none of them had ever
seen it happen. A hundred times they had agreed to wake and have a
look, but the Dawn had always been too quick and quiet. It slipped in
ahead of them each time. They had never seen the sun come up.

In some such sudden, yet quite natural way, this stupendous thing they
expected would come up. It would suddenly be there. Everybody,
moreover, expected it. Grown-ups pretended they didn't, but they did.
Catch a grown-up when he wasn't looking, and he _was_ looking. He
didn't like to be caught, that's all, for as often as not he was
smiling to himself, or just going to--cry.

They shared, in other words, the great, common yearning of the world;
only they knew they yearned, whereas the rest of the world forgets.

"I think," announced Judy one day--then stopped, as though unsure of
herself.

"Yes?" said her Uncle encouragingly.

"I think," she went on, "that the Night-Wind knows an awful lot, if
only--" she stopped again.

"If only," he helped her.

"We," she continued.

"Could," he added.

"Catch it!" she finished with a gasp, then stared at him expectantly.

And his answer formed the subject of conversation for fully half an
hour in the bedroom later, and for a considerable time after Jackman
had tucked them up and taken the candle away. They watched the shadows
run across the ceiling as she went along the passage outside; they
heard her steps go carefully downstairs; they waited till she had
safely disappeared, for the door was ajar, and they could hear her
rumbling down into the lower regions of Mrs. Horton's kitchen--and
then they sat up in bed, hugged their knees, shuddered with
excitement, and resumed the conversation exactly where it had been
stopped.

For Uncle Felix had given a marvellous double-barrelled answer. He had
said, "We can." And then he had distinctly added, "We will!"




CHAPTER VII

IMAGINATION WAKES


For the Night-Wind already had a definite position in the mythology of
the Old Mill House, and since Uncle Felix had taken to reading aloud
certain fancy bits from the storicalnovul he was writing at the
moment, it had acquired a new importance in their minds.

These fancy bits were generally scenes of action in which the Night-
Wind either dropped or rose unexpectedly. He used the children as a
standard. "Thank you very much, Uncle," meant failure, the imagination
was not touched; but questions were an indication of success, the
audience wanted further details. For he knew it was the child in his
audience that enjoyed such scenes, and if Tim and Judy felt no
interest, neither would Mr. and Mrs. William Smith of Peckham. To
squeeze a question out of Maria raised hopes of a second edition!

A Duke, disguised as a woman or priest, landing at night; a dark man
stealing documents from a tapestried chamber of some castle, where
bats and cobwebs shared the draughty corridors--such scenes were
incomplete unless a Night-Wind came in audibly at critical moments. It
wailed, moaned, whistled, cried, sang, sighed, soughed or--sobbed.
Keyholes and chimneys were its favourite places, but trees and rafters
knew it too. The sea, of course, also played a large part in these
adventures, for water above all was the element Uncle Felix loved and
understood, but this Night-Wind, being born at sea, was also of
distinct importance. The sea was terrible, the wind was sad.

To the children it grew more and more distinct with each appearance.
It had a personality, and led a curious and wild existence. It had
privileges and prerogatives. Owing to its various means of vocal
expression--singing, moaning, and the rest--a face belonged to it with
lips and mouth; teeth too, since it whistled. It ran about the world,
and so had feet; it flew, so wings pertained to it; it blew, and that
meant cheeks of sorts. It was a large, swift, shadowy being whose ways
were not the ordinary ways of daylight. It struck blows. It had
gigantic hands. Moreover, it came out only after dark--an ominous and
suspicious characteristic rather.

"Why isn't there a day-wind too?" inquired Judy thoughtfully.

"There is, but it's _quite_ a different thing," Uncle Felix answered.
"You might as well ask why midday and midnight aren't the same because
they both come at twelve o'clock. They're simply different things."

"Of course," Tim helped him unexpectedly; "and a man can't be a woman,
can it?"

The Night-Wind's nature, accordingly, remained a mystery rather, and
its sex was also undetermined. Whether it saw with eyes, or just felt
its way about like a blind thing, wandering, was another secret matter
undetermined. Each child visualised it differently. Its hiding-place
in the daytime was equally unknown. Owls, bats, and burglars guessed
its habits best, and that it came out of a hole in the sky was,
perhaps, the only detail all unanimously agreed upon. It was a
pathetic being rather.

This Night-Wind used to come crying round the bedroom windows
sometimes, and the children liked it, although they did not understand
all its melancholy beauty. They heard the different voices in it,
although they did not catch the meaning of the words it sang. They
heard its footsteps too. Its way of moving awed them. Moreover, it was
for ever trying to get in.

"It's wings," said Judy, "big, dark wings, very soft and feathery."

"It's a woman with sad, black eyes," thought Tim, "that's how I like
it."

"It's some one," declared Maria, who was asleep before it came, so
rarely heard it at all. And they turned to Uncle Felix who knew all
that sort of thing, or at any rate could describe it. He found the
words. They lay hidden in his thick back hair apparently--there was
little on the top!--for he always scratched his head a good deal when
they asked him questions about such difficult matters. "What is it
_really_--the Night-Wind?" they asked gravely; "and why does it sound
so _very_ different from the wind in the morning or the afternoon?"

"There _is_ a difference," he replied carefully. "It's a quick, dark,
rushing thing, and it moves like--like anything."

"We know _that_," they told him.

"And it has long hair," he added hurriedly, looking into Tim's staring
eyes. "That's what makes it swish. The swishing, rushing, hushing
sound it makes--that's its hair against the walls and tiles, you see."

"It _is_ a woman, then?" said Tim proudly. All looked up, wondering.
An extraordinary thing was in the air. A mystery that had puzzled them
for ages was about to be explained. They drew closer round the sofa,
and Maria blundered against the table, knocking some books off with a
resounding noise. It was their way of reminding him that he had
promised. "Hush, hush!" said Uncle Felix, holding up a finger and
glancing over his shoulder into the darkened room. "It may be coming
now... Listen!"

"Yes, but it is a woman, isn't it?" insisted Tim, in a hurried
whisper. He had to justify himself before his sisters. Uncle Felix
must see to that first.

The big man opened his eyes very wide. He shuddered. "It's a--Thing,"
was the answer, given in a whisper that increased the excitement of
anticipation. "It certainly is a--Thing! Now hush! It's coming!"

They listened then intently. And a sound _was_ heard. Out of the
starry summer night it came, quite softly, and from very far away--
upon discovery bent, upon adventure. Reconnoitering, as from some deep
ambush in the shrubberies where the blackbirds hid and whistled, it
flew down against the house, stared in at the nursery windows,
fluttered up and down the glass with a marvellous, sweet humming--and
was gone again.

"Listen!" the man's voice whispered; "it will come back presently. It
saw us. It's awfully shy--"

"Why is it awfully shy?" asked Judy in an undertone.

"Because people make it mean so much more than it means to mean," he
replied darkly. "It never gets a chance to be just itself and play its
own lonely game--"

"We've called it things," she stated.

"But we haven't written books about it and put it into poetry," Uncle
Felix corrected her with an audacity that silenced them. "We play our
game; it plays its."

"It plays its," repeated Tim, amused by the sound of the words.

"And that's why it's shy," the man held them to the main point, "and
dislikes showing itself--"

"But why is its game lonely?" some one asked, and there was a general
feeling that Uncle Felix had been caught this time without an answer.
For what explanation could there possibly be of that? Their faces were
half triumphant, half disappointed already.

He smiled quietly. He knew everything--everything in the world. "It's
unhappy as well as shy," he sighed, "because nothing will play with
it. Everything is asleep at night. It comes out just when other things
are going in. Trees answer it, but they answer in their sleep. Birds,
tucked away in nests and hiding-places, don't even answer at all. The
butterflies are gone, the insects lost. Leaves and twigs don't care
about being blown when there's no one there to see them. They hide
too. If there are clouds, they're dark and sulky, keeping their jolly
sides towards the stars and moon. Nothing will play with the Night-
Wind. So it either plays with the tiles on the roof and the telegraph
wires--dead things that make a lot of noise, but never leave their
places for a proper game--or else just--plays with itself. Since the
beginning of the world the Night-Wind has been shy and lonely and
unhappy."

It was unanswerable. They understood. Their sense of pity was greatly
touched, their love as well.

"Do pigs really see the wind, as Daddy says?" inquired Maria abruptly,
feeling the conversation beyond her. She merely obeyed the laws of her
nature. But no one answered her; no one even heard the question.
Another sound absorbed their interest and attention. There was a low,
faint tapping on the window-pane. A hush, like church, fell upon
everybody.

And Uncle Felix stood up to his full height suddenly, and opened his
arms wide. He drew a long, deep breath.

"Come in," he said splendidly.

The tapping, however, grew fainter and fainter, till it finally
ceased. Everybody waited expectantly, but it was not repeated. Nothing
happened. Nobody came in. The tapper had retreated.

"It was a twig," whispered Judy, after a pause. "The Virgin Creeper--"

"But it was the wind that shook it," exclaimed Uncle Felix, still
standing and waiting as though he expected something. "The Night-Wind
--Look out!"

A roaring sound over the roof drowned his words; it rose and fell like
laughter, then like crying. It dropped closer, rushed headlong past
the window, rattled and shook the sash, then dived away into the
darkness. Its violence startled them. A deep lull followed instantly,
and the little tapping of the twig was heard again. Odd! Just when the
Night-Wind seemed furthest off it was all the time quite near. It had
not really gone at all; it was hiding against the outside walls. It
was watching them, trying to get in. The tapping continued for half a
minute or more--a series of hurried, gentle little knocks as from a
child's smallest finger-tip.

"It wants to come in. It's trying," whispered some one.

"It's awfully shy."

"It's lonely and frightfully unhappy."

"It likes us and wants to play."

There was another pause and silence. No one knew quite what to do.
"There's too much light. Let's put the lamp out," said a genius, using
the voice of Judy.

As though by way of answer there followed instantly a sudden burst of
wind. The torrent of it drove against the house; it boomed down the
chimney, puffing an odour of soot into the room; it shook the door
into the passage; it lifted an edge of carpet, flapping it. It
shouted, whistled, sang, using a dozen different voices all at once.
The roar fell into syllables. It was amazing. A great throat uttered
words. They could scarcely believe their ears.

The wind was shouting with a joyful, boisterous shout: "Open the
window! _I'll_ put out the light!"

All heard the wonderful thing. Yet it seemed quite natural in a way.
Uncle Felix, still standing and waiting as though he knew not exactly
what was going to happen, moved forward at once and boldly opened the
window's lower sash. In swept the mighty visitor, the stranger from
the air. The lamp gave one quick flicker and went out. Deep stillness
followed. There was a silence like the moon.

The shy Night-Wind had come into the room.

Ah, there was awe and wonder then! The silence was so unexpected. The
whole wind, not merely part of it, was in. It had come so gently,
softly, delicately too! In the darkness the outline of the window-
frame was visible; Uncle Felix's big figure blocked against the stars.
Judy's head could be seen in silhouette against the other window, but
Tim and Maria, being smaller, were merged in the pool of shadow below
the level of the sill. A large, spread thing passed flutteringly up
and down the room a moment, then came the rest. It settled over
everything at once. A rustle was audible as of trailing, floating
hair.

"It's hiding in the corners and behind the furniture," whispered Uncle
Felix; "keep quiet. If you frighten it--whew!"--he whistled softly--
"it'll be off above the tree-tops in a second!"

A low soft whistle answered to his own; somewhere in the room it
sounded; there was no mistaking it, though the exact direction was
difficult to tell, for while Tim said it was through the keyhole, Judy
declared positively that it came from the door of the big, broken
cupboard opposite. Maria stated flatly, "Chimney."

"Hush! It's talking." It was Uncle Felix's voice breathing very low.
"It likes us. It feels we're friendly."

A murmur as of leaves was audible, or as of a pine bough sighing in a
breeze. Yet there were words as well--actual spoken words:

"Don't look for me, please," they heard. "I do not want to be seen.
But you may touch me. I like that."

The children spread their hands out in the darkness, groping,
searching, feeling.

"Ah, your touch!" the sighing voice continued.

"It's like my softest lawn. Your hair feels as my grass feels on the
hill-tops, and the skin of your cheeks is smooth and cool as the
water-surface of my lily ponds at midnight. I know you"--it raised its
tones to singing. "You are children. I kiss you all!"

"I feel you," Judy said in her clear, quiet voice. "But you're cold."

"Not really," was the answer that seemed all over the room at once.
"That's only the touch of space. I've come from very high up to-night.
There's been a change. The lower wind was called away suddenly to the
sea, and I dropped down with hardly a moment's warning to take its
place. The sun has been very tiresome all day--overheating the
currents."

"Uncle, _you_ ask it everything," whispered Tim, "simply everything!"

"Say how we love it, please," sighed Judy. "I feel it closing both my
eyes."

"It's over all my face," put in Maria, drawing her breath in loudly.

"But my hair's lifting!" Judy exclaimed. "Oh, it's lovely, lovely!"

Uncle Felix straightened himself up in the darkness. They could hear
him breathing with the effort. "Please tell us what you do," he said.
"We all can feel you touching us. Play with us as you play with trees
and clouds and sleeping flowers along the hedgerows."

A singing, whistling sound passed softly round the room; there was a
whirr and a flutter as when a flight of bees or birds goes down the
sky, and a voice, a plaintive yet happy voice, like the plover who cry
to each other on the moors, was audible:

  "I run about the world at night,
     Yet cannot see;
   My hair has grown so thick these millions years,
     It covers me.
   So, like a big, blind thing
     I run about,
   And know all things by touching them.
     I touch them with my wings;
       I know each one of you
         By touching you;
           I touch your _hearts_!"

"I feel you!" cried Judy. "I feel you touching me!"

"And I, and I!" the others cried. "It's simply wonderful!"

An enormous sigh of happiness went through that darkened room.

"Then play with me!" they heard. "Oh, children, play with me!"

The wild, high sweetness in the windy voice was irresistible. The
children rose with one accord. It was too dark to see, but they flew
about the room without a fault or slip. There was no stumbling; they
seemed guided, lifted, swept. The sound of happy, laughing voices
filled the air. They caught the Wind, and let it go again; they chased
it round the table and the sofa; they held it in their arms until it
panted with delight, half smothered into silence, then marvellously
escaping from them on the elastic, flying feet that tread on forests,
clouds, and mountain tops. It rushed and darted, drove them, struck
them lightly, pushed them suddenly from behind, then met their faces
with a puff and shout of glee. It caught their feet; it blew their
eyelids down. Just when they cried, "It's caught! I've got it in my
hands!" it shot laughing up against the ceiling, boomed down the
chimney, or whistled shrilly as it escaped beneath the crack of the
door into the passage. The keyhole was its easiest escape. It grew
boisterous, singing with delight, yet was never for a moment rough. It
cushioned all its blows with feathers.

"Where are you now? I felt your hair all over me. You've gone again!"
It was Judy's voice as she tore across the floor.

"You're whacking me on the head!" cried Tim. "Quick, quick! I've got
you in my hands!" He flew headlong over the sofa where Maria sat
clutching the bolster to prevent being blown on to the carpet.

They felt its soft, gigantic hands all over them; its silky coils of
hair entangled every movement; they heard its wings, its rushing,
sighing voice, its velvet feet. The room was in a whirr and uproar.

"Uncle! Can't _you_ help? You're the biggest!"

"But it's blown me inside out," he answered, in a curiously muffled
voice. "My fingers are blown off. It's taken all my breath away."

The pictures rattled on the wall; loose bits of paper fluttered
everywhere; the curtains flapped out horizontally into the air.

"Catch it! Hold it! Stop it!" cried the breathless voices.

"Join hands," he gasped. "We'll try." And, holding hands, they raced
across the floor. They managed to encircle something with their spread
arms and legs. Into the corner by the door they forced a great, loose,
flowing thing against the wall. Wedged tight together like a fence,
they stooped. They pounced upon it.

"Caught!" shouted Tim. "We've got you!"

There was a laughing whistle in the keyhole just behind them. It was
gone.

The window shook. They heard the wild, high laughter. It was out of
the room. The next minute it passed shouting above the cedar tops and
up into the open sky. And their own laughter went out to follow it
across the night.

The room became suddenly very still again. Some one had closed the
window. The twig no longer tapped. The game was over. Uncle Felix
collected them, an exhausted crew, upon the sofa by his side.

"It was very wonderful," he whispered. "We've done what no one has
ever done before. We've played with the Night-Wind, and the Night-
Wind's played with us. It feels happier now. It will always be our
friend."

"It was awfully strong," said Tim in a tone of awe. "It fairly banged
me."

"But awfully gentle," Judy sighed. "It kissed me hundreds of times."

"I felt it," announced Maria.

"It's only a child, really," Uncle Felix added, half to himself, "a
great wild child that plays with itself in space--"

He went on murmuring for several minutes, but the children hardly
heard the words he used. They had their own sensations. For the wind
had touched their hearts and made them think. They heard it singing
now above the cedars as they had never heard it sing before. It was
alive and lovely, it meant a new thing to them. For they had their
little aching sorrows too; it had taken them all away: they had their
little passionate yearnings and desires; it had prophesied fulfilment.
The dreamy melancholy of childhood, the long, long days, the haunted
nights, the everlasting afternoons--all these were in its wild, great,
windy voice, the sighing, the mystery, the laughter too. The joy of
strange fulfilment woke in their wind-kissed hearts. The Night-Wind
was their friend; they had played with it. Now everything could come
true.

And next day Maria, lost to the Authorities for over an hour, was at
length discovered by the forbidden pigsties in a fearful state of
mess, but very pleased and happy about something. She was watching the
pigs with eyes brimful of questioning wonder and excitement. She was
listening intently too. She wanted to find out for certain whether
pigs really--really and truly--saw--anything unusual!




CHAPTER VIII

WHERE WONDER HIDES


The children had never been to London, but they knew the direction in
which it lay--beyond the crumbling kitchen-garden wall, where the
wall-flowers grew in a proud colony. The sky looked different there, a
threatening quality in it. Both snow and thunderstorm came that way,
and the dirty sign-post "London Road" outside the lodge-gates was
tilted into the air significantly.

They regarded London as a terrible place, though a necessity: Daddy's
office was there; Christmas and Birthday presents came from London,
but also it was where the Radical govunment lived--an enormous, evil,
octopus kind of thing that made Daddy poor. Weeden, too, had been
known to say dark things with regard to selling vegetables, hay, and
stuff. "What can yer igspect when a Radical govunment's in?" And the
fact that neither he nor Daddy did anything to move it away proved
what a powerful thing it was, and made them feel something hostile to
their happiness dwelt London-way beyond that crumbling wall.

The composite picture grew steadily in their little minds. When
ominous clouds piled up on that northern horizon, floating
imperceptibly towards them, it was a fragment of London that had
broken off and come rolling along to hover above the old Mill House. A
very black cloud was the Seat of Govunment.

London itself, however, remained as obstinately remote as Heaven, yet
the two visibly connected; for while the massed vapours were part of
London, the lanes and holes of blue were certainly the vestibule of
Heaven. "His seat is in the Heavens" must mean something, they argued.
They were quite sweetly reverent about it. They merely obeyed the
symbolism of primitive age.

"I shall go to Heaven," Tim said once, when they discussed dying as if
it were a game. He wished to define his position, as it were.

"But you haven't been to London yet," came the higher criticism from
Judy. "London's a metropolis."

Metropolis! It was an awful thing to say, though no one quite knew
why. Part of their dread was traceable to this word. Ever since some
one had called it "the metropolis" in their hearing, they had
associated vague awe with the place. The ending "opolis" sounded to
them like something that might come "ontopofus"--and that, again,
brought "octopus" into the mind. It seemed reckless to mention London
and Heaven together--yet was right and proper at the same time. Both
must one day be seen and known, one inevitably as the other. Thus
heavenly rights were included in their minds with a ticket to London,
far, far away, when they were much, much older. And both trips were
dreaded yet looked forward to.

Maria, however, held no great opinion of either locality. She disliked
the idea of long journeys to begin with. Having no objection to moving
her eyes, she was opposed to moving her body--unless towards an
approved certainty. Puddings, bonfires, and laps at story-time were
approved certainties; Heaven and London apparently were not. She was
contented where she was. "London's a bother," was her opinion: it
meant a rush in the hall when the dog-cart was waiting for the train
and Daddy was too late to hear about bringing back a new blue eye for
a broken doll. And as for the other place--her ultimatum was hardly
couched in diplomatic language, to say the least. An eternal Sunday
was not her ideal of happiness. Aunt Emily, it was stated, would live
in Heaven when she died, and the place had lost its attractiveness in
consequence. For Aunt Emily used long words and heard their "Sunday
Colics," and the clothes she wore on that seventh workless day
reminded them of village funerals or unhappy women who came to see
over the house when it was to be let, and asked mysterious questions
about something called "the drains." Daddy's top-hat with a black band
was another item in the Sunday and Metropolis picture. London and
Heaven, as stated, were not looked forward to unreservedly.

There were compensations, though. They knew the joy of deciding who
would go there. Stumper, of course, for one: it was the only place he
would not come back from: he would be K.C.B. Uncle Felix, too, because
it was his original source of origin. Mother repeatedly called him
"angel," and even if she hadn't, it was clear he knew all about both
places by the way he talked. Stumper's India was not quite believed in
owing to the way he described it, but Uncle Felix's London was real
and living, while the other marvellous things he told them could only
have happened in some kind of heavenly place. His position, therefore,
was unshakable, and Mother and Daddy also had immemorial rights.
Others of their circle, however, found themselves somewhat equivocally
situated. Thompson and Mrs. Horton were uncertain, for since there was
"no marriage" there, there could be no families to wait upon and cook
for. Weeden, also, was doubtful. Having never been to London, the
alternative happiness was not properly within his grasp, whereas the
Postman might be transferred from the metropolis to the stars at any
minute of the day or night. Those London letters he brought settled
his case beyond all argument whatever.

All of which needs mention because there was a place called the End of
the World, and the title has of course to do with it. For the End of
the World is the hiding-place of Wonder.

Beyond that crumbling kitchen-garden wall was a very delightful bit of
the universe. A battered grey fence kept out the road, but there were
slits between the boards through which the Passers-by could be
secretly observed. All Passers-by were criminals or heroes on their
way to mysterious engagements; the majority were disguised; many of
them could be heard talking darkly to themselves. They were a queer
lot, those Passers-by. Those who came _from_ London were escaping, but
those going north were intent upon awful business in the sinister
metropolis--explosions, murders, enormous jewel robberies, and
conspiracies against the Radicalgovunment. The solitary policeman who
passed occasionally was in constant terror of his life. They longed to
warn him. Yet he had his other side as well--his questionable side.

This neglected patch of kitchen-garden, however, possessed other
claims to charm as well as the tattered fence. It was uncultivated.
Some rows of tangled currant bushes offered excellent cover; there was
a fallen elm tree whose trunk was "home"; a pile of rubbish that
included scrap-iron, old wheel-barrows, broken ladders, spades, and
wire-netting, and, chief of all, there was the spot behind the currant
bushes where Weeden, the Gardener, burnt dead leaves. It was sad, but
mysterious and beautiful too, this burning of the leaves; though,
according to Uncle Felix, who gave the Gardener's explanation, it was
right and necessary. They loved the smoke, too, hanging in the air
above the lawn, with its fragrant smell and shadowy distances:

"Oh, Gardener! How can you let them burn?" "Because," he explained,
"they've 'ad their turn, And nobody wants their shade.

 These withered-up messes
 Is worn-out old dresses
 I tuck round the boots
 Of the shiverin' roots
 Till the Spring makes 'em over
 Like roses and clover--
 But nobody wants dead leaves, dead leaves,
 Nor nobody wants their shade!"

A deserted corner, yet crowded gloriously with life. Adventure lurked
in every inch. There was danger, too, terror, wonder, and excitement.
And since for them it was the beginning of all things, they called it,
naturally, The End of the World. To escape to the End of the World,
unaccompanied by grown-ups, and, if possible, their whereabouts
unknown to anybody, was a daily duty second to no other. It was a
duty, wet or fine, they seldom left, neglected.

Besides themselves, two others alone held passes to this sanctuary:
Uncle Felix, because he loved to go there (he wrote his adventure
stories there, saying anything might happen in such a lonely place),
and the Gardener, because he was obliged to. Come-Back Stumper was
excluded. They had taken him once, and he had said such an abominable
thing that he was never allowed to visit it again. "A messy hole," he
called it. Mr. Jinks had never even seen it, but, after his death in
the railway accident, his remains, recovered without charge from the
Hospital, had been buried somewhere in the scrap-heap. From this point
of view alone he knew the End of the World; he was worthy of no other.
His epitaph was appalling--too horrible to mention really. Tim
composed it, but Uncle Felix distinctly said that it never, _never_
must be referred to audibly again:

               Here Matthew Jinks
               Just lies and st--

"It's _not_ nice," he said emphatically, "and you mustn't say it.
Always speak well of the dead." And, as they couldn't honestly do
that, they obeyed him and left Mr. Jinks in his unhonoured grave, with
a broken wheel-barrow for a headstone and a mass of wire-netting to
make resurrection difficult. In order to get the disagreeable epitaph
out of their minds Uncle Felix substituted a kinder and gentler one,
and made them learn it by heart:

          Old Jinks lies here
          Without a tear;
          He meant no wrong,
          But we didn't get along;
          So Jinks lies here,
          And we've nothing more to fear.
          He's all right:
               Jinks
               Sinks
          Out of sight!

It was the proud colony of wallflowers that first made Uncle Felix
like the place. Their loveliness fluttered in the winds, and their
perfume stole down deliciously above the rubbish and neglect. They
seemed to him the soul of ruins triumphing over outward destruction.
Hence the delicate melancholy in their scent and hence their lofty
chosen perch. Out of decay they grew, yet invariably above it. Both
sun and stars were in their flaming colouring, and their boldness was
true courage. They caught the wind, they held the sunset and the dawn;
they turned the air into a shining garden. They stood somehow for a
yearning beauty in his own heart that expressed itself in his stories.

"If you pick them," he warned Tim, who climbed like a monkey, and was
as destructive as his age, "the place will lose its charm. They grow
for the End of the World, and the End of the World belongs to them.
This wonderful spot will have no beauty when they're gone." To wear a
blossom in the hair or buttonhole was to be protected against decay
and ugliness.

Most wonderful of all, however, was the door in the old grey fence;
for it was a Gateway, and a Gateway, according to Uncle Felix, was a
solemn thing. None knew where it led to, it was a threshold into an
unknown world. Ordinary doors, doors in a house, for instance, were
not Gateways; they merely opened into rooms and other familiar places.
Dentists, governesses, and bedrooms existed behind ordinary, indoor
doors; but out-of-doors opened straight into the sky, and in virtue of
it were extraordinary. They were Gateways. At the End of the World
stood a stupendous, towering door that was a Gateway. Another, even
more majestic, rose at the end of life. This door in the grey fence
was a solemn, mysterious, and enticing Gateway--into everything worth
seeing.

It was invariably kept locked; it led into the high-road that
slithered along secretly and sedulously--to London. For the children
it was out of bounds. Here the Policeman lived in constant terror of
his life, and here went to and fro the strange world of Passers-by.
The white road flowed past like a river. It moved. From the lower
branches of the horse-chestnut tree they could just see it slide; also
when the swing went extra high, and from the end of the prostrate elm.
It went in both directions at once. It encircled the globe, going
under the sea too. The door leading into it was a quay or port. But
the brass knob never turned; the Gardener said there was no key; and
from the outer side the handle had long since been removed, lest
Passers-by might see it and come in. Even the keyhole had been
carefully stuffed up with that stringy stuff the Gardener carried in
his pockets.

Till, finally, something happened that made the End of the World seem
suddenly a new place. Tim noticed that the stringy stuff had been
removed.

The day had been oppressively hot, and tempers had been sorely tried.
Mother had gone to lie down with a headache; Aunt Emily was visiting
the poor with a basket; Daddy was inaccessible in his study; all
Authorities were doing the dull things Authorities have to do. It was
September, and the world stood lost in this golden haze of unexpected
heat. Very still it stood, the yellow leaves quite motionless and the
smoke from the kitchen chimney hanging stiff and upright in the air.
There was no breath of wind.

"There's simply _nothing_ to do," the children said--when suddenly
Uncle Felix arrived, and their listlessness was turned to life and
interest. He had gone up in the morning to London, and the suddenness
of his return was part of his prerogative. Stumper, Jinks, and other
folk were announced days and days beforehand, but Uncle Felix just--
came.

"We'll go to the End of the World," he decided gravely, the moment he
had changed. "There's something going on there. Quick!" This meant, as
all knew, that he had an idea. They stole out, and no one saw them go.
Across the lawn and past the lime trees humming busily with tired
bees, they crept beneath the shadow of the big horse-chestnut, where
the staring windows of the house could no longer see them. They
disappeared. The Authorities might look and call for ever without
finding them.

"Slower, please, a little," said Maria breathlessly, and was at once
picked up and carried. Moving cautiously through the laurel shrubbery,
they left the garden proper with its lawns and flower-beds, and
entered the forbidden region at the End of the World. They stood
upright. Uncle Felix dropped Maria like a bundle.

"Look!" he said below his breath. "I told you so!"

He pointed. The colony of wallflowers were fluttering in the windless
air. Nothing stirred but these. The stillness was unbroken. Sunshine
blazed on the rubbish-heap. The currant bushes watched. Deep silence
reigned everywhere. But the flowers on the crumbling wall waved
mysteriously their coloured banners of alarm.

"It looks different," said Judy in a hushed aside.

"Something's happened," whispered Tim, staring round him.

Maria watched them from the ground, prepared to follow in any
direction, but in no hurry until a plan was decided.

"The keyhole!" cried Tim loudly, and at the same moment a huge
blackbird flew out of the shrubberies behind them, and flashed across
the open space toward the orchard on the other side. It whistled a
long, shrill scream of warning. It was bigger by far than any ordinary
blackbird.

"Home! Quick! Run for your lives!" cried some one, as they dashed for
the safety of the elm tree. Even Maria ran. They scrambled on to the
slippery, fallen trunk and gasped for breath as they stood balancing
in an uneasy row, all holding hands.

"It was bigger than a hen," exclaimed Judy inconsequently. "It
couldn't have come through any keyhole." She stared with inquiring,
startled eyes at her brother. The bird and the keyhole were somehow
lumped together in her mind.

"They've stopped," observed Maria, and sat down in the comfortable
niche between the lopped branch and the trunk. It was true. The
wallflowers were as motionless now as painted outlines on a nursery
saucer.

"Because we're safe," said Uncle Felix. "It was a warning."

And then all turned their attention to Tim's discovery of the keyhole.
For the stuffing had been removed. The white, dusty road gleamed
through the hole in a spot of shining white.

"Hush!" whispered their guide. "There's something moving."

"Perhaps it's Jinks in his cemetery," thought Judy after a pause to
listen.

"No," said Uncle Felix with decision. "It's outside. It's on the--
road!"

His earnestness on these occasions always thrilled them; his gravity
and the calm way he kept his head invariably won their confidence.

"The London Road!" they repeated. That meant the world.

"Something going past," he added, listening intently. They listened
intently with him. All four were still holding hands.

"The great High Road outside," he repeated softly, while they moved
instinctively to the highest part of the tree whence they could see
over the fence. They craned their necks. The dusty road was flowing
very swiftly, and like a river it had risen. Never before had it been
so easily visible. They saw the ruts the carts had made, the hedge
upon the opposite bank, the grassy ditch where the hemlock grew in
feathery quantities. They even saw loose flints upon the edge. But the
actual road was higher than before. It certainly was rising.

"Metropolis!" cried Tim. "I see an eye!"

Some one was looking through the keyhole at them.

"An eye!" exclaimed several voices in a hushed, expectant tone.

There was a pause, during which every one looked at every one else.

"It's probably a tramp," said Uncle Felix gravely. "We'll let him in."

The proposal, however, alarmed them, for they had expected something
very different. To stuff the keyhole, run away and hide, or at least
to barricade the fence was what he ought to have advised. Instead of
this they heard the very opposite. The excitement became intense. For
them a tramp meant danger, robbery with violence, intoxication, awful
dirt, and an under-the-bed-at-midnight kind of terror. It was so long
since they had seen the tramp--their own tramp--that they had
forgotten his existence.

"They'll kill us at once," said Maria, using the plural with the
comprehensive and anticipatory vision of the child.

"They're harmless as white mice," said her Uncle quickly, "once you
know how to treat them, and full of adventures too. I do," he added
with decision, referring to the treatment. And he stepped down to
unbar the gate.

The children, breathless with interest, watched him go. On the trunk,
of course, they felt comparatively safe, for it was "home"; but none
the less the "girls" drew up their skirts a little, and Tim felt
premonitory thrills run up his spidery legs into his spine. The
wallflowers shook their tawny heads as a sudden breath of wind swept
past them across the End of the World. It seemed an age before the
audacious thing was accomplished and the door swung wide into the road
outside. Uncle Felix might so easily have been stabbed or poisoned or
suffocated--but instead they saw a shabby, tangled figure come
shuffling through that open gate upon a cloud of dust.

"Quick! he's a perjured man!" cried Judy, remembering a newspaper
article. "Shut the gate!" She sprang down to help. "He'll be arrested
for a highway violence and be incarc-"

There was confusion in her mind. She felt pity for this woebegone
shadow of a human being, and terror lest the Policeman, who lived on
the white, summery high road, would catch him and send him to the
gallows before he was safe inside. Her love was ever with the under
dog.

There was a rush and a scramble, the gate was shut, and the Tramp
stood gasping before them in the enchanted sanctuary of the End of the
World.

"He's ours!" exclaimed Judy. "It's our old tramp!"

"Be very polite to him," Uncle Felix had time to whisper hurriedly,
seeing that all three stood behind him. "He's a great Adventurer and a
Wanderer too."




CHAPTER IX

A PRIEST OF WONDER


He was a grey and nameless creature of shadowy outline and vague
appearance. The eye focused him with difficulty. He had an air of a
broken tombstone about him, with moss and lichen in wayward patches,
for his face was split and cracked, and his beard seemed a
continuation of his hair; but he had soft blue eyes that had got lost
in the general tangle and seemed to stray about the place and peep out
unexpectedly like flowers hiding in a thick-set hedge. The face might
be anywhere; he might move suddenly in any direction; he was prepared,
as it were, to move forward, sideways, or backwards according as the
wind decided or the road appeared--a sort of universal scarecrow of a
being altogether.

Yet, for all his forlorn and scattered attitude, there hung about his
rags an air of something noble and protective, something strangely
inviting that welcomed without criticism all the day might bring.
Homeless himself, and with no place to lay his extraordinary body, the
birds might have built their nests in him without alarm, or the furry
creatures of fields and woods have burrowed among his voluminous
misfit-clothing to shelter themselves from rain and cold. He would
gladly have carried them all with him, safely hidden from guns or
traps or policemen, glad to be useful, and careless of himself. That,
at any rate, was the mixed impression that he gave.

"Thank you," he said in a comfortable sort of voice that sounded like
wind among telegraph wires on a high road: then added "kindly all."

And instantly the children felt delighted with him; their sympathy was
gained; fear vanished; the Policeman, like a scape-goat, took all
their sins away. They did not actually move closer to the Tramp but
their eyes went nestling in and out among his tattered figure. Judy,
however, it was noticeable, looked at him as though spell-bound. To
her he was, perhaps, as her Uncle said, the Great Adventurer, the type
of romantic Wanderer for ever on the quest of perilous things--a
Knight.

It was Uncle Felix who first broke the pause.

"You've come a long way," he suggested.

"Oh, about the same as usual," replied the Tramp, as though all
distances and localities were one to him.

"Which means--?"

"From nowhere, and from everywhere."

"And you are going on to--?"

"Always the same place."

"Which is--?"

"The end." He said it in a rumbling voice that seemed to issue from a
pocket of the torn old coat rather than from his bearded mouth.

"Oh, dear," sighed Judy, "that is a _very_ long way indeed. But, of
course, you never get tired out?" Her eyes were brimmed with
admiration.

He shrugged his great loose shoulders. It was odd how there seemed to
be another thing within all that baggy clothing and behind the hair.
The shaggy exterior covered a slimmer thing that was happy, laughing,
dancing to break out. "Not tired out," he said, "a bit sleepy
sometimes, p'r'aps." He glanced round him carelessly, his strange eyes
resting finally on Judy's face. "But there's lots of beds about," he
explained to her, "once you know how to make 'em."

"Yes," the child murmured, with a kind of soft applause, "of course
there must be."

"And those wot sleeps in ditches dreams the sweetest--that _I_ know."

"They must," agreed Judy, as though grass and dock leaves were
familiar to her. "And you get up when you're ready, don't you?"

"That's it," replied the wanderer. "Only you always _are_ ready."

"But how do you know the time?" asked Tim.

The Tramp turned round slowly and looked at his questioner.

"Time!" he snorted. And he exchanged a mysterious glance of sympathy
with Maria, who lifted her eyes in return, but otherwise made no sign
whatever. "Sit quiet like," he added, "and everything worth 'aving
comes of itself. That's living that is. The 'ole world belongs to
you."

"I've got a watch," said Tim, as though challenged. "I've got an
alarum clock too. Only you have to wind them up, of course."

"There you are!" the Tramp exclaimed, "you've got to wind 'em up. They
don't go of theirselves, do they?"

"Oh, no."

"I never knew 'appiness until I chucked my watch away," continued the
other.

"_Your_ watch!" exclaimed Tim.

"Well, not igsackly," laughed the Tramp.

"Oh, he didn't mean _that_," Judy put in quickly.

"I was usin' it at the time, any'ow," chuckled their guest, "and wot
you're usin' at the time belongs to you. I never knew 'appiness while
I kep' it. Watches and clocks only mean 'urry. It's an endless job,
tryin' to keep up with 'em. You've got to go so fast for one thing--I
never was a sprinter--bah!" he snorted--"there's nothing in it. Life
isn't a 'undred yards race. You miss all the flowers on the way at
that pace. And what's the prize?" He glanced down contemptuously at
his feet. "Worn-out boots. Yer boots wear out--that's all."

He looked round at the children, smiling wonderfully. Maria seemed to
understand him best, perhaps. She looked up innocently into his
tangled face. "That's it," he said, with another chuckle. "YOU know
wot I mean, don't yer, missie?" But Maria made no reply. She merely
beamed back at him till her face seemed nothing but a pair of wide
blue eyes.

"Stop yer clocks, go slow," the man murmured, half to himself, "and
you'll see what I mean. There's twice as much time as before. You can
do anything, everything,"--he spread his arms out--"because there's
never any 'urry. You'd be surprised."

"You're very hungry, aren't you?" inquired Tim, resenting the man's
undue notice of Maria.

The Tramp stared hard into the boy's unwavering eyes. "Always," he
said briefly, "but, then, there's always folks to give."

"Rather," exclaimed Judy with enthusiasm, and Tim added eagerly, "I
should think so."

They seemed to know all about him, then. Something had entered with
him that made common stock of the five of them. It was wonderful of
Uncle Felix to have known all this beforehand.

"We're all alive together," murmured the Tramp below his breath, and
then Uncle Felix showed another stroke of genius. "We'll make tea out
here to-day," he said, "instead of having it indoors. Tim, you run and
fetch a tea-pot, a bottle of milk, and some cups and a kettle full of
water; put some sugar in your pockets and bring a loaf and butter and
a pot of jam. A basket will hold the lot. And while you're gone we'll
get the fire going."

"A big knife and some spoons too," Judy cried after his disappearing
figure, "and don't let Aunt Emily see you, mind."

The Tramp looked up sharply. "I had an Aunt Emily once," he said
behind his hedged-in face. Expecting more to follow, the others
waited; but nothing came. There was a little pause.

"Once?" asked Maria, wondering perhaps if there were two such beings
in the world at the same time.

The man of journeys nodded.

"Did she mend your clothes and things--and love to care for you?" Judy
wished to know.

He shook his tangled head. "She visited the poor," he told them, "and
had no time for the likes of me. And one day I fell out of a big hole
in my second suit and took to tramping." He rubbed his hands
vigorously together in the air. "And here I am."

"Yes," said Maria kindly. "I'm glad."

Meanwhile, Judy having decided to go and help her brother with the
tea-things, the others set to work and made a fire. Maria helped with
her eyes, picking up an occasional stick as well, but it was the Tramp
who really did the difficult part. Only the way he did it made it
appear quite easy somehow. He began with the tiniest fire in the
world, and the next minute it seemed ready for the kettle, with a
cross-bar arranged adroitly over it and a supply of fresh wood in a
pile beside it.

"What do _you_ think about it?" asked Tim of his sister, as they
struggled back with the laden basket. Apparently a deep question of
some kind asked for explanation in his mind.

"It's awful that he has no one to care about him," was the girl's
reply. "I think he's a very nice man. He looks magnificent and awfully
brown."

"That's dirt," said her brother.

"It's travel," she replied indignantly.

The Tramp, when they got back, looked tidier somehow, as though the
effect of refined society had already done him good. His appearance
was less uncouth, his hair and beard a shade less hay-fieldy. It was
possible to imagine what he looked like when he was young--sure sign
of being tidy; just as to be very untidy gives an odd hint of what old
age will do eventually to face and figure. The Tramp looked younger.

They all made friends in the simple, unaffected way of birds and
animals, for at the End of the World there was no such thing as empty
formality. The children, supported by the presence of their important
uncle, asked questions, this being their natural prerogative; it came
to them as instinctively as tapping the lawn for worms comes to birds,
or scratching the earth for holes is a sign of health with rabbits. At
first shyly--then in a ceaseless, yet not too inquisitive torrent.
Questions are the sincerest form of flattery, and the Tramp,
accustomed probably to severer questions from people in uniform, was
quite delighted. He smiled quietly behind the scenery of his curious
great face, but he answered all: where he lived, how he travelled,
what friends he had, where he spent Christmas, what barns and ditches
and haystacks felt like, anything and everything, even where he meant
to be buried when he died. "'ere, where I've lived so 'appily," and he
made a wide gesture with one tattered arm to include the earth and
sky. He had no secrets apparently; he was glad they should know all.
The children had never known such a delightful creature in their lives
before.

"And you eat anything?" inquired Tim, "anything you can, I mean?"

"Anything you can _get_, he means," corrected Judy softly.

He gave an unexpected answer. "I swallow sunsets, and I bite the moon;
I nibble stars. I never need a spoon."

He said it as naturally as a duchess describing her latest diet at a
smart dinner-party, with an air, too, as of some great personage
disguised on purpose so that he might enjoy the simple life.

"That rhymes," stated Maria.

"So does this," he replied; "I live on open hair and bits of bread;
the sunlight clothes me, and I lay me 'ead--"

The hissing of the kettle interrupted him. "Water's boiling," cried
Uncle Felix; "hand round the cups and cut the loaf." A cup was given
to each. The tea was made.

"Do you take sugar, please?" asked Judy of the guest. The quietness of
her voice made it almost tender. Such a man, moreover, might despise
sweet things. But he said he did.

"Two lumps?" she asked, "or one?"

"Five, please," he said.

She was far too polite to show surprise at this, nor at the fact that
he stirred his tea with a little bit of stick instead of with a spoon.
She remembered his remark that he had no use for spoons. Tim, saying
nothing, imitated all he did as naturally as though he had never done
otherwise in his life before. They enjoyed their picnic tea immensely
in this way, seated in a row upon the comfortable elm tree, gobbling,
munching, drinking, chattering. The Tramp, for all his outward
roughness, had the manners of a king. He said what he thought, but
without offence; he knew what he wanted, yet without greed or
selfishness. He had that politeness which is due to alert perception
of every one near him, their rights and claims, their likes and
dislikes; for true politeness is practically an expansion of
consciousness which involves seeing the point of view of every one
else--at once. A tramp, accustomed to long journeys, big spaces,
obliged ever to consider the demands of impetuous little winds, the
tastes of flowers, the habits and natural preferences of animals,
birds, and insects, develops this bigger sense of politeness that
crowds in streets and drawing-rooms cannot learn. Unless a tramp takes
note of _all_, he remains out of touch with all, and therefore is
uncomfortable.

"Is everything all right?" asked Uncle Felix presently, anxious to see
that he was well provided for.

"Everything, thank you," the wanderer replied, "and, if you don't
mind, I'll 'ave my supper here later too. I've brought it with me."
And out of one capacious pocket he produced--a bird. "It's a chickin,"
he informed them, as they stared with wide-opened eyes. Maria was the
first to go on eating her slice of bread and jam. Unordinary things
seemed to disturb her less than ordinary ones. Somehow it seemed quite
natural that he should go about with a bird for supper in his pocket.

"However did you get it--in there?" asked Tim, modifying his sentence
just in time to avoid inquisitive rudeness.

"It gave itself to me," he replied. "That kind of things 'appens
sometimes when you're tramping. _They_ know," he added significantly.
"You see, it's my birthday to-day, and something like this always
'appens on my birthday. Last time it was a fish. I fell into the
stream and went right under. When I got out on to the bank again I
found a trout in my pocket. The time before I slept beside a haystack,
and when I awoke at sunrise I felt something warm and soft against my
face like feathers. It _was_ feathers. There was a 'en's nest two
inches from my nose, and six nice eggs in it all ready for my birthday
breakfast. I only ate four of them. You should never take all the
heggs out of a nest." He looked round at the group and smiled. "But I
think the chickin's best of all," he told them, "and next year I
expect a turkey, or a bit of bacon maybe."

"You never, never grow old, do you?" Judy asked. Her admiration was no
longer concealed. It seemed she saw him differently a little from the
others.

"Oh, jest a nice age," he said.

"You seem to know so much," she explained her question, "everything."

He laughed behind his tea-cup as he fingered the chicken on his lap.

"As to that," he murmured, "there's only a few things worth knowing.
If you can just forget the rest, you're all right."

"I see," she replied beneath her breath. "But--but it's got to be
plucked and cleaned and cooked first, hasn't it?"

"The chickin?" he laughed. "Oh, dear me, no! Cooked, yes, but not
plucked or cleaned in the sense you mean. That's what they do in
'ouses. Out here we have a better way. We just wrap it up in clay and
dig a 'ole and light a fire on top, and in a 'arf hour it's ready to
eat, tender, juicy, and sweet as a bit of 'oneycomb. Break open the
ball of clay, and the feathers all come away wiv it." And then he
produced from another pocket a fat, thick roll of yellow butter,
freshly made apparently, for it was wrapped in a clean white cloth.

They stared at that for a long time without a word.

"They go together," he explained, and the explanation seemed
sufficient as well as final. "And they come together too," he added
with a smile.

"Did the butter give itself to you as well as the chicken?" inquired
Judy. The Tramp nodded in the affirmative as he placed it beside him
on the trunk ready for use later. And everybody felt in the middle of
a delightful mystery. All were the same age together. Bird and butter,
sun and wind, flowers and children, tramp and animals--all seemed
merged in a jolly company that shared one another's wants and could
supply them. The wallflowers wagged their orange-bonneted heads, the
wind slipped sighing with delicious perfumes from the trees, the bees
were going home in single file, and the sun was sinking level with the
paling top--when suddenly there came a disturbing element into the
scene that made their hearts beat faster with one accord. It was a
sound.

A muffled, ominous beat was audible far away, but slowly coming
nearer. As it approached it changed its character. It became sharper
and more distinct. Something about the measured intervals between its
tapping repetitions brought a threatening message of alarm. Every one
felt the little warning and looked up. There was anxiety. The sound
jarred unpleasantly upon the peace of the happy company. They
listened. It was footsteps on the road outside.



CHAPTER X

FACT AND WONDER--CLASH

Uncle Felix paused over his last bit of bread and jam, Tim and Judy
cocked their ears up. Maria's eyes stood still a moment in the
heavens, and the Tramp stopped eating. He picked up the butter and
replaced it carefully in his pocket.

"I know those steps," he murmured half to himself and half to the
others. "They're all over the world. They follow me wherever I go. I
hear 'em even in me sleep." He sighed, and the tone of his voice was
weary and ill at ease.

"How horrid for you," said Judy very softly.

"It keeps me moving," he muttered, trying to conceal all signs of face
behind hair and beard, which he pulled over him like a veil. "It's the
Perliceman."

"The Policeman!" they echoed, staring.

"But he can't find you here!"

"He'll never see you!"

"You're quite safe inside the fence with us, for this is the End of
the World, you know."

"He's not afraid--never!" exclaimed Judy proudly.

"He goes everywhere and sees everything," whispered the Tramp. "He's
been following me since time began. So far he has not caught me up,
but his boots are so much bigger than my own--the biggest, strongest
boots in the world--that in the hend he is bound to get me."

"But you've done nothing," said Judy.

The wanderer smiled. "That's why," he said, holding up a warning
finger. "It's because I do nothing. 'ush!" he whispered. The steps
came nearer, and he lowered his voice so that the end of the sentence
was not audible.

"'ide me," he said in a whisper. And he waved his arms imploringly,
like the branches of some wind-hunted tree.

There was a tarpaulin near the rubbish-heap, and some sacking used for
keeping the vegetables warm at night. "That'll do," he said, pointing.
"Quick!--Good-bye!" In a moment he was beneath the spread black
covering, the children were sitting on its edges, quietly eating more
bread and jam, and looking as innocent as stars. Uncle Felix poked the
fire busily, a grave and anxious look upon his face.

The steps came nearer, paused, came on again then finally stopped
outside the gate. The flowing road that bore them ceased running past
in its accustomed way. The evening stopped still too. The silence
could be heard. The setting sun looked on. Upon the crumbling wall the
orange flowers shook their little warning banners.

And there came a tapping on the wooden gate.

No one moved.

The tapping was repeated. There was a sound of drums about it. The
round brass handle turned. The door pushed open, and in the empty
space appeared--the Policeman.

"Good evening," he said in a heavy, uncompromising way. He looked
enormous, framed there by the open gate, the white road behind him
like a sheet. He looked very blue--a great towering shadow against the
sunlight. It was very clear that he _knew_ he was a policeman and
could think of nothing else. He was dressed up for the part, and
received many shillings a week from a radculgovunment to look like
that. It would have been a dereliction of duty to forget it. He was
stuffed with duty. His brass buttons shone.

"Good _evening_," he repeated, as no one spoke.

"_Good_ evening," replied Uncle Felix calmly. The Policeman
accentuated the word "evening," but Uncle Felix emphasised the
adjective "good." From the very beginning the two men disagreed. "This
is private property, very private indeed. We are having tea, in fact,
privately, upon our own land."

"No property is private," returned the Policeman, "and to the Law no
thing nor person either."

For a moment the children felt afraid. It seemed incredible that Uncle
Felix could be arrested, and yet things had an appearance of it.

"Kindly close the gate so that we cannot be overheard," he said
firmly, "and then be good enough to state your business here." He did
not offer him a seat; he did not suggest a cup of tea; he spoke like a
brave man who expected danger but was prepared to meet it.

The Policeman stepped back and closed the gate. He then stepped
forward again a little nearer than before. From a pocket, hitherto
invisible inside his belt, he drew forth a crumpled notebook and a
stub of pencil. He was very dignified and very grave. He took a deep
breath, held the paper and pencil ready to use, expanded his chest
till it resembled a toy balloon in the Park, and said:

"I am looking for a man." He paused, then added: "Have you seen a man
about?"

"About what?" asked Uncle Felix innocently.

"About fifty or thereabouts," replied the other. "Disguised in rags
and a wig of hair and a false beard."

"What has he done?" It was like a game of chess, both opponents well
matched. Uncle Felix was too big to be caught napping by clever
questions that hid traps. The children felt the danger in the air, and
watched their uncle with quivering admiration. Only their uncle stood
alone, whereas behind the Policeman stretched a line of other
policemen that reached to London and was in touch with the Government
itself.

"What has he done?" repeated their champion.

"He's disappeared," came the deep-voiced answer.

"There's no crime in that," was the comment, given flatly.

"But he's disappeared with"--the Policeman consulted his notebook a
moment--"a chicken and a roll of butter what don't belong to him--"

"Roll _and_ butter, did you say?"

"No, sir, roll _of_ butter was what I said." He spoke respectfully,
but was grave and terrible. "He is a thief."

"A thief!"

"He lives nowhere and has no home. You see, sir, duty is duty, and
we're expected to run in people who live nowhere and have no homes."

"Which road did he take?" Uncle Felix clearly was pretending in order
to gain time.

The man of law looked puzzled. "It was a roll of butter and a bird,
sir," he said, consulting his book again, "and my duty is to run him
in--"

"The moment you run into him."

"Precisely," replied the blue giant. "And, having seen him come in
here some time ago, I now ask you formally whether you have seen him
too, and I call upon you to show me where he's hiding." He thrust one
huge foot forward and held his notebook open with the pencil ready.
"Anything you say will be used against you later, remember. You must
all be witnesses."

"_If_ you find him," put in Uncle Felix dryly.

"_When_ I find him," said the other. And his eye wandered over to the
tarpaulin that was spread out beside the rubbish-heap. For it had
suddenly moved.

Everybody had seen that movement. There was no disguising it. Feeling
uncomfortable the Tramp had shifted his position. He probably wanted
air.

"I saw it move," the Policeman growled, moving a step towards the
rubbish-heap. "He's under there all right enough, and the sooner he
comes out the better for him. That's all I've got to say."

It was a most disagreeable and awkward moment. No one knew quite what
was best to do. Maria turned her eyes as innocently upon the tarpaulin
as she could manage, but it was obvious what she was really looking
at. Her brother held his breath and stared, expecting a pistol might
appear and some one be shot dead with a marvellous aim, struck
absolutely in the mathematical centre of the heart. Uncle Felix, upon
whom fell the burden of rescue or defence, sat there with a curious
look upon his face. For a moment it seemed he knew not what to do.

The Policeman, approaching still nearer to the tarpaulin, glared at
him.

"You're an accessory," he said sternly, "both before and after the
fact."

"I didn't say he _wasn't_ there."

"You didn't say he _was_," was the severe retort. It was unanswerable.

"He'll hang by the neck till he's dead," thought Tim, "and afterwards
they'll bury the body in a lime-kiln so that even his family can't
visit the grave." He looked wildly about him, thinking of possible
ways of escape he had read or heard about, and his eye fell upon his
sister Judy.

Now Judy was a queer, original maid. She believed everything in the
world. She believed not only what was told her but also what she
thought. And among other things she believed herself to be very
beautiful, though in reality she was the ugly duckling of the brood.
"All God has made is beautiful," Aunt Emily had once reproved her,
and, since God had made everything, everything must be beautiful. It
was. God had made her too, therefore she was simply lovely. She
enjoyed numerous romances; one romance after another flamed into her
puzzled life, each leaving her more lovely than it found her. She was
also invariably good. To be asked if she was good was a blundering
question to which the astonished answer was only an indignant "Of
course." And, similarly, all she loved herself was beautiful. Her
romances had included gardeners and postmen, stable-boys and curates,
age of no particular consequence provided they stimulated her creative
imagination. And the latest was--the Tramp.

Something about the woebegone figure of adventure had set on fire her
mother instinct _and_ her sense of passionate romance. She saw him
young, without the tangled beard, without the rags, without the
dilapidated boots. She saw him in her mind as a warrior hero, storming
difficulty, despising danger, wandering beneath the stars, a being
resplendent as a prince and fearless as a deity. He was a sun of the
morning, and the dawn was in his glorious blue eyes.

And Tim now saw that this sister of his, alone of all the party, was
about to do something unexpected. She had left her place upon the
fallen trunk and stepped up in front of the Policeman.

"Stand aside, missy," this individual said, and his voice was rough,
his gesture very decided. It was, in fact, his "arresting" manner. He
was about to do his duty.

"Just wait a moment," said Judy calmly; and she placed herself
directly in his path, her legs apart, her arms akimbo on her hips.
"You say the man you want to find is old and ragged and looks like a
tramp?"

"That's it," replied the Policeman, greatly astonished, and pausing a
moment in spite of himself. "You'll see him in a moment. Jest help me
to lift a corner o' this 'ere tarpaulin, and I'll show him to you." He
pushed her deliberately aside.

"All right," said Judy, her eyes shining brilliantly, her gestures
touched with a confidence that surprised everybody into silence, "but
first I want to tell you that the person underneath this old sheet
thing is not a tramp at all--"

"You don't say so," interrupted the other, half impudently, half
sarcastically. "What is he then, I'd like to know?"

The girl drew herself up and looked the great blue figure straight in
the eyes.

"He's my brother," she said, in a clear strong voice, "and he's not a
thief."

"Your brother!" repeated the man, a trifle taken aback. He guffawed.

"He's young and noble," she went on, half singing the words in her
excitement and belief, "and he's dressed all in gold. He walks like
wind about the world, has curly hair, and wears a sword of silver.
He's simply beautiful, and he's _got no beard at all!_"

"And he's your brother, is he?" cried the Policeman, laughing rudely,
"and he jest wears all that get-up for fun, don't he?" And he stooped
down and pulled the tarpaulin violently to one side.

"He is my brother, and I love him, and he is beautiful," she answered,
dancing lightly round him and flinging her arms in the air to the
complete amazement of policeman, Uncle Felix, and her brother and
sister into the bargain. "There! You can see for yourself!"

The Policeman stood aghast and stared. He drew a long, deep breath; he
whistled softly; he pushed his big, spiked helmet back. He staggered.
"Seems there's a mistake," he stammered stupidly, "a kind of mistake
somewhere, as it were. I--" He stuck fast. He wiped his lips with his
thick brown hand.

"A mistake everywhere, I think," said Uncle Felix sternly. "Your
mistake."

The two men faced each other, for Uncle Felix had risen to his feet.
The children held back and stared in silence. They were not quite sure
what it was they saw. On Judy's face alone was a radiant confidence.

For, in place of the bedraggled and unkempt figure that had crawled
beneath the sheet ten minutes before, there rose before them all
apparently a tall young stripling, clean and white and shining as a
fair Greek god. His hair was curly, he was dressed in gold, a silver
sword hung down beside him, and his beardless face and beauty in it
that made it radiant as a glad spring day. The sunlight was very
dazzling just at that moment.

"You said," continued Uncle Felix, in a voice of deadly quiet, "that
the man you wanted had a wig of hair and a beard--a false beard?"

The Policeman stared as though his eyes would drop out upon the
tarpaulin. But he said no word. He consulted his note-book in a dazed,
flustered kind of way. Then he looked up nervously at the astonishing
figure of the "Tramp." Then he looked back at his book again.

"And old?" said Uncle Felix.

"And old," repeated the officer thickly, poring over the page.

"About fifty, I think, you mentioned?"

"'Bout fifty--did I?" He said it faintly, like a man not sure of a
lesson he ought to know by heart.

"Disguised into the bargain!" Uncle Felix raised his voice till it
seemed to thunder out the words.

"Them was my instructions, sir," the man was heard to mumble sulkily.

Uncle Felix, to the children's immense delight and admiration, took a
step nearer to the man of law. The latter moved slowly backwards,
glancing half fiercely, half suspiciously at the glorious figure of
the person he had expected to arrest as a dangerous thief and tramp.

"And, following what you stupidly call your instructions," cried Uncle
Felix, looking sternly at him, "you have broken in our gate,
trespassed on our private property, disturbed our guests, and removed
forcibly our tarpaulin from its rightful place."

The crestfallen and amazed Policeman gasped and raised his hands with
a gesture of despair. He looked like a ruined man. Had there been a
handkerchief in his bulging coat, he must have cried.

"And you call yourself an Officer of the Law?" boomed the Defender of
Personal Liberty. He went still nearer to him. His voice, to the
children, sounded simply magnificent. "A uniformed and salaried
representative of the Government of England!"

"Oo calls me orl that?" asked the wretched man in a trembling tone. "I
gets twenty-five shillings a week, and that's orl I know."

There came a pause then, while the men faced each other.

"Uncle, let him go, please," said Judy. "He couldn't help it, you
know. And he's a married man with a family, I expect. Some day--"

A forgiving smile softened the features of both men at these gentle
words.

"This time, then," said Uncle Felix slowly, "I won't report you; but
don't let it occur again as long as you live. A day will come,
perhaps, when you will understand. And here," he added, holding out
his hand with something in it, "is another shilling to make it twenty-
six. I advise you--if you're still open to friendly advice--to buy a
pair of glasses with it."

The discredited official took the shilling meekly and pocketed it with
his note-book. He cast one last hurried glance of amazement and
suspicion at the man who had been beneath the tarpaulin, and began to
slink back ignominiously towards the gate. At the last minute he
turned.

"Good _evenin'_," he said, as he vanished into the road.

"_Good_ evening," Uncle Felix answered him, as he closed the gate
behind him.

Then, how it happened no one knew exactly. Judy, walking up to the
shining figure, took him by the hand and led him slowly through the
gate on to the long white road. There was a blaze of sunset pouring
through the trees and the shafts of slanting light made it difficult
to see what every one was doing. In the general commotion he somehow
vanished. The gate was closed. Judy stood smiling and triumphant just
inside upon the mossy path.

"You saved his life," said some one.

"It's all right," she said--and burst into tears.

But children are not much impressed by the tears of others, knowing
too well how easily they are produced and stopped. Tim went burrowing
to find the bird, and Maria just mentioned that the Tramp had taken
the butter away in his pocket. By the time this fact was thoroughly
established the group was ready to leave, the tea-things all
collected, the fire put out, and the sun just dipping down below the
top of the old grey fence.

Then, and not till then, did the affair of the Tramp come under
discussion. What seemed most puzzling was why the Policeman had not
arrested him after all. They could not make it out at all; it seemed a
mystery. There was something quite unusual about it altogether. Uncle
Felix and Judy had been wonderful, but--

"Did you see him blink," said Tim, "when Judy went up and gave it him
hot?"

"Yes," observed Maria, who had done nothing herself but stare. "I
did."

The brother, however, was not so sure. "I think he really believed
her," he declared with assurance, proud of her achievement. "He really
saw him young and with a sword and curly hair and all that."

Judy looked at him with surprise. Her tears had ceased flowing by this
time.

"Of course," she said. "Didn't _you?_" There was pain in her voice in
addition to blank astonishment.

"Of course we did," said Uncle Felix quickly with decision. "Of course
we did."

As they went into the house, however, Uncle Felix lingered behind a
moment as though he had forgotten something. His face wore a puzzled
expression. He seemed a little bewildered. He walked into the hat-rack
first, then into the umbrella-stand, then stopped abruptly and put his
hand to his head.

"Headache?" asked Tim, who had been watching him.

His uncle did not hear the question, at least he did not answer.
Instead he pulled something hurriedly out of his waistcoat pocket,
held it to his ear, listened attentively a moment, and then gave a
sudden start.

"What is it, Uncle?"

"Oh, nothing," was the reply; "my watch has stopped, that's all." He
stood still a moment or two, reflecting deeply. His eyebrows went up
and down. He pursed his lips. "Odd," he continued, half to himself;
"I'm sure I wound it up last night...!" he added, "it's going again
now. It stopped--only for a moment!"

"Aha," said Tim significantly, and looked about him. He waited
breathlessly for something more to happen. But nothing did happen--
just then.

Only, when at last Uncle Felix looked down, their eyes met and a flash
of knowledge too enormous ever to be forgotten passed noiselessly
between the two of them.

"Perhaps...!" murmured his uncle.

"I wonder...!"

That was all.




CHAPTER XI

JUDY'S PARTICULAR ADVENTURE


Adventure means saying Yes, and being careless; children say Yes to
everything and are very careless indeed: even their No is usually a
Yes, inverted or deferred. "I won't play," parsed by a psychologist,
means "I'll play when I'm ready." The adventurous spirit accepts what
offers regardless of consequences; he who hesitates and thinks is but
a Policeman who prevents adventure. Now everything offers itself to
children, because they rightly think that everything belongs to them.
Life is conditionless, if only people would let them accept it as it
is. "Don't think; accept!" expresses the law of their swift and fluid
being. They act on it. They take everything they can--get. But it is
the Policeman who adds the "get," changing the whole significance of
life with one ugly syllable.

Each of the children treasured an adventure of its very own; an
adventure-in-chief, that could not possibly have happened to anybody
else in the world. These three survivals in an age when education
considers childhood a disease to be cured as hurriedly as possible--
took their adventure the instant that it came, and each with a
complete assurance that it was unique. To no one else in the world
could such a thing have happened, least of all to the other two. Each
took it characteristically, according to his or her individual nature
--Judy, with a sense of Romance called deathless; Tim, with a taste for
Poetic Drama, a dash of the supernatural in it; and Maria, with a
magnificent inactivity that ruled the world by waiting for things to
happen, then claiming them as her own. Her masterly instinct for
repose ran no risk of failure from misdirected energy. And to all
three secrecy, of course, was essential: "Don't never tell the others,
Uncle! Promise faithfully!"

For to every adventure Uncle Felix acted as audience, atmosphere, and
chorus. He watched whatever happened--audience; believed in its
reality--atmosphere; and explained without explaining away--chorus. He
had the unusual faculty of being ten years young as well as forty
years old, and a real adventure was not possible without him.

The secrecy, of course, was not preserved for long; sooner or later
the glory must be shared so that "the others" knew and envied. For
only then was the joy complete, the splendour properly fulfilled. And
so the old tired world went round, and life grew more and more
wonderful every day. For children are an epitome of life--a self-
creating universe.

That week was a memorable one for several reasons. Daddy, overworked
among his sealing-wax, went for a change to Switzerland, taking Mother
with him; Aunt Emily, in her black silk dress that crackled with
disapproval, went to Tunbridge Wells--an awful place in another
century somewhere; and Uncle Felix was left behind to "take charge of
''em'"--"'em" being the children and himself. It was evidence of
monumental trust and power, placing him in their imaginations even
above the recognised Authorities. His sway was never for a moment
questioned.

"No lessons, then!" he had insisted as a condition of acceptance, and
after much confabulation the point was yielded with reluctance. It was
to be a fortnight's holiday all round. They had the house and grounds
entirely to themselves, and with the departure of the elders a sheet
was pulled by some one off the world, a curtain rolled away, another
drop-scene fell, the word No disappeared. They saw invisible things.

Another reason, however, made the week memorable--the daisies. It was
extraordinary. The very day after the grown-ups left the daisies came.
Like thousands of small white birds, with bright and steady eyes, they
arrived and settled, thick and plentiful. They appeared in sheets and
crowds upon the grass, all of their own accord and unexplained. In a
night the lawns turned white. It seemed a prearranged invasion. Judy,
first awake that morning, looked out of her window to watch a squirrel
playing, and noticed them. Then she told the others, and Maria, one
eye above the blankets, ejaculated "Ah!" She claimed the daisies too.

Now, whereas a single daisy has no smell and seems a common,
unimportant thing, a bunch of several hundred holds all the perfume of
the spring. No flowers lie closer to the soil or bring the smell of
earth more sweetly to the mind; upon the lips and cheeks they are as
soft as a kitten's fur, and lie against the skin closer than tired
eyelids. They are the common people of the flower world, yet have, in
virtue of that fact, the beauty and simplicity of the common people.
They own a subdued and unostentatious strength, are humble and
ignored, are walked upon, unnoticed, rarely thought about and never
praised; they are cut off in early youth by mowing machines; yet their
pain in fading is unreported, their little sufferings unsung. They
cling to earth, and never aspire to climb, but they hold the sweetest
dew and nurse the tiniest little winds imaginable. Their patience is
divine. They are proud to be the carpet for all walking, running
things, and in their universal service is their strength. The rain
stays longer with them than with grander flowers, and the best
sunlight goes to sleep among them in great pools of fragrant and
delicious heat. The daisies are a stalwart little people altogether.

But they have another quality as well--something elfin, wayward,
mischievous. They peep and whisper. It is said they can cast spells.
To sleep upon a daisied lawn is to run a certain risk. There is this
hint of impudence in their attitude, half audacity, half knavery, that
shows itself a little in the way they stare unwinkingly all day at
everything above them--at the stately things that tower proudly in the
air--then just shut up at sunset without a word of explanation or
apology. They see everything, but keep their opinions to themselves.
Because people notice them so little, and even tread upon their tiny
and inquiring faces, they are up to things all the time--undiscovered
things. They know, it is said, the thoughts of Painted Ladies and
Clouded Brimstones, as well as the intentions of the disappearing
golden flies; why wind often runs close to the ground when the tree-
tops are without a single breath; but, also, they know what is going
on _below_ the surface. They live, moreover, in every country of the
globe, and their system of intercommunication is so perfect that even
birds and flying things can learn from it. They prove their breeding
by their perfect taste in dress, the well-bred ever being
inconspicuous; and their simplicity conceals enormous, undecipherable
wonder. One daisy out of doors is worth a hundred shelves of text-
books in the house. Their mischief, moreover, is not revenge, though
some might think it so--but a natural desire to be recognised and
thought and talked about a little. Daisies, in a word, are--daisies.

And it was by way of the daisies that Judy's great adventure came to
her, the particular adventure that was her very own. For she had deep
sympathy with flowers, a sympathy lacking in her brother and sister,
and it was natural that her adventure in chief should come that way.
She could play with flowers for long periods at a time; she knew their
names and habits; she picked them gently, without cruelty, and never
merely for the "fun" of picking them; while the way she arranged them
about the house proved that she understood their silent, inner
natures, their likes and dislikes--in a word, their souls. For Judy
connected them in her mind with birds. Born in the air, they seemed to
her.

As has been seen, she was the first to notice the arrival of the
daisies. From the bedroom window she waved her arm to them, and showed
plainly the pleasure that she felt. They arrived in troops and armies.
Risen to the surface of the lawn like cream, she saw them staring with
suspicious innocence at the sky. They stared at _her_.

"Just when the others have gone away!" was her instant thought, though
unexpressed in words. There was meaning somewhere in this calculated
arrival.

"They _are_ alive," she asked that afternoon, "aren't they? But why do
they all shut up at night? Who--" she changed the word--"what closes
them?"

She was alone with Uncle Felix, and they had chosen with great
difficulty a spot where they could lie down without crushing a single
flower with their enormous bodies. After considerable difficulty they
had found it. Having done a great many things since lunch--a feast
involving several second helpings--they were feeling heavy and
exhausted. So Judy chose this moment for her simple question. The
world required explanation.

"There's life in everything," he mumbled, with his face against the
grass, "everything that grows, especially." And having said it, he
settled down comfortably again to doze. His pipe was out. He felt
rather like a log.

"But stopping growing isn't dying," she informed him sharply.

"Oh, no," he agreed lazily, "you're alive for a long time after that."

"_You_ stopped growing before I was born."

"And I'm not quite dead yet."

"Exactly," she said, "so daisies _are_ alive."

It was absurd to think of dozing at such a time. He rolled round
heavily and gazed at her through half-closed eyelids. "A daisy
breathes," he murmured, "and drinks and eats; sap circulates in its
little body. Probably it feels as well. Delicate threads like nerves
run through it everywhere. It knows when it is being picked or walked
on. Oh, yes, a daisy is alive all right enough." He sighed like a big
dog that has just shaken a fly off its nose and lies waiting for the
next attack. It came at once.

"But who knows it?" she asked. "I mean--there's no good in being alive
unless some one else knows it too!"

Then he sat up and stared at her. Judy, he remembered, knew a lot of
things she could tell to no one, not even to herself--and this seemed
one of them. The question was a startling one.

"An intellectual mystic at twelve!" he gasped. "How on earth did you
manage it?"

"I may be a mystillectual insect," she replied, proud of the
compliment. "But what's the good of being alive, even like a daisy,
unless others know it--_us_, for instance?"

He still stared at her, sitting up stiffly, and propped by his hands
upon the grass behind him. After prolonged reflection, during which he
closed his eyes and opened them several times in succession, sighing
laboriously while he did so, low mumbled words became audible.

"Forgive my apparent slowness," he said, "but I feel like a mowing-
machine this afternoon. I want oiling and pushing. The answer to your
inquiry, however, is as follows: We could--_if_ we took the trouble."

"Could know that daisies are alive?" she cried.

His great head nodded.

"If we thought about them very hard indeed," he went on, "and for a
very, very long time we could feel as they feel, and so understand
them, and know exactly _how_ they are alive."

And the way he said it, the grave, thoughtful, solemn way, convinced
her, who already was convinced beforehand.

"I do believe we could," she answered simply.

"I'm sure of it," he said.

"Let's try," she whispered breathlessly.

For a minute and a half they stared into each other's eyes, knowing
themselves balanced upon the verge of an immense discovery. She did
not doubt or question; she did not tell him he was only humbugging.
Her heart thrilled with the right conditions--expectation and delight.
Her dark-brown eyes were burning.

He murmured something that she did not properly understand:

 Expect and delight
 Is the way to invite;
 Delight and expect,
 And you'll know things direct!

"Let's try!" she repeated, and her face proved that she fulfilled his
conditions without knowing it; she was delighted, and she expected--
everything.

He scratched his head, wrinkling up his nose and pursing his lips for
a moment. "There's a dodge about it," he explained. "To know a flower
yourself you must feel exactly like it. Its life, you see, is
different to ours. It doesn't move and hurry, it just lives. It feels
sun and wind and dew; it feels the insects' tread; it lifts its skin
to meet the rain-drops and the whispering butterflies. It doesn't run
away. It has no fear of anything, because it has the whole green earth
behind it, and it feels safe because millions of other daisies feel
the same"--

"And smells because it's happy," put in Judy. "Then what _is_ a daisy?
What is it really?"

She was "expecting" vividly. Her mind was hungry for essentials. This
mere description told her nothing real. She wanted to feel "direct."

What is a daisy? The little word already had a wonderful and living
sound--soft, sweet, and beautiful. But to tell the truth about this
ordinary masterpiece was no easy matter. An ostentatious lily, a
blazing rose, a wayward hyacinth, a mass of showy wisteria--
advertised, notorious flowers--presented fewer difficulties. A daisy
seemed too simple to be told, its mystery and honour too humble for
proud human minds to understand. So he answered gently, while a Marble
White sailed past between their very faces: "Let's think about it
hard; perhaps we'll get it that way."

The butterfly sailed off across the lawn; another joined it, and then
a third. They danced and flitted like winged marionettes on wires that
the swallows tweaked; and, as they vanished, a breath of scented air
stole round the trunk of the big lime tree and stirred the daisies'
heads. A thousand small white faces turned towards them; a thousand
steady eyes observed them; a thousand slender necks were bent. A wave
of movement passed across the lawn as though the flowers pressed
nearer, aware at last that they were being noticed. And both humans,
the big one and the little one, felt a sudden thrill of happiness and
beauty in their hearts. The rapture of the Spring slipped into them.
They concentrated all their thoughts on daisies....

"I'm beginning to feel it already," whispered the Little Human,
turning to gaze at him as though that breath of air impelled her too.

The wind blew her voice across his face like perfume; he looked, but
could not see her clearly; she swayed a little; her eyes melted
together into a single lovely circle, bright and steady within their
fringe of feathery lashes. He tried to speak--"Delight and expect, and
we'll know it direct"--but his voice spread across whole yards of
lawn. It became a single word that rolled and floated everywhere about
him, rising and falling like a wave upon a sea of green: "Daisy,
daisy, daisy." On all sides, beneath, above his head as well, it
passed with the music of the wandering wind, and he kept repeating it
--"Daisy, daisy!" _She_ kept repeating it, too, till the sound
multiplied, yet never grew louder than a murmur of air and grass and
tiny leaves--"Daisy, daisy, daisy." It broke like a sea upon the
coast-line of another world. It seemed to contain an entire language
in itself, nothing more to be said but those two soft syllables. It
was everywhere.

But another vaster sound lay underneath. As the crest of a breaking
wave utters its separate note of foam above the general booming of the
sea that bears it, so the flying wave of daisy-tones rose out of this
deeper sound beneath. Both humans became aware that it was but a
surface-voice they imitated. They heard this other foundation-sound
that bore it--deep, booming, thunderous, half lost and very far away.
It was prodigious; yet there was safety and delight in it that brought
no hint of fear. They swam upon the pulse of some enormous, gentle
life that rose about and through them in a swelling tide. They felt
the heave of something that was strong enough to draw the moon, yet
soft enough to close a daisy's eyes. They heard the deep, lost roar of
it, rising and coming nearer.

"The Earth!" he whispered. "And the Spring is rising through it.
Listen!"

"We're growing together," replied the Little Human. "We're rising with
the Spring!"

Ah, it was exquisite. They were in the Daisy World.... He tried to
move and reach her, but found that he could not take a step in any
direction, and that his feet were imbedded in the soft, damp soil. The
movement which he tried to make spread wide among a hundred others
like himself. They rose on every side. All shared his movements as
they had shared his voice. He heard his whole body murmuring "Daisy,
daisy, daisy...." And she leaned over, bending towards him a slim form
in a graceful line of green that formed the segment of a circle. A
little shining face came close for a moment against his own, rimmed
with delicate spears of pink and white. It sang as it shone. The
Spring was in it. There were hundreds like it everywhere, yet he
recognised it as one he knew. There were thousands, tens of thousands,
yet this one he distinguished because he loved it.

Their faces touched like the fringes of two clouds, and then withdrew.
They remained very close together, side by side among thousands like
themselves, slowly rising on the same great tide. The Earth's round
body was beneath them. They felt quite safe--but different. Already
they were otherwise than they had been. They felt the big world
flying.

"We're changing," he murmured, seizing some fragments of half-
remembered speech. "We're marvellously changed!"

"Daisies," he heard her vanishing reply, "we're two daisies on the
lawn!"

And then their voices went. That was the end of speech, the end of
thinking too. They only felt....

Long periods passed above their heads and then the air about them
turned gorgeous as a sunset sky. It was a Clouded Yellow that sailed
lazily past their faces with spreading wings as large as clouds. They
shared that saffron glory. The draught of cool air fanned them. The
splendid butterfly left its beauty in them before it sailed away. But
that sunset sky had lasted for hours; that cool wind fanning them was
a breeze that blew steadily from the hills, making "weather" for half
an afternoon. Time and duration as humans measure them had passed
away; there was existence without hurry; end and beginning had not
been invented yet. They did not know things in the stupid sense of
having names for them; all that there was they shared; that was
enough. They knew by feeling.

For everything was plentiful and inexhaustible--the heavens emptied
light and warmth upon them without stint or measure; space poured
about them freely, for they had no wish to move; they felt themselves
everywhere, for all they needed came to them without the painful
effort of busy things that hunt and search outside themselves; both
food and drink slipped into them unawares from an abundant source
below that equally supplied whole forests without a trace of lessening
or loss. All life was theirs, full, free, and generous beyond
conception. They owned the world, without even the trouble of knowing
that they owned it. They lived, simply staring at the universe with
eyes of exquisitely fashioned beauty. They knew joy and peace, and
were content with that.

They did communicate. Oh, yes, they shared each other's special
happiness. There was, it is true, no sound of broken syllables, no
speech which humans use to veil the very thing they would express; but
there was that simpler language which all Nature knows, which cannot
lie because it is unconscious, and by which constellations converse
with buttercups, and cedars with the flying drops of rain--there was
gesture. For gesture and attitude can convey all the important and
necessary things, while speech in the human sense is but an invention
of some sprite who wanted people to wonder what they really meant. In
sublimest moments it is never used even in the best circles of
intelligence; it drops away quite naturally; souls know one another
face to face in dumb but eloquent--gesture.

"The sun is out; I feel warm and happy; there is nothing in the world
I need!"

"You are beside me," he replied. "I love you, and we cannot go far
apart. I smell you even when no wind stirs. You are sweetest when the
dew has gone and left you moist and shiny."

A little shiver of enjoyment quivered through her curving stem. His
petals brushed her own. She answered:

"Wet or fine, we stand together, and never stop staring at each other
till we close our faces--"

"In the long darkness. But even then we whisper as we grow--"

"And open our eyes together at the same moment when the light comes
back--"

"And feel warm and soft, and smell more delicious than ever in the
dawn."

These two brave daisies, growing on the lawn, had lives of
concentrated happiness, asking no pity for their humble station in the
universe. All treated them with unadulterated respect, and everything
made love to them because they were so tender and so easily pleased.
They knew, for instance, that their splendid Earth was turning with
them, for they felt the swerve of her, sharing from their roots
upwards her gigantic curve through space; they knew the sun was part
of them, because they felt it drawing their sweet-flavoured food up
all their dainty length till it glowed in health upon their small,
flushed faces; also they knew that streams of water made a tumbling
fuss and sent them messages of laughter, because they caught the
little rumble of it through miles of trembling ground. And some among
them--though these were prophets and poets but half believed, and
looked upon as partly mad and partly wonderful--affirmed that they
felt the sea itself far leagues away, bending their heads this way and
that for hours at a stretch, according to the thundering vibrations
that the tide sent through the soil from distant shores.

But all, from the tallest spread-head to the smallest button-face--all
knew the pleasure of the uncertain winds; all knew the game of holding
flying things just a moment longer, by fascinating them, by drowsing
them into sleepiness, by nipping their probosces, or by puffing
perfume into their nostrils while they caught their feet with the
pressure of a hundred yellow rods....

Enormous periods passed away. A cloud that for a man's "ten minutes"
hid the sun, wearied them so that they simply closed their eyes and
went to sleep. Showers of rain they loved, because it washed and
cooled them, and they felt the huge satisfaction of the earth beneath
them as it drank: the sweet sensation of wet soil that sponged their
roots, the pleasant gush that sluiced their bodies and carried off the
irritating dust. They also felt the heavier tumbling of the swollen
streams in all directions. The drops from overhanging trees came down
and played with them, bringing another set of perfumes altogether. A
summer shower was, of course, "a month" to them, a day of rain like
weeks of holiday by the sea.... But, most of all, they enjoyed the
rough-and-tumble nonsense of the violent weather, when they were tied
together by the ropes of running wind; for these were visiting days--
all manner of strangers dropped in upon them from distant walks in
life, and they never knew whether the next would be a fir-cone or one
of those careless, irresponsible travellers, a bit of thistle-down....

Yet, for all their steadiness, they knew incessant change--the variety
of a daisy's existence was proverbial. Nor was the surprise of being
walked upon too alarming--it did not come to all--for they knew a way
of bending beneath enormous pressure so that nothing broke, while
sometimes it brought a queer, delicious pleasure, as when the bare
feet of some flying child passed lightly over them, leaving wild
laughter upon a group of them. They knew, indeed, a thousand joys,
proudest of all, however, that the big Earth loved them so that she
carried millions of them everywhere she went.

And all, without exception, communicated their knowledge by the
movements, attitudes, and gestures they assumed; and since each stood
close to each, the enjoyment spread quickly till the entire lawn felt
one undivided sensation by itself. Anything passing across it at such
a moment, whether insect, bird, loose leaf or even human being, would
be aware of this, and thus, for a fleeting second, share another
world. Poets, it is said, have received their sweetest inspirations
upon a daisied lawn in the flush of spring. Nor is it always a sight
of prey that makes the swallows dart so suddenly sideways and away,
but some chance message of joy or warning intercepted from the hosts
of flowers in the soil.

And from this region of the flower-life comes, of course, the legend
that fairies have emotions that last for ever, with eternal youth, and
with loves that do not pass away to die. This, too, they understood.
Because the measurement of existence is a mightier business than with
over-developed humans-in-a-hurry. For knowledge comes chiefly through
the eye, and the eye can perceive only six times in a second--things
that happen more quickly or more slowly than six times a second are
invisible. No man can see the movement of a growing daisy, just as no
man can distinguish the separate beats of a sparrow's wing: one is too
slow, and the other is too quick. But the daisy is practically all
eye. It is aware of most delightful things. In its short life of
months it lives through an eternity of unhurrying perceptions and of
big sensations. Its youth, its loves, its pleasures are--to it--quite
endless....

"I can see the old sun moving," she murmured, "but you will love me
for ever, won't you?"

"Even till it sinks behind the hills," he answered, "I shall not
change."

"So long we have been friends already," she went on. "Do you remember
when we first met each other, and you looked into my opening eyes?"

He sighed with joy as he thought of the long, long stretch of time.

"That was in our first reckless youth," he answered, catching the gold
of passionate remembrance from an amber fly that hovered for an
instant and was gone. "I remember well. You were half hidden by a drop
of hanging dew, but I discovered you! That lilac bud across the world
was just beginning to open." And, helped by the wind, he bent his
shining head, taller than hers by the sixtieth part of an inch,
towards the lilac trees beside the gravel path.

"So long ago as that!" she murmured, happy with the exquisite belief
in him. "But you will never change or leave me--promise, oh, promise
that!"

His stalk grew nearer to her own. He leaned protectively towards her
eager face.

"Until that bud shall open fully to the light and smell its sweetest,"
he replied--the gesture of his petals told it plainly--"so long shall
you and I enjoy our happy love."

It was an eternity to them.

"And longer still," she pleaded.

"And longer still," he whispered in the wind. "Even until the blossom
falls."

Ah, it was good to be alive with such an age of happiness before them!

He felt the tears in her voice, however; he knew there was something
that she longed to tell.

"What is your sadness?" he asked softly, "and why do you put such
questions to me now? What is your little trouble?"

A moment's hesitation, a moment's hanging of the graceful head the
width of a petal's top nearer to his shoulder--and then she told him.

"I was in darkness for a time," she faltered, "but it was a long, long
time. It seemed that something came between us. I lost your face. I
felt afraid."

And his laughter--for just then a puff of wind passed by and shook his
sides for him--ran across many feet of lawn.

"It was a Bumble Bee," he comforted her. "It came between us for a
bit, its shadow fell upon you, nothing more! Such things will happen;
we must be prepared for them. It was nothing in myself that dimmed
your world."

"Another time I will be braver, then," she told him, "and even in the
darkness I shall know you close, ah, very close to me...."

For a long, long stretch of time, then, they stood joyfully together
and watched the lilac growing. They also saw the movement of the sun
across the sky. An eternity passed over them.... The vast disc of the
sun went slowly gliding....

But all the enormous things that happened in their lives cannot be
told. Lives crammed with a succession of such grand and palpitating
adventures lie beyond the reach of clumsy words. The sweetness
sometimes was intolerable, and then they shared it with the entire
lawn and so obtained relief--yet merely in order to begin again. The
humming of the rising Spring continued with the thunderous droning of
the turning Earth. Never uncared for, part of everything, full of the
big, rich life that brims the world in May--ah, almost fuller than
they could hold sometimes--they passed with existence along to their
appointed end.

"We began so long ago, I simply can't remember it," she sighed.

Yet the sun they watched had not left half a degree behind him since
they met.

"There was no beginning," he reproved her, smiling, "and there will
never be any end."

And the wind spread their happiness like perfume everywhere until the
whole white lawn of daisies lay singing their rapture to the
sunshine....

The minute underworld of grass and stalks seemed of a sudden to grow
large; yet, till now, they had not realised it as "large"--but simply
natural. A beetle, big and broad as a Newfoundland dog, went lumbering
past them, brushing its polished back against their trembling necks;
yet, till now, they had not thought of it as "big"--but simply normal.
Its footsteps made a grating sound like the gardener's nailed boots
upon the gravel paths. It was strange and startling. Something was
different, something was changing. They realised dimly that there was
another world somewhere, a world they had left behind long, long ago,
forgotten. Something was slipping from them, as sleep slips from the
skin and the eyes in the early morning when the bath comes "pinging"
upon the floor. What did it mean?

Big and little, far and near, above, below, inside and outside--all
were mixed together in a falling rush.

They themselves were changing.

They looked up. They saw an enormous thing rising behind them with
vast caverns of square outline opening in its sides--a house. They saw
huge, towering shapes whose tops were in the clouds--the familiar lime
trees. Big and tiny were inextricably mixed together.

And that was wrong. For either the forest of grass was as big as
themselves--in which case they still were daisies; or else it was tiny
and far below them--in which case they were hurrying humans again.
There was an odd confusion...while consciousness swung home to its
appointed centre and Adventure brought them back towards the old,
familiar starting-place again.

There came an ominous and portentous sound that rushed towards them
through the air, and through the solid ground as well. They heard it,
and grew pale with terror. Across the entire lawn it rumbled nearer,
growing in volume awfully. The very earth seemed breaking into bits
about them. And then they knew.

It was the End of the World that their prophets had long foretold.

It crashed upon them before they had time to think. The roar was
appalling. The whole lawn trembled. The daisies bowed their little
faces in a crowd. They had no time even to close their innocent eyes.
Before a quarter of their sweet and happy life was known, the End
swept them from the world, unsung and unlamented. Two of them who had
planned Eternity together fell side by side before one terrible
stroke....

"I do believe--" said Judy, brushing her tumbled hair out of her eyes.

"Not possible!" exclaimed Uncle Felix, sitting up and stretching
himself like a dog. "It's a thing I never do, _never_, _NEVER!_ I
think my stupid watch has stopped again...."

They stared at each other with suspiciously sleepy eyes.

"Promise," she whispered presently, "promise never to tell the
others!"

"I promise faithfully," he answered. "But we'd better get up, or we
shall have our heads cut off like--all the other daisies."

He pulled her to her feet--out of the way of the heavy mowing machine
which Weeden was pushing with a whirring, droning noise across the
lawn.




CHAPTER XII

TIM'S PARTICULAR ADVENTURE


Tim's "particular adventure" was of another kind. It was a self-
repeater--of some violence, moreover, when the smallness of the hero
is considered. Whether in after-life he become an astronomer-poet or a
"silver-and-mechanical engineer"--both dreams of his--he will ever be
sharp upon rescuing something. A lost star or a burning mine will be
his objective, but with the essential condition that it be--
unattainable. Achievement would mean lost interest. For Tim's desire
was, is, and ever will be insatiable. Profoundest mystery, insoluble
difficulty, and endless searching were what his soul demanded of life.
For him all ponds were bottomless, all gipsies older than the moon. He
felt the universe within him, and was born to seek its inexplicable
"explanation"--outside. The realisation of such passion, however, is
not necessarily confined to writers of epics and lyrics. Tim was a man
of action before he was a poet. "Forever questing" was his
unacknowledged motto. Besides asking questions about stars and other
inaccessible incidents of his Cosmos, he liked to "go busting about,"
as he called it--again with one essential condition that the thing
should never come to an end by merely happening. Its mystery must
remain its beauty.

"I want to save something from an awful, horrible death," he announced
one evening, looking up from _Half-hours with English Battles_ for a
sign of beauty in distress.

"Not so easy," his uncle warned him, equally weary of another
overrated book--his own.

"But I feel like it," he replied. "Come on."

Uncle Felix still held back. "That you feel like it doesn't prove that
there's anything that _wants_ rescuing," he objected.

The boy stared at him with patient tolerance and surprise.

"I promised," he said simply.

It was the other's turn to stare. "And when, pray?" They had been
alone for the last half hour. It seemed strange.

"Oh--just now," replied the boy carelessly. "A few minutes ago--
about."

"Indeed!" It seemed stranger still. No one had come in. Yet Tim never
prevaricated.

"Yes," he said, "I gave my wordy honour." It was so gravely spoken
that, while pledges involving life and death were obviously not new to
him, this one was of exceptional kind.

"Who, then, did you promise--whom, I mean?" the man demanded, fixing
him with his stern blue eyes.

And the answer came out pat: "Myself!"

"Aha!" said the other, with a sigh and a raising of the eyebrows, by
way of apology. "That settles it--"

"Of course."

"Because what you think and say, you must also act," the man
continued. "If you promise yourself a thing, and then don't do it,
you've simply told a lie." And he drew another sigh. He scented action
coming.

"Let's go at once and find it," said Tim, putting a text-book into
seven words. He hitched his belt up, and looked round to make sure his
sisters were not within reach of interference. There was a moment's
pause, during which Uncle Felix hitched his will up. They rose, then,
standing side by side. They left the room arm in arm on their way into
the garden. The dusk was already laying its first net of shadows to
catch the Night.

"Hadn't you better change first?" asked Tim, thoughtfully, on his way
down. He glanced at his companion's white flannel suit. "You're so
awfully visible."

"Visible!" It was not his bulk. Tim was never deliberately rude. Was
it the risk of staining that he meant?

"Any one can see you miles away like that."

The other understood instantly. In an adventure everything sees,
everything has eyes, everything watches. The world is alive and full
of eyes. He hesitated a moment.

"Oh, that's all right," he replied. "To be easily seen is the best
way. It disarms curiosity at once. Tell all about yourself and nobody
ever thinks anything. It's trying to hide that makes the world suspect
you. Keep nothing back and show yourself is the best way to go about
unnoticed. I've tried it."

"Ah," exclaimed Tim, in an eager whisper, "same as walking into the
strawberry-bed without asking--"

"So my white clothes are just the thing," said the other, avoiding the
pit laid for him.

"Of course, yes." Tim still chased the big idea in his mind.
"Besides," he added, full of another splendid thought, "like that they
won't expect you to do very much. They'll watch _you_ instead of me."

There was confusion in the utterance, but things were rather crowding
in upon him, to tell the truth, and imagination leaped ahead upon two
trails at once. He looked at his big companion with more approval.
"You'll do," he signified, pulling his cap over his eyes, thrusting
both hands in his pockets, and slithering rapidly down the bannisters
in advance.

"Thanks," said Uncle Felix, following him, three steps at a time, with
effort.

In the hall they paused a moment--a question of doors.

"Back," said Uncle Felix.

"Front's better," decided the boy. "Then nobody'll think anything, you
see." He was quick to put the new principle into practice.

On the lawn there was another pause, this time a question of
direction.

"The wood, of course!" And they set off together at a steady trot. Few
words were wasted when Tim went "busting about" in this way. Uncle
Felix resigned himself and looked to him for guidance; there was some
one to be rescued; there was danger to be run; the risk was bigger
than either of them realised; but more than that he knew not.

"Got a handkerchief with you?" the boy asked presently.

"Yes, thanks; got everything," panted the other.

"For signalling," was offered three minutes later by way of
explanation, "in case we get lost--or anything like that."

"Quite so."

"Is it a clean one?"

"Yes."

"Good!"

They climbed the swinging gate of iron, rushed the orchard, crossed
the smaller hayfield in the open, heedless of the rabbits that rolled
like fat balls into pockets made to fit them, slipped out of sight
behind a stack of straw whose threatening lopsidedness seemed to
support a ladder, and so eventually came to a breathless and
perspiring halt upon the edges of a--wood.

It was a very ordinary wood, small, inconspicuous, and unimposing. No
big trees towered; there was no fence of thick, black trunks. It was
not mysterious, like the dense evergreens on the other side of the
grounds where the west wind shook half a mile of dripping branches in
stormy weather:

   Where the yew trees are gigantic,
   And the yellow coast of "Spain,"
   Breasting on the dim "Atlantic,"
   Stores the undesired rain.

It grew there in a kind of untidy muddle, on the very outskirts of the
estate, meekly--rather disappointingly, Uncle Felix thought. There was
no hint of anything haunted or terrible about it. Round rabbits fussed
busily about its edges, darting as though pulled by wires, and the
older wood-pigeons, no doubt, slept comfortably in its middle. But
game despised it heartily, and traps were never laid. There was not
even a trespassers' board, without which no wood is properly
attractive. Indeed, for most people it was simply not worth the
trouble of entering at all. Apparently no one ever bothered about it.

Yet, precisely for these very reasons, it was real. Tim described it
afterwards as a "naked" wood. It had no fence to hold it together, it
was not dressed up by human beings, it just grew naturally. To this
very openness and want of concealment it owed its deep security, its
safety was due entirely to the air of innocence it wore. But in
reality it was disguised. It was a forest--without a middle, without a
heart.

"This is our wood," announced Tim in a low voice, as they stood and
mopped their faces. His tone suggested that they would enter at their
peril.

"And is it a big wood?" the other asked with caution, as though he had
not noticed it before.

"Much bigger than it looks," the boy replied. "You can easily get
lost." Then added, with the first touch of awe about him, "It has no
centre."

"That's the worst kind," said his companion shivering slightly. "Like
a pond that has no bottom."

Tim nodded. His face had grown a trifle paler. He showed no immediate
anxiety to make the first advance, reserving that privilege for his
comrade. A breath of wind stole out and set the dry leaves rustling.

"We must look out," he said at length. "There'll be a sign."

Uncle Felix listened attentively to every word. The boy had moved up
closer to him. "And if anything happens one of us must climb a tree
and signal. _You've_ got the clean handkerchief. You see, it's at the
centre that it gets rather nasty--because anybody who gets there
simply disappears and is never heard of again. That's why there's no
centre at all _really_. It's a terrible rescue we've got to do."

The adventure fulfilled the desire of his heart, for, since there was
no centre, the search would last for ever.

"Keep a sharp look-out for the sign," replied the man, feeling a small
hand steal into his own. "We'd better go in before it gets any
darker."

"Oh, that's nothing," was the whispered comment. "The great thing is
not to lose our way. Just follow me!"

They then went into this wood without a centre, without a middle,
without a heart. Into this heartless wood they moved stealthily, Uncle
Felix singing under his breath to keep his courage up:

"A wood is a mysterious place,
 It never looks you in the face,
 But stares _behind_ you all the time.
 Your safest plan is just to--climb!
 For, otherwise you lose your way,
 The week, the month, the time of day;
 It turns you round, it makes you blind,
 And in the end you lose your mind!
 Avoid the centre,
 If you enter!

"It grows upon you--grows immense,
 Its peace is _not_ indifference,
 It sees you--and it takes offence,
 It knows you're interfering.
 Its sleepliness is all pretence,
 With trunks and twigs and foliage dense
 It's watching you, alert, intense,
 It's furious; it's peering.

"Upon the darkening paths below,
 Whichever way you try to go
 You'll meet with strange resistance.
 So climb a tree and wave your hand,
 The birds will see and understand,
 And _may_ bring you assistance.
 Avoid the centre,
 If you enter,
 For once you're there
 You--disappear!
 Smothered by depth and distance!"

Tim listened without a sign of interest. Every one has his
peculiarity, he supposed, and, provided his companion did not dance as
well as sing, it was all right. The noise was unnecessary, perhaps,
still--the sound of a human voice was not without its charm. The house
was a very long way off; the gardeners never came this way. A wood
_was_ a mysterious place! "Is that all?" he asked--but whether glad or
sorry, no man could possibly have told.

"For the present," came the reply, and the sound of both their voices
fell a little dead, muffled by the density of the undergrowth. "Are we
going right?"

"There'll be a sign," Tim explained again. And the way he said it, the
air of positive belief in tone and manner, stung the man's
consciousness with a thrill of genuine adventure. It began to creep
over him. He kept near to the comforting presence of the boy, aware in
quite a novel way of the Presence of the Wood. This very ordinary
wood, without claim to particular notice, much less to a notice-board,
changed his normal feelings by arresting their customary flow. An
unusual sensation replaced what he meant to feel, expected to feel. He
was aware of strangeness. He felt included in the purpose of a crowd
of growing trees. "But it's just a common little wood," he assured
himself, realising as he said it that both adjectives were wrong. For
nothing left to itself is ever common, and as for "little"--well, it
had suddenly become enormous.

Outside, in what was called the big world, things were going on with
frantic hurry and change, but in here the leisured calm was huge,
gigantic, so much so that the other dwindled into a kind of lost
remoteness. "Smothered by depth and distance," he could almost forget
it altogether. Out there nations were at war, republics fighting,
empires tottering to ruin; great-hearted ladies were burning furniture
and stabbing lovely pictures (not their own) to prove themselves
intelligent enough to vote; and gallant gentlemen were flying across
the Alps and hunting for the top and bottom of the earth instead of
hurrying to help them. All manner of tremendous things were happening
at a frightful pace--while this unnoticed wood just stood and grew,
watching the sun and stars and listening to the brushing winds. Its
unadvertised foliage concealed a busy universe of multitudinous,
secret life.

How still the trees were--far more imposing than in a storm! Still,
quiet things are much more impressive than things that draw attention
to themselves by making a noise. They are more articulate. The
strength of all these trees emerged in their silence. Their steadiness
might easily wear one down.

And now, into its quiet presence, a man and a boy from that
distressful outer world had entered. They moved with effort and
difficulty into its untrodden depths. Uninvited and unasked, they
sought its hidden and invisible centre, the mysterious heart of it
which the younger of the adventurers could only describe by saying
that "It isn't there, because when you get there, you disappear!" Two
ways of expressing the same thing, of course! Moreover, entering
involved getting out again. Escape and Rescue--the Wood always in
opposition--took possession of the man's slow mind....

It was already thick about them, and the trees stood very still. The
branches drooped, motionless in the warm evening air. The twigs
pointed. Each leaf had an eye, but a hidden, lidless eye. The saplings
saw them, but the heavier trunks _observed_ them. It was known in what
direction they were going, the direction, however, being chosen and
insisted on by the Wood. Their very steps were counted. The whole
business of the trees was suspended while they passed. They were being
watched. And the stillness was so deep that it forced them, too, to
make as little noise as possible. They moved with the utmost caution,
pretending that a snapping twig might betray their presence, yet
knowing quite well that each detail of their blundering advance was
marked down with the accuracy of an instantaneous photograph. Tim,
usually in advance, looked round from time to time, with a finger on
his lips; and though he himself made far more noise than his
companion, he stared with reproach when the latter snapped a stick or
let a leafy branch swish through the air too loudly.

"Oh, hush!" he whispered. "Please do hush!" and the same moment caught
his own foot in a root, placed cunningly across the path, and sprawled
forward with the noise of an explosion. But he made no reference to
the matter. His own noises did no harm apparently. He was perfectly
honest about it, not merely putting the blame elsewhere to draw
attention from himself. His uncle's size and visibility were co-
related in his mind. Being convinced that he moved as stealthily and
soundlessly as a Redskin, it followed obviously that his companion
_didn't_.

The dusk had noticeably deepened when at length they reached a little
clearing and stood upright, perspiring freely, and both a little
flustered. The silence was really extraordinary. It seemed they had
entered a private place, a secret chamber where they had no right, and
were intruders. The clearing formed a circle, and from the open sky
overhead a grey, mysterious light fell softly on the leafy walls. They
paused and peered about them.

"Hark! What's that?" asked Tim in a whisper.

"Nothing," replied the other.

"But I heard it," the boy insisted; "something rushing."

"I'm rather out of breath, perhaps."

The boy looked at him reproachfully. His expression suggested "Why
_are_ you so noisy and enormous? It's hopeless, really!" But aloud he
merely said, "It's got awfully dark all of a sudden."

"It's the wood does that," replied Uncle Felix. "Outside it's only
twilight. I think we'd better be getting on."

"We're getting there," observed the boy.

"But we shan't be able to see the sign if this darkness gets worse,"
said the other apprehensively.

The answer gave him quite a turn. "It's been--ages and ages ago!"

The idea of rescue meanwhile had merged insensibly into escape, but
neither remarked upon the change. It was only that the original
emotion had spread a bit. Tim and Uncle Felix stood close together in
this solemn clearing, waiting, peering about them, listening intently.
But Tim had seen the sign; he knew what he was doing all the time; he
was in more intimate relations with the Being of the Wood than his
great floundering Uncle possibly could be.

"Which way, do _you_ think?" asked the latter anxiously.

There seemed no possible exit from the clearing, no break anywhere in
the leafy walls; even the entrance was covered up and hidden. The Wood
blocked further advance deliberately.

"We're lost," said Tim bluntly, turning round and round. His eyes
opened to their widest. "You've simply taken a wrong turning
somewhere."

And before Uncle Felix could expostulate or say a word in self-
defence, the inevitable reward of his mistake was upon him.

"_You've_ got the handkerchief!"

Already the boy was looking about him for a suitable tree.

"But _you_ saw the sign, Tim," he began excuses; "and it's _your_
wood; I've never been here before--"

"That one looks the easiest," suggested Tim, pointing to a beech. It
had one low branch, but the trunk was smooth and slippery as ice. He
pushed aside the foliage with his hands to make an opening towards it.
"I'll help you up." Tim spoke as though there was no time to lose.

But help came just then unexpectedly from another quarter--there was a
sudden battering sound. Something went past them through the branches
with a crashing noise. It was terrific, the way it smashed and
clattered overhead, making a clapping rattle that died away into the
distance with strange swiftness. They jumped; their hearts stood still
a moment. It was so horribly close. But the stillness that followed
the uproar was far worse than the noise. It felt as though the Wood
had stretched a hand and aimed a crafty blow at them from behind the
shield of foliage. A quiver of visible silence ran across the leafy
walls. They stood stock still, staring blankly into each other's eyes.

"A wood-pigeon!" whispered Uncle Felix, recovering himself first.
"We've been _seen_!"

A faint smile passed over Tim's startled face. There was no other
expression in it. The tension was distressingly acute. One sentence,
however, came to the lips of both adventurers. They uttered it under
their breath together:

"It's--disappeared!"

Instinctively they held hands then. Tim stood, rooted to the ground.

"The _centre!_" They whispered it almost inaudibly. The horror of the
spot where people vanished was upon them both. The power of the Wood
had worn them down.

"Yes, but don't _say_ it," cried Uncle Felix; "above all, don't say it
aloud." And he clapped one hand upon his own mouth, and the other upon
the boy's, as Tim came cuddling closer to his comforting expanse of
side. "That only wakes it up, and--"

He did not finish the sentence. Instead, his mind began to think
tremendously. They were both badly frightened. What was the best thing
to be done? At first he thought: "Keep perfectly still, and make no
slightest movement; a quiet person is not noticed." But, the next
instant, came the truer wisdom: "If anything unusual occurs, go on
doing exactly what you were doing before. Hold the atmosphere, as it
were." And on this latter inspiration he decided to act at once--

Only to discover that Tim had realised it before him. The boy was
pulling at him. "_Do_ come on, Uncle!" he was saying. "We shall go mad
with fright if we keep on standing here--we shall be raving lunatics!"

They set off wildly then, plunging helter-skelter into the silent,
heartless wood. The trees miraculously opened up a way for them as
they dived and stooped and wriggled forward. In which direction they
were going neither of them had the least idea, but as neither one nor
the other disappeared, it was clear they had not reached the actual
centre. They gasped and spluttered, their breath grew shorter, the
darkness increased. They came to all sorts of curious places that
deceived them; ways opened invitingly, then closed down again and
blocked advance; there were clearings that were obviously false, open
places that were plainly sham; and a dozen times they came to spots
that seemed familiar, but which really they had never seen before.
Sense of direction left them, for they continually changed the angle,
compelled by the undergrowth to do so. Twigs leaped at them and stung
their faces, Tim's cheeks were splashed with mud, Uncle Felix's clean
white flannels showed irregular lines of dirty water to his knees. It
was altogether a tremendous affair in which rescue and escape were
madly mingled with furious attack and terrified retreat. Everything
was moving, and in all directions at once. They rushed headlong
through the angry Wood. But the Wood itself rushed ever past them. It
was roused.

The confusion and bewilderment had got a little more than they could
manage, indeed, when--quite marvellously and unexpectedly--the
darkness lifted. They saw trees separately instead of in a whirling
mass. The trunks stood more apart from one another. There were patches
of faint light. More--there was a line of light. It shone, grey and
welcome, some dozen yards in front of them.

"Come on!" cried Tim. "Follow me!"

And two minutes later they found themselves outside, torn, worn, and
breathless, upon the edge--standing exactly at the place where they
had entered three-quarters of an hour before. They had made an
enormous circle. Panting and half collapsed, they stood side by side
in an exhausted heap.

"We're out," said Tim, with immense relief. Profoundly satisfied with
himself, he looked round at his bedraggled Uncle. It was plain that he
had rescued some one from "an awful-anorrible death."

"At last!" replied the other gratefully, aware that he was the rescued
one. "But only just in time!"

And they moved away in the deepening dusk towards the house, whose
welcome lights shone across the intervening hayfield.




CHAPTER XIII

TIME HESITATES


Meanwhile the coveted fortnight drew towards a close. It had begun on
a Friday, and that left two full, clear weeks ahead. It had seemed an
inexhaustible period--when it started. There was the feeling that it
would draw out slowly, like an ordinary lesson-week; instead of which
it shot downhill to Saturday with hardly a single stop. On looking
back, the children almost felt unfairness; somebody had pushed it;
they had been cheated.

And, of course, they _had_ been cheated. Time had played his usual
trick upon them. The beginning was so prodigal of reckless promises
that they had really believed a week would last for ever. Childhood
expects, quite rightly, to have its cake and eat it, for there is no
true reason why anything should ever end at all. The devices are
various: a titbit is set aside to enjoy later, thus deceiving Time and
checking its ridiculous hurry. But in the long run Time invariably
wins. After Thursday the week had shot into Saturday without a single
pause. It whistled past. And the titbit, Saturday, had come.

Yet without the usual titbit flavour; for Saturday, as a rule, wore
splashes of gold and yellow upon its latter end, being a half-holiday
associated with open air and sunshine, but now, Monday already in
sight, with lessons and early bed and other prohibitions by the dozen,
hearts sank a little, a shadow crept upon the sun. They had a
grievance; some one had cheated them of a final joy. The collapse was
unexpected, therefore wrong. And the arch-deceiver who had humbugged
them, they knew quite well, was Time. He was in their thoughts. He
mocked them all day long. Clocks grinned; _Saturday, June_ 3, flaunted
itself insolently in their faces.

"The day after to-morrow," remarked some one, noticing a calendar
staring on the wall; and from the moment that phrase could be used it
meant the day was within measurable distance.

"Aunt Emily leaves Tunbridge Wells" was mentioned too, sounding less
unpleasant than "Aunt Emily comes back." But the climax was reached
when somebody stated bluntly without fear of contradiction:

"To-morrow's Sunday."

For Sunday had no particular colour. Monday was black, and Saturday
was gold, but Sunday never had been painted anything. Though a buffer-
day between a vanished week and a week of labour coming, it was of
uncertain character. Queer, grave people came back to lunch. There
were collects and a vague uneasiness about the heathen being unfed and
naked. There was a collection, too--pennies emerged from stained
leather purses and dropped clicking into a polished box with a slit in
the top. Greenland's icy mountains also helped to put a chill into the
sunshine. A pause came. Time went slower than usual--God rested, they
remembered, on the seventh day--yet nothing happened much, and with
their Sunday clothes they put on a sort of dreadful carefulness that
made play seem stiff, unnatural, and out of place.

Daddy, too, before the day was over, invariably looked worried, the
servants bored, Mother drowsy, and Aunt Emily "like a clergyman's
wife." Time sighed audibly on Sunday.

"It's our last day, anyhow," they agreed, determined to live in the
present and enjoy Saturday to the full.

It was then Uncle Felix, having overheard their comments upon Time,
looked round abruptly and made one of his startling remarks. "To-
morrow," he said, "is one of the most wonderful days that was ever
invented. You'll see."

And the way he said it provided the very thrill that was needed to
chase the shadow from the sun. For there was a hint of promise in his
voice that almost meant he had some way of delaying the arrival of
Black Monday.

"You'll see," he repeated significantly, shading his eyes with both
hands and peering up at the sun.

Tim and Judy watched him with keen faces. They noticed that he said
"to-morrow" instead of "Sunday." But before they could squeeze out a
single question, there came a remarkable interruption from below. From
somewhere near the ground it came. Maria, seated on a flower-pot whose
flower didn't want to grow, opened her mouth and spoke. As is already
known, this did not often happen. It was her characteristic to keep it
closed. Even at the dentist's she never could be got to open her
mouth, because he had once hurt her; she flatly refused to do so, and
no amount of "Now open, please," ever had the least effect on her firm
decision. She was taken in vain to see the dentist.

This last Saturday of the week, however, she opened.

"I've not had _my_ partickler adventure," was what she said.

At the centre of that circle where she lived in a state of unalterable
bliss, the fact had struck her, and she mentioned it accordingly.

Tim and Judy turned upon her hungrily, but before they could relieve
their feelings by a single word their Uncle had turned upon her too.
Lowering his eyes from the great circular sun that moved in a circle
through the sky, he let them fall upon the circular Maria who reposed
calmly upon the circle of the earth, which itself swung in another
circle round the sun.

"Exactly," he said, "but it's coming. Your father told you a day would
come. It is!"

He said no more than that, but it was enough to fill the remainder of
the day with the recurrent thrill of a tremendous promise. Each hour
seemed pregnant with a hint of exceptional delivery. There were signs
and whispers everywhere, and everybody was aware of it. Uncle Felix
looked "bursting with it," as though he could hardly keep it in, and
even the Lesser Authorities had as much as they could do to prevent it
flying out of them in sudden sentences. Jackman wore a curious smile,
which Judy declared was "just the face she made the day Maria was
born"; Mrs. Horton left her kitchen and was seen upon the lawn
actually picking daisies; and even Thompson--well, when Tim and his
sister came upon him basking with a pipe against the laundry window,
wearing a discarded tweed coat of their father's, and looking "exactly
like the Pope asleep," he explained his position to Tim with the
extraordinary remark that "even the Servants' Hall 'as dreams," and
went on puffing his pipe precisely as before. But Weeden betrayed it
most. They knew by the smell--"per fumigated," as they called it--that
he was in the passages, watering the flowers or arranging new ones on
the window-sills, and when Tim said, "Seen any more water-rats to pot
at, Weeden?" the man just smiled and replied, "Good mornin', Master
Tim; it's Saturday."

The inflection of his tone was instantly noticed. "Oh, I say, Weeden,
how do you know? _Do_ tell me. I won't say a word, I promise." But the
Head Gardener kept his one eye--the other was of glass--upon the spout
of his watering-can, and answered in a voice that issued from his
boots--"Because to-morrow's Sunday, Master Tim, unless something
'appens to prevent it." He then went quickly from the room, as though
he feared more questions; he took the secret with him; he was nervous
about betraying what he knew. But Judy agreed with Tim that "his
answer proved it, because why should he have said it unless he knew!"

Meanwhile, that fine morning in early June slipped along its sunny
way; a heavy treacle-pudding luncheon was treated properly; Uncle
Felix lit his great meerschaum pipe, and they all went out on the lawn
beneath the lime trees. The undercurrent of excitement filled the air.
Something was going to happen, something so wonderful that they could
not speak about it. They did not dare to ask questions lest they
should somehow stop it. It was a most delicately poised affair. The
least mistake might send it racing in the opposite direction. But
their imaginations were so actively at work inside that they could not
help whispering among themselves about it. The silence of their Uncle
piled up the coming wonder in an enormous heap.

"Something _is_ coming," affirmed Judy in an undertone for the
twentieth time, "but _I_ think it will be after tea, don't you?"

"Prob'ly," assented her brother, very full of treacle pudding. He
sighed.

"Or p'r'aps it's _somebody_, d'you think?"

Tim shrugged his shoulders carefully, conscious of insecurity within.

"I shouldn't be surprised, would you?" Judy insisted. Of course she
knew as much as he did, but she wanted to make him say something
definite.

"It's both," he said grandly. "Things like this always come together."

"Yes, but it's _quite_ new. It's never happened before."

He looked sideways at her with the pity of superior knowledge.

"How could it?" So great was his private information that he almost
added "stupid." But he kept back the word for later. He repeated
instead: "However could it?"

"Well, but--" she began.

"Don't you see, it's what Daddy always told us," he reminded her with
an air. And instantly, with overwhelming certainty, those Wonder
Sentences of their father's, first spoken years ago, crashed in upon
their minds: Some day; a day is coming; a day will come.

Tim's assurance hurt her vanity a little, for it was only fair that
she should know something too, however little. But the force of the
discovery at once obliterated all lesser personal emotions.

"Tim!" she gasped, overcome with admiration. "Is it really _that_?"

Tim never forgot that moment of proud ascendancy. He felt like a king
or something.

"Look out," he whispered quickly. "You'll spoil it all if _he_ knows
we've guessed." And he nodded his head towards Uncle Felix in his
wicker-chair. "It's Maria's adventure, too, remember."

Judy smiled and flushed a little.

"He's not listening," she whispered back, ignoring Maria's claim. She
was not quite so stupid as her brother thought her. "But how on earth
did you know? It's too wonderful!" She flung the hair out of her eyes
and wriggled away some of her suppressed excitement on the grass. Tim
held his breath in agony while he watched her. But the smoke from his
Uncle's pipe rose steadily into the sunny air, and his face was hidden
by a paper that he held. The moment of danger passed. The boy leaned
over towards his sister's ear.

"Where it comes _from_," he whispered, "is what I want to know," and
straightened up again with the air of having delivered an ultimatum
that no girl could ever possibly reply to.

"_From?_" she repeated. She seemed a little disappointed. "D'you mean
that may stop it coming?"

"Of course not," he said contemptuously. "But everything must come
from somewhere, mustn't it?"

Judy stared at him speechless, while he surveyed her with an air of
calm omnipotence. To ask a thing no one could answer was the same as
knowing the answer oneself.

"Mustn't it?" he repeated with triumph.

And, in the inevitable pause that followed, they both instinctively
glanced up at Uncle Felix. The same idea had occurred to both of them.
Although direct questions about what was coming were obviously
impermissible, an indirect question seemed fairly within the rules.
The fact was, neither of them could keep quiet about it any longer.
The strain was more than human nature could stand. They simply _must_
find out. They would get at it that way.

"Try him," whispered Judy. And Tim turned recklessly towards his Uncle
and drew a long, deep breath.




CHAPTER XIV

MARIA STIRS


"Uncle," he began with a rush lest his courage should forsake him,
"where does everything come from? Everything in the world, I mean?"--
then waited for an answer that did not come.

Uncle Felix neither moved nor spoke, and the question, like a bomb
that fails to explode, produced no result after considerable effort
and expense. The boy looked down again at the alarum clock he had been
trying to mend, and turned the handle. It was too tightly wound to go.
A stopped clock has the sulkiest face in the world. He stared at it;
the handle clicked beneath the pressure of his hand. "It must come
from somewhere," he added with decision, half to himself.

"From the East, of course," advanced Judy, and tried to draw her Uncle
by putting some buttercups against his cheek and mentioning loudly
that he liked butter.

Then, since neither sound nor movement issued from the man in the
wicker-chair, the children continued the discussion among themselves,
but _at_ the man, knowing that sooner or later he must become involved
in it. Judy's answer, moreover, so far as it went, was excellent. The
sun rose in the East, and the wind most frequently mentioned came also
from that quarter. Easter, when everything rose again, was connected
with the same point of the compass. The East was enormously far away
with a kind of fairyland remoteness. The dragon-rugs in Daddy's study
and the twisted weapons in the hall were "Easty" too. According to
Tim, it was a "golden, yellow, crimson-sort-of, mysterious, blazing
hole of a place" of which no adequate picture had ever been shown to
them. China and Japan were too much photographed, but the East was
vague and marvellous, the beginning of all things, "Camel-distant," as
they phrased it, with Great Asia upon its magical frontiers. For Asia,
being equally unphotographed, still shimmered with uncommon qualities.

But, chiefly, it was a vast hole where travellers disappeared and left
no trace; and to leave no trace was simply horrible.

"The easier you go the less chance there is," maintained Judy. She
said this straight into the paper that screened her uncle's face--
without the smallest result of any kind whatsoever. Then Tim recalled
something that Colonel Stumper had said once, and let fly with it,
aiming his voice beneath the paper's edge.

"East is east," he announced with considerable violence, but might as
well have declared that it was south for all the response obtained. It
was very odd, he thought; his Uncle's mind must be awfully full of
something. For he remembered Come-Back Stumper saying the same thing
once to Daddy at the end of a frightful argument about missionaries
and idols, and Daddy had been unable to find any reply at all. Yet
Uncle Felix did not stir a finger even. Accordingly, he made one more
effort. He recited in a loud voice the song that Stumper had made up
about it. If that had no effect, they must try other means altogether:

   The East is just an endless place
     That lies beyond discovery,
   Where travellers who leave no trace
     Are lost without recovery.
   Both North and South have got a pole--
     Men stand on the equator;
   But the East is just an awful hole--
     You're never heard of later!

It had no effect. Goodness! he thought, the man must be ill. Or,
perhaps, like the alarum clock, he was too tightly wound to go, and
the burden of the secret he contained so wonderfully up his sleeve
half choked him. The boy grew impatient; he nudged Judy and made an
odd grimace, and Judy, belonging to the sex that took risks and
thought little of personal safety when a big end was to be obtained,
stood up and put the buttercups against her own cheek.

"But I like it ever so much more than _you_ do," she said in a loud
voice.

The move was not a bad one; the paper wobbled, sank a quarter of an
inch, revealed the bridge of the reader's nose, then held severely
steady again. Whereupon Tim, noticing this sign of weakening, followed
his sister's lead, rose, kicked the tired clock like a ball across the
lawn, and exclaimed in a tone of challenge to the universe: "But where
did everything come from before that--before the East, I mean?" And he
glared at his immobile Uncle through the paper with an air of fearful
accusation, as though he distinctly held he was to blame. If that
didn't let the cat out of the bag, nothing would!

The big man, however, rested heavily with his legs crossed, as though
still he had not heard. Doubtless he felt as heavy as he looked, for
the afternoon was warm, and luncheon--well, at any rate, he remained
neutral and inactive. Something might happen to divert philosophical
inquiry into other channels; a rat might poke its nose above the pond;
a big fish might jump; an awfully rare butterfly come dancing; or
Maria, as on rare occasions she had been known to do, might stop
discussion with a word of power. The chances were in his favour on the
whole. He waited.

But nothing happened. No rat, nor fish, nor butterfly did the things
expected of them; they were on the children's side. Maria sat blocked
and motionless against the landscape; and the round world dozed. Yes--
but the music of the world was humming. The bees droned by, there was
a whisper among the unruffled leaves.

Tim tapped him sharply on the knee. The man shuffled, then looked over
the top of his illustrated paper with an air of shocked surprise.

"Eh, Tim," he asked. "Where we all come from, did you say?"

"Everything, not only us," was the clean reply.

"That's it," Judy supported him.

"Now, then," Maria added quietly, as if she had done all the work.

Uncle Felix laid down his entertaining pictures of public men in
misfit-clothing furiously hitting tiny balls over as much uncultivated
land as possible--and sighed. Their violent attitudes had given him a
delightful sensation of repose. They were the men who governed
England, and this savage hitting was proof of their surplus energy. He
resigned himself, but with an air.

"Well," he said vaguely, "I suppose--it all just--began somehow--of
itself." And he stole a sideways glance at a picture of a stage Beauty
attired like a female Guy Fawkes.

"It was created in six days, of course, us last," said Tim, regarding
him with patient dignity. "We remember all that. But where it came
_from_ is what we thought _you'd_ know." He closed the illustrated
paper and moved it out of reach, while the man brushed from his beard
the grass and stuff that Judy had arranged there cleverly in a
decorative pattern.

"From?" repeated Uncle Felix, as though the word were unfamiliar.

"Your body and mind," the boy resumed, ignoring the pretence that
laziness offered in place of information, "and all that kind of thing;
trees and mountains, and birds and caterpillars and people like Aunt
Emily, and clergymen and volcanoes and elephants--oh, everything in
the world everywhere?"

There was another sigh. And another pause dropped down upon creation,
while they watched a looper caterpillar that clung to the edge of the
illustrated paper and made futile circles in the air with the knob it
called its head. Some one had forgotten to let down the ladder it
expected, or perhaps it, too, was asking unanswerable questions of the
sun.

"I believe," announced Judy, still smarting under a sense of recent
neglect, "it just came from nowhere. It's all in a great huge circle.
And we go round and round and rounder," she went on, as no one met her
challenge, "till we're finished!"

She avoided her brother's eye, but glanced winningly at Uncle Felix,
remembering that she had gained support from him before by a similar
device. At Maria she looked down. "You know nothing anyhow," her
expression said, "so you _must_ agree."

"I don't finish," said Maria quietly, whereupon Tim, feeling that the
original question was being shelved, made preparation to obliterate
her--when Uncle Felix intervened with a longer observation of his own.

"It's not such a bad idea," he said, glancing sideways at Maria with
approval, "that circle business. Everything certainly goes _round_.
The earth is round, and the sun is round, and, as Maria says, a circle
never finishes." He paused, reflecting deeply.

"But who made the circle," demanded Tim.

"That _is_ the point," agreed Uncle Felix, nodding his head. "Some one
must have made it--some day--mustn't they?"

They stared at him, as probably the animals stared at Adam, wondering
what their splendid names were going to be. The yearning in their eyes
was enough to make a rock produce sweet-scented thyme. Even the looper
steadied its pin-point head to listen. But nothing happened. Uncle
Felix looked dumber than the clock. He looked hot, confused, and
muddled too. He kept his eyes upon the grass. He fumbled in his
pockets for a match. He spoke no word.

"What?" asked Tim abruptly, by way of a hint that something further
was expected of him.

Uncle Felix looked up with a start. Like Proteus who changed his shape
to save himself the trouble of prophesying, he swiftly changed the key
to save himself providing accurate information that he didn't possess.

"It wasn't a circle, exactly," he said slowly; "it was a thought, a
great, white, wonderful, shining thought. That's what started the
whole business first," and he looked round hopefully at the eager
faces. "Somebody thought it all," he went on, recklessly, "and it all
came true that way. See?"

They waited in silence for particulars.

"Somebody thought it all out first," he elaborated, "and so it simply
_had_ to happen."

There was an interval of some thirty seconds, and then Tim asked:

"But who thought _him_?" He said it with much emphasis.

Uncle Felix sat up with energy and lit his pipe. His listeners drew
closer, with the exception of Maria, whose life seemed concentrated in
her fixed and steady eyes.

"It's like this, you see," the man explained between the puffs; "if
you go into the schoolroom, you find a lot of things lying about
everywhere--blocks, toys, engines, and all sorts of things--don't
you?"

"Yes," they agreed, without enthusiasm.

"Well," he continued, "what's the good of them until you _think_
something about them--think them into something--some game or meaning
or other? They're nothing but a lot of useless stuff just lying
untidily upon the floor. See what I mean?"

They nodded, but again without enthusiasm.

"With our End of the World place," he went on, seeing that they
listened attentively, "it's the same again. It was nothing but a
rubbish-heap until we thought it into something wonderful--which, of
course, it is," he hastened to add. "But by thinking about it, we
discovered--we _created_ it!"

They nodded again. Somebody grunted. Maria watched the caterpillar
crawling up his sleeve.

"The things--the place and the toys," he resumed hopefully, "were
there all the time, but they meant nothing--they weren't alive--until
we thought about them." He blew a cloud of smoke. "So, you see," he
continued with an effort, "if we could only _think out_ what
everything meant, we could--er--find out what--what everything meant--
and where it came from. Everything would be all right, don't you see?"

Judy's expression was distraught and puzzled. Maria's eyes were closed
so tightly that her entire face seemed closed. The pause drew out.

"Yes, but where does everything come from?" inquired Tim calmly.

He valued the lengthy explanation at just exactly--nothing!

"Because there simply must be a beginning somewhere," added Judy.

They were at the starting-point again. They had merely made a circle.

And Uncle Felix found himself in difficulties of his own creating.
Where everything came from puzzled him as much as it puzzled the
children, or the looper caterpillar that was now crawling from his
flannel collar to his neck and contemplating the thicket of his dense
back hair. Why ask these terrible questions? he thought, as he looked
around at the sunshine and the trees. Life would be no happier if he
knew. Since everything was already here, going along quite pleasantly
and usefully, it really couldn't help matters much to know precisely
where it all came from. Possibly not. But it would have helped him
enormously in his relations with the children--his particular world at
the moment--if he could have provided them with a satisfactory
explanation. And he knew quite well what they expected from him. That
dreadful "Some Day" hung in the balance between success and failure.

And it was then that assistance came from a most unlikely quarter--
from Maria. There was no movement in the stolid head. The eyes merely
rolled round like small blue moons upon the expanse of the
expressionless face. But the lips parted and she spoke. She asked a
question. And her question shifted the universe back upon its ultimate
foundations. It set a problem deeper far than the mere origin of
everything. It touched the _cause_.

"Why?" she inquired blandly.

It seemed a bomb-shell had fallen among them. Maria had closed her
eyes again. Her face was calm as a cabbage, still as a mushroom in a
storm. She claimed the entire discussion somehow as her own. Yet she
had merely exercised her prerogative of being herself. Having gone
into the root of the matter with a monosyllable, she retired again
into her eternal centre. She had nothing more to offer--at the moment.

_Why?_

They had never thought of Why there should be anything. It was far
more interesting than Where. Why was a deeper question than whence. It
made them feel more important, for one thing. Somebody--but Somebody
who was not there--owed them a proper explanation about it. The burden
of apology or excuse was lifted instantly from Uncle Felix's
shoulders, for, obviously, he had nothing to do with the reason for
their being in the world.

Without a moment's hesitation he flung his arms out, let the pipe fall
from his lips, and--burst into song:

 Why should there be anything?
 Why should we be here?
 It isn't where we come from,
 But why should we appear?
 It's really inexplicable,
 Extr'ordinary, queer:
 Why _should_ we come and talk a bit,
 And then--just disappear?

"Why, why, why?" shouted the two elder children. The air was filled
with flying "whys." They tried to sing the verse.

"Let's dance it," cried Judy, leaping to her feet. "Give us the words
again, please." She picked up the clock and plumped it down into
Maria's uncertain lap. "You beat time," she ordered. "It's the tune of
'Onward Christian Soldiers.'"

Maria, disinclined to budge unless obliged to, did nothing.

"It's a beastly tune," Tim supported her. "I hate those Sunday hymn
tunes. They're not real a bit."

He watched Judy and his Uncle capering hand in hand among the flower-
beds. He didn't feel like dancing himself. He looked at the clock
that, like Maria and himself, refused to go. He looked at Maria,
fastened immovably upon the lawn. The clock lay glittering in the
sunshine. Maria sat like a shining ball beside it. He felt the
afternoon was a failure somewhere. Things weren't going quite as he
wanted, the clock wasn't going either. And when they did go they went
of their own accord, independent of himself, of his direction,
guidance, wishes. He was out of it. This was _not_ the time to dance.
What was the meaning of it all? It had to do somehow with the clock
that wouldn't go. It had to do with Maria, who wouldn't budge. The
clock had stopped of its own accord. That lay at the bottom of it all,
he felt. Some day things would be different, more satisfactory--more
real.... Some day!

And strange, new ideas, very vague and dim, very far away, very queer,
and very wonderful, poured through his searching, questioning little
mind.

"Beat time!" shouted Judy to her motionless sister. "I told you to
beat time. You're doing nothing. You never do!"

Tim stood watching them, while the words rang on in his head: "You are
doing nothing! You never do!" How wonderful it was! Maria never did
anything, yet was always there _in_ everything. And the others--how
funny they were, too! They looked like an elephant and a bird, he
thought, for Judy hopped and fluttered, while his Uncle moved heavily,
making holes in the soft lawn with his great feet. "Beat time, beat
time!" cried Judy at intervals.

What a queer phrase it was--to _beat_ time. Why beat it? It wasn't
there unless it was beaten. Poor Time; and Maria refused to beat it.
His eye wandered from Maria to the dancers, and a kind of reverie
stole over him. What was the use of dancing unless there was something
to dance round? Maria was round; why didn't they dance round her? His
thoughts returned to Maria. How funny Maria was! She just sat there
doing nothing at all. Maria was dull and unenterprising, yet somehow
everything came round to her in the end. It was just because she
waited, she never hurried. She was a sort of centre. Only it must be
rather stupid just to be a centre. Then, suddenly, two ideas struck
him at the same instant, scattering his dreamy state of reverie. The
first was--Everything comes from a centre like Maria; _that's_ where
everything comes from! The second, bearing no apparent relation to it,
found expression in words:

He cried out: "I know what! Let's go to the End of the World and make
a fire and burn things!"

And he looked at Maria as though he had discovered America.

"Beat time, oh, _do_ beat time," cried Judy breathlessly.

"We're going to make a fire," he shouted; "there's lots of things to
burn." He looked about him as though to choose a place. But he
couldn't find one. He pointed vaguely, first at Maria, as though she
was the thing to burn, and then at the landscape generally. "Then you
can dance _round_ it," he added convincingly to clinch the matter.

But the bird and the elephant continued their gymnastic exercises on
the lawn, while Maria turned her eyes without moving her head and
watched them too.

Then, while the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers" filled the air,
Tim and Maria began an irrelevant argument about things in general.
Tim, at least, told her things, while she laid the clock down upon the
grass and listened. But the flood of language rolled off her as
minutes roll from the face of the sun, producing no effect. There was
wonder in her big blue eyes, wonder that never seemed to end. But
minutes don't decrease merely because the rising and setting of the
sun sends them flying, and there are not fewer words in a boy's
vocabulary merely because he uses up a lot in saying things. Both
words and minutes seemed a circle without beginning or end. It was
most odd and strange--this feeling of endlessness that was everywhere
in the air. And, long before Tim had got even to the middle of his
enormous speech, he had forgotten all about the fire, forgotten about
dancing, about burning things, forgotten about everything everywhere,
because his roving eye had fallen again upon the--clock. The clock
absorbed his interest. It lay there glittering in the sunshine beside
Maria. It wasn't going; Maria wasn't going either. It had stopped. He
realised abruptly, realised it without rhyme or reason, that a stopped
clock, a clock that isn't going, was a--mystery.

And the tide of words dried up in him; he choked; something was wrong
with the universe; for if the clock stopped--_his_ clock--time--time
must--he was unable to think it out--but time must surely get muddled
and go wrong too.

And he moved over to Maria just as she was about to burst into tears.
He sat down beside her. At the same moment Judy and Uncle Felix,
thinking a quarrel was threatening, stopped their dancing, and joined
the circle too. They stood with arms akimbo, panting, silent, waiting
for something to happen so that they could interfere and set it right
again.

But nothing did happen. There was deep silence only. The slanting
sunshine lay across the lawn, the wind passed sighing through the lime
trees, and the clock stared up into their faces, motionless, a blank
expression on it--stopped. They formed a circle round it. No one moved
or spoke. There was a queer, deep pause. The sun watched them; the sky
was listening; the entire afternoon stood still. Something else beside
the clock, it seemed, was slowing up.

"To-morrow's Sunday. Time's getting awfully short," was in the air
inaudibly.

"Let's sit down," whispered Tim, already seated himself, but anxious
to feel the others close. Judy and Uncle Felix obeyed. They all sat
round in a circle, staring at the shining disc of the motionless,
stopped clock. It might have been a Lucky Bag by the way they watched
it with expectant faces.

But Maria also was in that circle, sitting calmly in its centre.

Then Uncle Felix cautiously lifted the glittering round thing and held
it in his hand. He put his ear down to listen. He shook his head.

"It hasn't gone since this time yesterday," said Tim in a low tone.
"That's twenty-four hours," he added, calculating it on the fingers of
both hands.

"A whole day," murmured Judy, as if taken by surprise somehow; "a day
and a night, I mean."

She exchanged a glance of significant expectation with her brother,
but it was at their uncle they looked the moment after, because of the
strange and sudden sound that issued from his lips. For it was like a
cry, and his face wore a flushed and curious expression they could not
fathom. The face and the cry were signs of something utterly unusual.
He was startled--out of himself. A marvellous idea had evidently
struck him. "It's either something," thought Judy, "or else he's got a
pain." But Tim's mind was quicker. "He's got it," the boy decided,
meaning, "We've got it out of him at last!" Their manoeuvres had taken
so long of accomplishment that their original purpose had almost been
forgotten.

"A day, a whole day," Uncle Felix was mumbling to himself in a dazed
kind of happy way, "an entire day, I do declare!" He looked round
solemnly, yet with growing excitement, into the children's faces.
"Twenty-four hours! An entire day," he went on, half beneath his
breath.

"_Some day;_ of course..." Tim said in a low voice, catching the mood
of wonder, while Judy added, equally stirred up, "A day will come..."
and then Uncle Felix, breaking out of his queer reverie with an
effort, raised his voice and looked as if the end of the world had
come.

"But do you realise what it means?" he asked them sharply. "D'you
understand what's happened?"

He drew a long, deep breath that quivered with suppressed amazement,
and waited several seconds for their answers--in vain. The children
gazed at him without uttering a word; they made no movement either.
The arresting tone of his voice and a certain huge expression in his
eyes made everything in the world seem different. It was a moment of
real life; he had discovered something stupendous. But, explanation
being beyond them, they attempted no immediate answer to his question.
The pressure of interest blocked every means of ordinary expression
known to them.

Then Uncle Felix spoke again; his big eyes fixed Tim piercingly like a
pin. "When did it stop?" he inquired gravely. He meant to make quite
sure of his discovery before revealing it. There must be no escape, no
slip, no carelessness. "When did it stop, I ask you, Tim?" he
repeated.

Tim was a trifle vague. "I was asleep," he whispered. "When I woke up
--it wasn't going."

"You wound it?"

"Oh, yes, I wound it right enough."

"What time was it?"

"The clock--or the day, Uncle?" He was confused a little; he wished to
be awfully accurate.

Uncle Felix explained that he desired to know what time the clock had
stopped. The importance of the answer could be judged by the
intentness of his expression while he waited.

"The finger-hands were at four," said the boy at length.

Uncle Felix gave a jump. "Ha, ha!" he exclaimed triumphantly, "then it
stopped of its own accord!" They could have screamed with excitement,
though without the least idea what they were excited about. You could
have heard a butterfly breathing.

"It stopped at dawn!" he continued, louder.

"Dawn!" piped Tim, unable to think of anything else, but obliged to
utter something.

"Dawn, yes," cried Uncle Felix louder still. "It stopped of its own
accord at dawn! Just at the beginning of a new day it stopped! It's
marvellous! Don't you see? It's marvellous!"

"Goodness!" cried Judy, her mind obfuscated, yet thrilled with a
transport of inexplicable delight. "It's marvellous!"

"I say!" Tim shouted, dropping his voice suddenly because he too was
at a loss for any more intelligible relief in words.

They sat and stared at their amazing uncle. There was a hush upon the
entire universe; there was marvel, mystery, but at first there was
also muddle. They waited, holding their breath with difficulty. Some
one, it seemed, must either explode or--or something else, they knew
not exactly what. It would hardly have surprised them if Judy had
suddenly flown through the air, Tim vanished down a hole, or Maria
gleamed at them from the inside of a quivering bubble of soap. There
was this kind of intoxicating feeling, delicious and intense. Even To-
morrow might _not_ be Sunday after all: it felt strange and wonderful
enough for that!

The possibility that _Some Day_ was coming--was close at hand--had in
some mysterious way become a probability. It was clear at last why
Uncle Felix had been so heavy and preoccupied.

"You see what's happened?" he continued after the long pause. "You see
what it all means--this strange stopping of the clock--at Dawn?"

They admitted nothing; the least mistake on their part might prevent,
might spoil or cripple it. The depth and softness of his tone warned
them. They stared and waited. He gathered them closer to him with both
arms. Even Maria wriggled slightly nearer--an inch or so.

"It means," he said in still lower tones, "the calendar,"--then
stopped abruptly to examine the effect upon them.

Now, ordinarily, they knew quite well what a calendar was; but this
new, strange emphasis he put upon it robbed the word suddenly of all
its original meaning. Their minds went questioning at once:

"What _is_ a calendar?" asked Judy carefully--"exactly?" she added, to
make her meaning absolutely clear. It sounded almost like a nonsense
word.

"Exactly," he repeated cautiously, yet with some great emotion working
in him, "what is a calendar? That's the whole question. I'll try and
tell you what a calendar is." He drew a deeper breath, a great effort
being evidently needed. "A calendar," he went on, while the word
sounded less real each time it was uttered, "is an invention of
clever, scientific men to note the days as they pass; it records the
passing days. It's a plan to measure Time. It's made of paper and has
the date and the name of the day stamped in ink on separate sheets.
When a day has passed you tear off a sheet. That day is done with--
gone. There are three hundred and sixty-five of these separate sheets
in a year. It's just an invention of scientific men to measure the
passing of--Time, you see?"

They said they saw.

"Another invention," he resumed, his face betraying more and more
emotion, "is a clock. A clock is just a mechanical invention that
ticks off the movements of the sun into seconds and minutes and hours.
Both clocks and calendars, therefore, are mere measuring tricks. Time
goes on, or does not go on, just the same, whether you possess these
inventions or whether you do not possess them. Both clocks and
calendars go at the same rate whether Time goes fast or slow. See?"

A tremendous discovery began to poke its nose above the edge of their
familiar world. But they could not pull it up far enough to "see" as
yet. Uncle Felix continued to pull it up for them. That he, too, was
muddled never once occurred to them.

"Scientific men, like all other people, are not always to be relied
upon," he went on. "They make mistakes like--you, or Thompson, or Mrs.
Horton, or--or even me. Clocks, we all know, are full of mistakes, and
for ever going wrong. But the same thing has happened to calendars as
well. Calendars are notoriously inaccurate; they simply cannot be
depended upon. No calendar has ever been entirely veracious, nor ever
will be. Like elastic, they are sometimes too long and sometimes too
short--imperfectly constructed."

He paused and looked at them. "Yes," they said breathlessly, aware
dimly that accustomed foundations were already sliding from beneath
their feet.

"Half the calendars of the world are simply wrong," he continued, more
boldly still, "and the people who live by them are in a muddle
consequently--a muddle about Time. England is no exception to the
rest. Is it any wonder that Time bothers us in the way it does--always
time to do this, or time to do that, or not time enough to finish, and
so on?"

"No," they said promptly, "it isn't."

"Of course," he resumed. "Well, sometimes a nation finds out its
mistake and alters its calendar. Russia has done this; the Russian New
Year and Easter are not the same as ours. Pope Gregory, the
thirteenth, ordered that the day after October 4, 1582, should be
called October 15. He called it the Gregorian Calendar; but there are
lots of other calendars besides--there's the Jewish and Mohammedan,
and a variety of calendars in the East. All of them can't be right.
The result is that none of them are right, and the world is in
confusion. Some calendars mark off too many days, others mark off too
few. Half the world is ahead of Time, and the other half behind it.
The Governments know this quite well, but they dare not say anything,
because their officials are muddled enough as it is. There is
everywhere this fearful rush and hurry to keep up with Time. All are
terrified of being late--too late or too early."

"Naturally."

"And the extraordinary result of all these mistakes," he went on
marvellously, "is simply this: that a considerable amount of Time has
never been recorded at all by any of them. There are a lot of extra
days, unused, unrecorded days, still at large--if only we could find
them."

"Extra Days!" they gasped. Tim and Judy's mouths were open now, and
slowly opening wider every minute. Only Maria's mouth kept closed. Her
great blue eyes were closed as well. She looked as if she could have
told them all this in a couple of words!

"Knocking about on the loose," he explained further, then paused and
stared into the upturned faces; "sort of escaped days that have never
been torn off calendars or ticked away by clocks--unused, unfilled,
unlived--slipped out of Time, that is--"

"Then when Daddy said, 'A day is coming,' and all that--?" Tim managed
to squeeze out as though the pain of the excitement hurt his lips.

"Of course," replied Uncle Felix, nodding his great head, "of course.
Sooner or later one of these lost Extra Days is bound to crop up. And
what's more--" he glanced down significantly at the stopped alarum-
clock--"I think--"

He broke off in the middle of the sentence. They all stood up. Tim
picked up the clock and handed it to his uncle, who held it tightly
against his chest a moment, then put it into his capacious pocket.

"I think," he went on enormously, "it's come!"

An entire minute passed without a sound.

"We can fill it with anything we like?" asked Judy, overawed a little.

"Anything we like," came the sublime reply.

"And do things over and over again--sort of double--and no hurry?" Tim
whispered.

"Anything, anywhere, anyhow, and no end to it all," he answered
gloriously. "No hurry either!" It was too much to think about all at
once, too big to realise. They all sat down again beside Maria, who
had not moved an inch in any direction at all. She was a picture of
sublime repose.

"We have only got to find it, then climb into it, then sail away,"
murmured Uncle Felix, with a strange catch in his breath they readily
understood.

"When will it begin?" both children asked in the same breath.

"At dawn," he said.

"To-morrow morning?"

"At dawn to-morrow morning."

"But to-morrow's Sunday," they objected.

"To-morrow's--an Extra Day," he said amazingly.

They hesitated a moment, stared, frowned, smiled, then opened their
eyes and mouths still wider than before.

"Oh, like that!" they exclaimed.

"Like that, yes," he said finally. "It means getting in behind Time,
you see. There's no Time in an Extra Day because it's never been
recorded by calendar or clock. And that means getting behind the great
hurrying humbug of a thing that blinds and confuses everybody all the
world over--it means getting closer to the big Reality that--"

He broke off sharply, aware that his own emotion was carrying him out
of his depth, and out of their depth likewise. He changed the
sentence: "We shall be in Eternity," he whispered very softly, so
softly that it was scarcely audible perhaps.

And it was then that Maria, still seated solidly upon the lawn, looked
up and asked another baffling and unexpected question. For this was
_her_ private and particular adventure: and, living ever at the centre
of the circle, Maria claimed even Eternity as especially her own. Her
question was gigantic. It was infinitely bigger than her original
question, "Why?" It was the greatest question in the universe, because
it answered itself adequately at once. It was the question the undying
gods have flung about the listening cosmos since Time first began its
tricky cheating of delight--and still fling into the echoing hearts of
men and children everywhere. The stars and insects, the animals and
birds, even the stones and flowers, all keep the glorious echo flying.

"Why not?" she asked.

It was unanswerable.




CHAPTER XV

"A DAY WILL COME"


They went into the house as though wafted--thus does a shining heart
deduct bodily weight from life's obstructions; they had their tea;
after tea they played games as usual, quite ordinary games; and in due
course they went to bed. That is, they followed a customary routine,
feeling it was safer. To do anything unusual just then might attract
attention to their infinite Discovery and so disturb its delicate
equilibrium. Its balance was precarious. Once an Authority got wind of
anything, the Extra Day might change its course and sail into another
port. Aunt Emily, even from a distance...! In any case, they behaved
with this intuitive sagacity which obviated every risk--by taking
none.

Yet everything was different. Behind the routine lay the potent
emphasis of some strange new factor, as though a lofty hope, a brave
ideal, had the power of transmuting common duties into gold and
crystal. This new factor pushed softly behind each little customary
act, urging what was commonplace over the edge into the marvellous.
The habitual became wonderful. It felt like Christmas Eve, like the
last night of the Old Year, like the day before the family moved for
the holidays to the sea--only more so. Even To-morrow-will-be-Sunday
had entirely disappeared. A thrill of mysterious anticipation gilded
everything with wonder and beauty that were impossible, yet true. Some
Day, _the_ Thing that Nobody could Understand--Somebody--was coming at
last.

Uncle Felix was in an extraordinary state; his acts were normal
enough, but his speech betrayed him shamefully; they had to warn him
more than once about it. He seemed unable to talk ordinary prose,
saying that "Everything _ought_ to rhyme, At such a time," and,
instead of walking like other people, his feet tried to keep in time
with his language. "But you don't understand," he replied to Tim's
grave warnings; "you don't understand what a gigantic discovery it is.
Why, the whole world will thank us! The whole world will get its
breath back! The one thing it's always dreaded more than anything
else--being too late--will come to an end! We ought to dance and sing--"

"Oh, please hush!" warned Judy. "Aunt Emily, you know--" Even at
Tunbridge Wells Aunt Emily might hear and send a telegram with No in
it.

"Has it lost its breath?" Tim asked, however. But, though it was in
the middle of tea, Uncle Felix could not restrain himself, and burst
into one of his ridiculous singing fits, instead of answering in a
whisper as he should have done. "Burst" described it accurately. And
his feet kept time beneath the table. It was the proper place for
Time, he explained.

The clocks are stopped, the calendars are wrong, Time holds gigantic
finger-hands Before his guilty face. Listen a moment! I can hear the
song That no one understands--

"It's the blue dragon-fly," interrupted Tim, remembering the story of
long ago.

"It's the Night-Wind--out by day," cried Judy.

"It's both and neither," sang the man,
 "This song I hear. It first began
  Before the hurrying race
  Of ticking, and of tearing pages
  Deafened the breathless ages:
  It is the happy singing
  Of wind among the rigging
  Of our Extra Day!"

"It's something anyhow," decided Judy, rather impressed by her uncle's
fit of bursting.

And, somehow, Dawn was the password and Tomorrow the key. No one knew
more than that. It had to do with Time, for Uncle Felix had taken the
stopped clock to his room and hidden it there lest somebody like
Jackman or Thompson should wind it up. Later, however, he gave it for
safer keeping to Maria, because she moved so rarely and did so little
that was unnecessary that she seemed the best repository of all. Also,
this was _her_ particular adventure, and what risk there was belonged
properly to her. But beyond this they knew nothing, and they didn't
want to know. In the immediate future, just before the gateway of To-
morrow's dawn, a great gap lay waiting, a gap they had discovered
alone of all the world. The scientists had made a mistake, the
Government had been afraid to deal with it, the rest of the world lay
in ignorance of its very existence even. It satisfied all the
conditions of real adventure, since it was unique, impossible, and had
never happened to any one before. They, with Uncle Felix, had
discovered it. It belonged to them entirely--the most marvellous
secret that anybody could possibly imagine. Maria, they took for
granted, would share it with them. A hole in Time lay waiting to
receive them. A _Day Will Come_ at last was actually coming.

"We'd better pack up," said Judy after tea. She said it calmly, but
the voice had a whisper of intense expectancy in it.

"Pack up nothing," Uncle Felix reproved her quickly. "The important
thing is--don't wind up. Just go on as usual. It will be best," he
added significantly, "if you all hand over your timepieces to me at
once." And, without a word, they recognised his wisdom and put their
treasures into his waistcoat pockets--watches of silver, tin, and
gunmetal. His use of the strange word "timepieces" was convincing. The
unusual was in the air.

"There's Thompson's and Jackman's and Mrs. Horton's," Judy reminded
him, her eyes shining like polished door-knobs.

"Too wrong to matter," decided Uncle Felix. "They're always slow or
fast."

"Then there's the kitchen clock," Tim mentioned; "the grandfather
thing."

Uncle Felix reflected a moment. His reply was satisfactory and
conclusive:

"I'll go down to-night," he explained in a low voice, "when the
servants are in bed. I'll take the weights off."

Judy and Tim appreciated the seriousness of the occasion more than
ever.

"Into Mrs. Horton's kitchen?" they whispered.

"Into Mrs. Horton's kitchen," he agreed, beneath his breath.

Maria, meanwhile, said nothing. Her eyes kept open very wide, but no
audible remark got past her lips. She paid no attention to the singing
nor to the whispered conversation; she ate an enormous tea, finishing
up all the cakes that the others neglected in their excitement and
preoccupation; but she appeared as calm and unconcerned as the tea-
cosy that concealed the heated, stimulating teapot beneath it. She
looked more circular and globular than ever. Even the knowledge that
this was the eve of her own particular adventure did not rouse her.
Her expression seemed to say, "I never _have_ believed in Time; at the
centre where _I_ live, clocks and calendars are not recognised"; and
later, when Judy blew the candle out and asked as usual, "Are you all
right, Maria?" her reply came floating across the darkened room
without the smallest alteration in tone or accent: "I'm alright." The
stopped alarum-clock was underneath her pillow; Uncle Felix had tucked
them up, each in turn; everything was all right. She fell asleep, the
others fell asleep, Time also fell asleep.

And above the Old Mill House that warm June night the darkness kept
the secret faithfully, yet offered little signs and hints to those who
did not sleep too heavily. The feeling that something or somebody was
coming hung in the very air; there was a gentle haze beneath the
stars; and a breeze that passed softly through the lime trees dropped
semi-articulate warnings. There were curious, faint echoes flying
between the walls and the Wood without a Centre; the daisies heard
them and opened half an eyelid; the Night-Wind whispered and sighed as
it bore them to and fro. Maria's question entered the dream of the
entire garden: "Why not? Why not? Why not?"

An owl in the barn beyond the stables heard the call and took it up,
and told it to some swallows fast asleep below the eaves, who woke
with sudden chattering and mentioned it to a robin in the laurel
shrubberies below. The robin pretended not to be at all surprised, but
felt it a duty to inform a coot who lived a quarter of a mile away
among the reeds of the lower pond. When it returned from its five-
minute flight, the swallows had gone to sleep again, and only the owl
went on hooting softly through the summer darkness. "It really needn't
go on so long about it," thought the robin, then fell asleep again
with its head between exactly the same feathers as before. But the
news had been distributed; the garden was aware; the birds, as natural
guardians of the dawn, had delivered the message as their duty was.
"Why not? Why not?" hummed all night long through the dreams of the
Mill House garden. Weeden turned in his sleep and sighed with
happiness.

Nothing could now prevent it; a day was coming at last, an extra,
unused, unrecorded day. The immemorial expectancy of childhood, the
universal anticipation, the promise that something or somebody was
coming--all this would be fulfilled. This promise is really but the
prelude to creation. God felt it before the world appeared. And
children have stolen it from heaven. Conceived of wonder, born of
hope, and realised by belief, it is the prerogative of all properly-
beating hearts. Everything living feels it, and--everything lives. The
Postman; the Figure coming down the road; the Visitor on the pathway;
the Knock upon the door; even the Stranger in the teacup--all are
embodiments of this exquisite scrap of heaven, divine expectancy. It
may be Christmas, it may be only To-morrow, but equally it may be the
End of the World. Something is coming--into the heart--something
satisfying. It is the eternal beginning. It is the--dawn.

Long after the children had retired to bed Uncle Felix sat up alone in
the big house thinking. He made himself cosy in the library, meaning
to finish a chapter of the historical novel he had sadly neglected
these past days, and he set himself to the work with a will. But, try
as he would, the story would not run; he fixed his mind upon the scene
in vain; he concentrated hard, visualised the place and characters as
his habit was, reconstructed the incidents and conversation exactly as
though he had seen them happen and remembered them--but the
imagination that should have given them life failed to operate. It
became a mere effort of invention. The characters would not talk of
their own accord; the incidents did not flow in a stream as when he
worked successfully; life was not in them. He began again, wrote and
rewrote, but failed to seize the atmosphere of reality that alone
could make them interesting. Interest--he suddenly realised it--had
vanished. He felt no interest in the stupid chapter. He tore it up--
and knew it was the right thing to do, because he heard the characters
laughing.

"I'm not in the mood," he reflected. "It's artificial. William Smith
of Peckham would skip this chapter. There's something bigger in me. I
wonder...!"

He lit his pipe and sat by the open window, watching the stars and
sniffing the scented summer night. He let his thoughts go wandering as
they would, and the moment he relaxed attention a sense of pleasant
relief stole over him. He discovered how great the effort had been. He
also discovered the reason. It offered itself in a flash to his mind
that was no longer blocked by the effort and therefore unreceptive.

"A man can't live adventure and write it too," he, realised sharply.
"He writes what he would like to live. I'm living adventure. The
desire to live it vicariously by writing it has left me. Of course!"

It was a sweet and rich discovery--that the adventures of the last ten
days had been so real and meant so much to him. No man of action,
leading a deep, full life of actual experience, felt the need of
scribbling, painting, fiddling. "Glorious, by Jove!" he exclaimed
between great puffs of smoke. "I've struck a fact!" He had been so
busily creating these last days that he had lost the yearning to
describe merely what others did. The children had caught him body and
soul in their eternal world of wonder and belief. Judy and Tim had
taught him this.

Yet, somehow, it was the inactive, calm Maria who loomed up in his
thoughts as the principal enchantress. Maria's apparent inactivity was
a blind; she did not do very much in the sense of rushing helter-
skelter after desirable things, but she obtained them nevertheless.
She got in their way so that they ran into her--then she claimed them.
She knew beforehand, as it were, the way they would take. She was
always there when anything worth happening was about. And though she
spoke so little--during a general conversation, for instance--she said
so much. At the end of all the talk, it was always Maria who had said
the important thing. Her "why" and "why not" that very afternoon were
all that he remembered of the intricate and long discussion. It left
the odd impression on his mind that talk, all the world over, said one
thing only; that the millions of talkers on the teeming earth, eagerly
chattering in many languages, said one and the same thing only. There
_was_ only one thing to be said.

That is--they were all trying to say it. Maria _had_ said it....

A whirring moth flew busily past the open window and vanished into the
night. He thought of his own books; for writers, painters, preachers,
musicians, these were trying to say it too. "If I could describe that
moth exactly," he murmured to himself, "give the sensation of its
flight, its unconscious attraction to the light, its plunge back into
the darkness, its precise purpose in the universe, its marvellous aim
and balance--its life, I could--er--"

The thought broke off with a jagged end. With a leap then it went on
again:

"Touch reality," and he heard his own voice saying it. He had uttered
it aloud. The sound had an odd effect upon him. He realised the
uselessness of words. No words touched reality. To be known, reality
had to be lived, experienced. Maria managed this in some extraordinary
way. She had reality.... Time did not humbug her. Nor did space....
Goodness!

The moth whirred into the room, softly banging itself against the
ceiling, and through the smoke from his pipe he saw that a dozen more
were doing the same thing with tireless energy. They felt or saw the
light; all obeyed the one driving desire to get closer into it. He saw
millions and millions of people, the whole world over, rushing about
on two legs and behaving similarly. How they did run about and fuss,
to be sure! What was it all about? What were they after? People had to
earn their living, of course, but it seemed more than that, for all
were after something, and the faster they went the better pleased they
were. Apparently they thought speed was of chief importance--as though
speed killed Time. They banged themselves into obstacles everywhere;
they screamed and disagreed, and accused each other of lying and being
blind, but the thing they were after either hid itself remarkably
well, or went at incredible speed, for no one ever came up with it or
found it. Time invariably blocked them. Only one or two--Maria sort of
people--sat still and waited....

He watched them all and wondered. One rushed up to an office in a
train, while another built the train he rushed in; one wore black and
preached a sermon, another wore blue and guarded a street, a third
wore red and killed, a fourth wore very little and danced; all in the
end were nothing and--disappeared. Some lived in a room and read
hundreds of books; another wrote them; one spent his days examining
the stars through a telescope, another hurried off to find the Poles;
hundreds were digging into the ground, ferreting in the air or under
the water. A large number fed animals, then killed and cooked them
when they had been fed enough. Hens laid eggs and eggs produced hens
that laid more eggs. There were always thousands hurrying along the
roads, then coming back again. The millions of living beings were
everywhere extremely busy after something, yet hardly any two of them
agreed exactly what it was they sought. There were sects, societies,
religions by the score, each one cocksure it knew and had found
Reality, yet proving by the continuous busy searching that it had not
found it. Yet all, oddly enough, fitted in together fairly well, as in
a gigantic Dance, though obviously none knew exactly what the tune
was, nor who played it. Would they never know? Would all die before
they found it? Were they all after the same thing, or after a lot of
different things? And why, in the name of goodness, couldn't they all
agree about it? Wasn't it, perhaps, that they looked in different
ways--all for the same thing? Surely the world had existed long enough
for _that_ to be settled finally--Reality! Time prevented always....

A moth fell with a soft and disconcerting plop upon the top of his
head, cannonaded thence against the window-sill, and shot out into the
night again. He came back with a start to _his_ reality: that he had
promised the children an Extra Day, that for twenty-four hours, in
spite of the paradox, Time should cease its driving hurry--and that,
for the moment at any rate, he was very sleepy and must go upstairs to
bed.

He rose, shook himself free of the curious reverie with a mighty yawn,
and looked at the gold watch from his waistcoat pocket. Out came a
number of other timepieces with it! And it was then that the
personality of Maria entered the room, and stood beside him, and said
distinctly, "This is _my_ particular adventure, please remember."

And he understood that whatever happened, it would happen according to
the gospel of Maria. Getting behind Time meant getting a little nearer
to Reality, one stage nearer at any rate. It meant entering the region
where she dwelt so serenely. It was her doing, and not his. He
realised in a flash that in her quiet way she was responsible and had
drawn them in, seduced them. All gravitated to her and into her
mysterious circle. Maria claimed them. It was certainly her particular
adventure. Only she would share it with them all.




CHAPTER XVI

TIME HALTS


He looked at his watch a second time, and found that it was later than
he had supposed--eleven o'clock. In the act of winding it, however, he
paused; something he had forgotten came back to him, and a curious
smile broke over his face. He stroked his beard, glanced at the
ceiling where the moths still banged and buzzed, then strolled over to
the open window, and said "Hm!" He put his head and shoulders out into
the air. And then he again said "Hm--m--m"--only longer than the first
time. It seemed as if some one answered him. That "Hm" floated off to
some one who was listening for it. Perhaps it was an echo that came
floating back. Perhaps it wasn't.

But any grown-up person who hesitates in an empty room of a country
house at eleven o'clock at night and murmurs "Hm" into the open air is
not in an ordinary state of mind. The normal thing is to put the
lights out and go up more or less briskly to bed. Uncle Felix was no
exception to this rule. His emotions, evidently, were not quite
normal.

He listened. The night was very still. The stars, like a shower of
golden rain arrested in full flight, paused in a flock and looked at
him, but in so deliberate a way that he was conscious of being looked
at. It was rather a delightful sensation, he thought; never before had
they seemed so intimate, so interested in his life. He was aware that
a friendly relationship existed between him and those far, bright,
twinkling eyes. "Hm" he murmured softly once again, then heard a sound
of wings rush whirring past his face, and next a chattering of birds
somewhere overhead among the heavy eaves. "So I'm not the only one
awake," he thought, and, for some odd reason, felt rather pleased
about it. "Sounds like swallows. I wonder!"

But he saw no movement anywhere; no wind stirred the ivy on the wall,
the limes were motionless, the earth asleep. Even the stream beyond
the laurel shrubberies ran silently. Dimly he made out the garden
lying at attention, the flower-beds like folded hands upon its breast;
and further off, the big untidy elms in pools of deeper shadow, their
outlines blurred as dreams blur the mind. Yet, though he could detect
no slightest movement, he was keenly aware that other things beside
the stars were looking at him. The night was full of carefully-
screened eyes, all fixed upon him. Framed in the lighted window, he
was so easily visible. Night herself, calm and majestic, gazed down
upon him through wide-open lids that filled the entire sky. He felt
the intentness of her steadfast gaze, and paused. He stopped. It
seemed that everything stopped too. So striking, indeed, was the
sensation, that he gave expression to it half aloud:

"It's slowing up," he murmured, "stopping!... I do believe! Hm!..."

There was no answer this time, no sign of echo anywhere, but he heard
an owl calling its muffled note from the Wood without a Centre.

"It's probably seen me too," he thought, and then it also stopped.

He waited a moment, hoping it would begin again, for he loved the
atmosphere of childhood that the sound invoked in him. But the flutey
call was not repeated. He drew his head in, closed and bolted the
window, fastened the shutters carefully and pulled the curtains over;
then he extinguished the lamps, lit his candle, and moved out softly
into the hall on his way upstairs. And for the first time in his life
he felt that in shutting the window he had not shut the beauty out.
The beauty of that watching, listening night had not gone away from
him by closing down the shutters. It was not lost. It stopped there.
This novel realisation was very queer and very exquisite. Regret did
not operate.

And he went along the passage, murmuring "Hm" over and over to
himself, for there seemed nothing more adequate that he could think
of. The servants had long since gone to bed; he alone was awake in the
whole big house. He moved cautiously down the long corridor towards
the green baize doors, fully aware that it was not the proper way
upstairs. He pushed them, and they swung behind him with a grunt that
repeated itself several times, lessening and shortening until it ended
in an abrupt puffing sound--and he found himself in a chilly corridor
of stone. It was very dark; the candle threw the shadow of his hand
down the gaping length in front of him. He went stealthily a few steps
further, then stopped opposite a closed door of white. For a moment he
held his breath, examining the panels by the light of the raised
candle; then turned the knob of brass, threw it wide open, and found
himself--in Mrs. Horton's kitchen.

The room was very warm. There was the curious, familiar smell of
brooms and aprons, of soap and soda, flavoured with brown sugar,
treacle, and a dash of toast and roasted coffee. The ashes still
glowed between the bars of the range like a grinning mouth. He put the
candle down and looked about him nervously. There was an awful moment
when he thought a great six-foot cook, with red visage and bare arms,
would rise and strike him with a ladle or a rolling-pin. In the faint
light he made out the white deal table in the centre, the rows of pots
and pans gleaming in mid-air, dish-cloths hanging on a string to dry,
layers of plates of various sizes on the shelves, and jugs suspended
by their handles at an angle ready for pouring out. He saw the dresser
with its huge, capacious drawers--the only drawers in the world that
opened easily, and were deep enough to be of value.

Also--there was a sound, the sound all kitchens have, steadily
tapping, clicking, ticking. He turned; he saw the familiar object
whence the sound proceeded. At the end of the great silent room,
upright like a sentry placed against the wall, stiff and rigid, he saw
a figure with a round and pallid face, staring solemnly at him through
the gloom. He stiffened and stood rigid too, listening to the tapping
noise that issued from its hollow interior of wood and iron. Watching
him with remorseless mien, the kitchen clock asked him for the
password. "Why not? Why not?" its ticking said distinctly.

The warmth was comforting. He sat down on the white deal table,
knowing himself an intruder, but boldly facing the tall monster that
guarded the deserted room and challenged him. "_You_ haven't stopped,"
he answered in his beard. "Why not?" And as he said it, a new
expression stole upon its hardened countenance, the challenge melted,
the obdurate stare relaxed. The quaint, grandfatherly aspect of
benevolence shone over it like a smile; it looked not only kind, but
contrite. He saw it as it used to be, ages and ages ago, when he was a
boy, sliding down the banisters towards it, or towards its counterpart
in the hall. It winked.

The ticking, too, became less aggressive and relentless, less sure of
itself, almost as though it were slowing up. There was a plaintive
note behind the metallic sharpness. The great kitchen clock also was
aware of a conspiracy hatching against Time....

And as he sat and listened to the machinery tapping away the seconds,
he heard a similar tapping in his brain that swung gradually into
rhythm with the clock. A pendulum in his mind was swinging, each swing
a little shorter than the one before; and he remembered that a dozen
pendulums in a room, starting at different lengths, ended by swinging
all together. "We're slowing up together--stopping!" murmured the two
pendulums. "Why not? Why not? Why not?..."

Presently both would cease, yet ceasing would be the beginning, not
the end. A state without end or beginning would supervene. Ticking
meant time, and time meant becoming; but beyond becoming lay the
bottomless sea of being, which was eternity. Maria floated there--
calm, quiet, serene, little globular Maria, circular, the perfect
form.

The Kitchen Spell rolled in upon him, smothering mind and senses.

It came at first so gradually he hardly noticed it, but it rose and
rose and rose, till at length he sat dipped to the eyes in it, and
then finally his eyes went under too. He was immersed, submerged. The
parochial vanished; he swam in the universal. He felt drowsy, soothed,
and very happy; his heart beat differently. Consciousness ran
fluttering along the edge of something hard that hitherto had seemed
an unsurpassable barrier. The barrier melted and let him through.

He rubbed his eyes and started. "That's the clock in Mrs. Horton's
kitchen," he tried to say, but the words had an empty and ridiculous
sound, as if there was no meaning in them. They flew about him in the
air like little butterflies trying to settle. They settled on one
meaning, only to flit elsewhere the next minute and settle on another
meaning. They could mean anything and everything. They did mean
everything. They meant _one_ thing. Finally they settled back into his
heart. And their meaning caught him by the throat in a most delicious
way. The air was full of tiny fluttering wings; he heard pattering
feet and little voices; hair tied with coloured ribbons brushed his
cheeks; and laughing, mischievous eyes like stars floated loose about
the ceiling. The Kitchen Spell grew mighty--irresistible... rising
over him out of a timeless Long Ago.

From the direction of the ghostly towel-horse it seemed to come. But
beyond the towel-horse was the window, and beyond the window lay the
open fields, and beyond the fields lay miles and miles of country
asleep beneath the stars; and this country stretched without a break
right up to the lonely wolds of distant Yorkshire where an old grey
house contained another kitchen, silent and deserted in the night. All
the empty kitchens of England were at this moment in league together,
but this old Yorkshire kitchen was the parent of them all--and thence
the Spell first issued. It was his own childhood kitchen.

And Uncle Felix travelled backwards against the machinery of Time that
cheats the majority so easily with its convention of moving hands and
ticking voice and bullying, staring visage. He slid swiftly down the
long banister-descent of years and reached in a flash that old sombre
Yorkshire kitchen, and stood, four-foot nothing, face smudged and
fingers sticky, beside the big deal table with the dying embers in the
grate upon his right. His heart was beating. He could just reach the
juicy cake without standing on a chair. He ate the very slice that he
had eaten forty years ago. It _was_ possible to have your cake and eat
it too!...

He gulped it down and sucked the five fingers of each hand in turn--
then turned to attack the staring monster that had tried to make him
believe it was impossible. He crossed the stone floor on tiptoe, but
with challenge in his heart, looked straight into its humbugging big
face, opened its carefully buttoned jacket--and took off the weights.

"Hm!" he murmured, with complacent satisfaction that included victory,
"I've stopped you!"

There was a curious, long-drawn sound as the machinery ran down; the
chains quivered, then hung motionless. There was disaster in the
sound, but laughter too--the laughter of the culprit caught in the
act, unmasked, exposed at last. "But I've had a good time these last
hundred years," he seemed to hear, with the obvious answer this
insolence suggested: "Caught! You're It!"--in a tone that was not
wholly unlike Maria's.

He turned and left the kitchen as stealthily as he had entered it. He
went along the cold stone corridor, through the green baize doors, and
so up the softly carpeted stairs to his bedroom. He undressed and
rolled solemnly between the sheets. He sighed deeply, but he did not
move again. He fell instantly into the right position for sleep.

But while he slept, the timeless night brought up its mystery. Moored
outside against the walls an Extra Day lay swinging from the stars.
The waves of Time washed past its sides, yet could not move it. The
wind was in the rigging; it lay at anchor, filling the sky with a
beauty of eternity. And above the old Mill House the darkness, led by
the birds, flowed on to meet the quivering Dawn.




CHAPTER XVII

A DAY HAS COME

MARIA'S PARTICULAR ADVENTURE


The day was hardly born, and still unsure of itself, when a robin with
its tail cocked up stood up alertly on the window-sill of Uncle
Felix's bedroom, peeped in through the open sash, and noticed the
objects in front of it with a certain deliberation.

These objects were half in shadow, but, unlike those it was most
familiar with, they did not move in the breeze that stirred the world
outside. The robin had just swung up from a lilac branch below. Its
toes were spread to their full extent for balancing purposes. It
peeped busily in all directions. Then, suddenly, a big object at the
far end of the darkened room moved slowly underneath a mass of white,
as Uncle Felix, aware that some one was watching him, rolled over in
his bed, opened his sleepy eyes, and stared. At the same moment the
robin twitched, and fixed its brilliant glance upon him. It had found
the particular object that it sought.

Uncle Felix, somewhat dazed by sleep and dreams, saw the tight, fat
body of the bird outlined against the open sky, but thought at first
it was an eagle or a turkey, until perspective righted itself, and
enabled him to decide that it was a robin only. He saw its scut tail
pointing. And, from the attitude of the bird, of its cocked-up tail,
the angle of its neck and head, to say nothing of the inquisitive way
it peeped sideways at him over the furniture, he realised that it had
come in with a definite purpose--a purpose that concerned himself. In
a word, it had something to communicate.

"Odd!" he thought drowsily, as he met its piercing eye. "A robin in my
room at dawn! I wonder what it's up to?"

Then, remembering vaguely that he expected somebody or something out
of the ordinary, he made a peculiar noise that seemed to meet the
case: he tried to whistle at it. But his lips, being rather dry, made
instead a hissing sound that would have frightened most robins out of
the room at once. On this particular bird, however, the effect was
just the opposite. It hopped self-consciously on to the dressing-
table, fluttered next to the arm-chair, and the same second dropped
out of sight behind the end of the four-poster bed. It acted, that is,
with decision; it was making distinct advances.

He sat up then in order to see it better, and discovered it perched
saucily upon the toe of his evening shoe, looking deliberately into
his face as it rose above the bed-clothes.

"Come along," he said, making his voice as soft as possible, "and tell
me what you want."

His expression tried to convey that he was harmless, and he smiled to
counteract the effect of his bristling hair which stuck out at right
angles as it only can stick out on waking. He felt complimented by the
visit of the bird, and did not wish to frighten it. But the Robin,
accustomed to seeing scarecrows in the dawn, showed not the slightest
fear; on the contrary, it showed interest and a simple, innocent
affection too. It fluttered up on to the rail between the bed-posts,
almost within reach of his stretched-out hand; its flexible toes
clutched the bar as though it were a twig; it moved first two inches
to the right, then two inches to the left again, then held steady. It
next flicked its tail, and cocked its small head sideways, as if about
to deliver a speech or message it had learned by heart; stared
intently into the bearded human visage close in front of it; abruptly
opened its wings; whirred them with a rapidity that made a sound like
a shower of peas striking a taut sheet; and then, with a single,
exquisitely-chosen curve--vanished through the open window and was
gone.

"Well," murmured the confused and astonished man, "if anything means
anything, that does. Only, I wonder what it _does_ mean!"

He was a little startled, and he remained in a sitting position for
some minutes, staring at the open window, and hoping the robin would
return. Somehow he did not think it would, but he hoped it might. The
robin, however, made no sign. And, meanwhile, the dawn slipped higher
up the sky, showing the groups of trees with greater sharpness. A
draught of morning air came in.

"The dawn!" he thought; "how marvellous! Perhaps the robin came to
show me that." He sniffed the fresh perfume of dew and leaves and
earth that rise for a moment with the early light, then fade away. "Or
that!" he added, pausing to enjoy the delicate fragrance. "But for the
bird I should have slept, and missed them both. I wonder!"

He wished he were dressed and out upon the lawn; but the bed was
enticing, and it was no easy thing to get up and wash and put on
eleven separate articles of clothing. What a pity he was not dressed
like a bird in one garment only! What a pity he could not wash himself
by flying through a rushing shower of sweet rain! By the time his
clothes were on, and he had made his way downstairs, and unlocked the
big chained doors, all this strange, wild emotion would have
evaporated. If only he could have landed with a single curve among the
flower-beds, as the robin did! Besides, he would feel hungry, and a
worm...!

The warmth of the bed crept upwards towards his eyes; the eyelids
dropped of their own accord; his weight sank slowly downwards; the
pillow was smooth as cream. He remembered Judy saying once that, if a
war came, she would go out and "soothe pillows." A pillow was, indeed,
a very soothing thing. His head sank backwards into a mass of feathery
sensations like a flock of dreams. He drew a long, deep breath. He
began to forget a number of things, and to remember a number of other
things. They mingled together, they became indistinguishable. What
were they? He could make a selection--choose those he liked best, and
leave the others--couldn't he? Why not, indeed? Why not?

One was that the clocks had stopped for twenty-four hours and that an
extra, unused day was dawning; another, that To-day was Sunday. He
could make his choice. Yet all days, surely, were unused till they
came! True; but clocks decreed and regulated their length. _This_
Extra Day, having been overlooked long ago, was beyond the reach of
measuring clocks. No clocks had ever ticked it into passing. It could
never pass. Only the present passed. The Past, to which this day
belonged, remained where it was, endless, beginningless, self-
repeating. He chose it without more ado. And the robin had come to
mention something about it. Its small round body was full, its head
tight packed with what it had to tell. It was bursting with
information. But what--?

And then he realised abruptly another thing: It _had_ delivered its
message.

The presence of the bird had announced a change of conditions in the
room, a change in his heart and brain as well. But how? He was too
drowsy to decide quite; yet in some way the robin had brought in with
it the dawn of an unusual day, a kind of bird-day, light as a feather,
swift as a flashing wing, spontaneous--air, freedom, escape, sweet
brilliance, a thing of flowers, winds, and beauty, a thing of
innocence and captivating loveliness, a happy, dancing day. He felt a
new sort of knowledge pass darting through him, a new point of view,
almost a bird's-eye aspect of old familiar things--joy. That neat,
sharp beak had pricked his imagination into swifter life. The meaning
of the bird's announcement flowed with delicate power all through his
drowsy body. It summed itself up in this:--Somebody, Something, long
expected, at last was coming....

And then he incontinently fell asleep. He lost consciousness. But,
while he lay heavily upon his soothing pillow, the marvellous Dawn
slid higher up the sky, and the robin popped up once upon the window-
sill again, glanced sideways at him with approval, then flashed away
so close above the soaking lawn that the dew-drops quivered as it
passed. Apparently, it was satisfied.

At the same moment, in another part of the old house, Tim found his
sleep disturbed in a similar fashion; a shrill twittering beneath the
eaves mingled with his dreams. He shook a toe and wrinkled up his
nose. He woke. His bedroom, being on the top floor, was lighter than
those below; there were no trees to cast shadows or obstruct the dawn.

Tim rubbed his eyes, yawned, scratched, then pattered over to the
window to see what all the noise was about. In his night-shirt he
looked like a skinny bird with folded wings of white, as he leaned
forward and stuck his head out into the morning air. Upon the strip of
back-lawn below, the swallows, who had been chattering so loudly
overhead, stood in an active group. Clutching the cold iron bars, and
resting his chin upon the topmost one, he watched them. He had never
before seen swallows on the ground like that; he associated them with
the upper sky. It was odd to see them standing instead of flying;
their behaviour seemed not quite normal; there was commotion of an
unusual kind among them. A grey cat, stalking them warily down the
stable path, came near yet did not trouble them; they felt no alarm.
They strutted about like a lot of black-frocked parsons at a congress;
they looked as if they had hands tucked behind their pointed coat-
tails. They were talking among themselves--discussing something. And
from time to time they shot upward glances at the window just above
them--at himself.

"I believe they want me to look at something or other," the boy
thought vaguely. It seemed as if he had picked them out of a dream and
put them there upon the lawn. He felt dazed and happy; he had been
dreaming of curious wild things. Where was he? What had happened? "It
feels just like something coming," he decided, "or somebody. Some
one's about in the grounds, perhaps...!"

It was very exciting to be awake at such an unearthly hour; the sun
was still below the edge of the gigantic earth! A great, slow thrill
stole up into his heart. He noticed the streaks of colour in the sky,
and felt the chilly wind. "It's sunrise!" he exclaimed, rubbing one
naked foot against the other; "that's what it is. And I'm up to see
it!"

The thrill merged into a deep, huge sense of wonder that enthralled
him. At the same moment the swallows, disturbed by his voice, looked
up with one accord, then rose in a single sweep and whirled off into
the upper air, wings faintly tinged with gold. They scattered. Tim
watched them for a little while, dimly aware that he watched something
"perfectly magnificent." His eyes followed one bird after another,
caught in a sudden little rapture he could not understand... then
turned and saw his bed, flushed with early pink, across the room. With
a running jump he landed among the sheets, rolled himself up into a
ball, and promptly fell asleep again. It was not yet four o'clock.

Across the landing, meanwhile, Judy, wakened by a brush of feathery
wind, was at her window too. She felt very sure of something, although
she didn't in the least know what. It was the same thing that Tim and
Uncle Felix knew, only they knew they didn't know it, whereas she
didn't know she knew it. Her knowledge, therefore, was greater than
theirs.

The room was touched with soft grey light; it was to the west, and the
night still clung about the furniture. Like a ball in a saucer, Maria
lay asleep in bed against the opposite wall, her neutrality to all
that was going on absolute as usual. But Judy did not wake her, she
preferred to live alone; she knew that she was alive in her night-gown
between night and morning, and that was an unusual pleasure she wished
to enjoy without interference. For months she had not waked before
half-past seven. The excitement of the unfamiliar was in her heart.
She had caught the earth asleep--surprised it. For the first time in
her life she saw "the Earth." She discovered it.

She knelt on a chair beside the open window, peering out, and as she
did so, a strange, wild cry came sounding through the stillness. It
was like a bugle-call, but she knew no human lips had made it. She
glanced quickly in the direction whence it came--the pond--and the
next instant the reeds about the edge parted and the thing that had
emitted the curious wild cry emerged plainly into view. It was a
pompous-looking creature. It came out waddling.

"It's the up-and-under bird," exclaimed Judy in a whisper.
"Something's happening!"

It was a water-fowl, a creature whose mysterious habit of living upon
the surface of the pond as well as underneath made the children's
nick-name a necessity. And now it was attempting a raid on land as
well. But land was not its natural place. Something certainly had
happened, or was going to happen.

"It's a snopportunity," decided Judy instantly. Far more than an
opportunity, a snopportunity was something to be snapped up quickly,
the sort of thing that ordinarily happened behind one's back, usually
discovered too late to be made use of. "I've caught it!" She
remembered that the clocks had stopped, yet not knowing why she
remembered it. It was the thing she didn't know she knew. She knew it
before it happened. That was a snopportunity.

She watched the heavy bird for a considerable time as it slowly
appropriated the land it had no right to. It moved, she thought, like
a twisted drum on very short drumsticks. It had a water-logged
appearance. It was bird and fish ordinarily, but now it was pretending
to be animal as well--a thing that flew, swam, walked. Its webbed feet
patted the ground complacently. It came laboriously towards the wall
of the house, then halted. It paused a moment, then turned its eyes
up, while Judy turned hers down. The pair of creatures looked at one
another steadily for several seconds.

"You're not out for nothing," exclaimed Judy audibly. "So now I know!"

The reply was neither in the affirmative nor in the negative. The up-
and-under bird said nothing. It made no sign. It just turned away,
stalked heavily back across the lawn without once looking either to
right or left, launched itself upon the water, uttered its queer
bugle-call for the last and second time, and promptly disappeared
below. The tilt of its vanishing tail expressed sublime indifference
to everything on land. And Judy, reflecting vaguely that she, too, was
something of an up-and-under creature, followed its example, though
without the same dispatch or neatness of execution. She tumbled
sideways into bed and disappeared beneath the sheets, aware that the
bird had left her richer than it found her. It had communicated
something that lay beyond all possible explanation. She had no tail,
nor did she express indifference. On the contrary, she hugged herself,
making sounds of pleasurable anticipation in her throat that lay
plunged among depths of soothing pillows.

It seems, then, that the entire household, the important portion of
it, at any rate, had been duly notified that something unusual was
afoot, and that the dawn of the day just breaking through a ghostly
sky was distinctly out of the ordinary. The birds, always the first to
wake, and provided with the most sensitive apparatus for recording
changes, had caught the mysterious whisper from the fading night; they
had instantly communicated it to the best of their ability to their
established friends. The robin, the swallows, and the up-and-under
bird, having accomplished their purpose, disappeared from view in
order to attend to breakfast and the arrangement of their own
subsequent adventures. Earth, air, and water had delivered messages.
The news had been flashed. Those who deserved it had been warned. The
day could now begin.

Maria, alone, meanwhile, slept on soundly, secure in that stodgy
immobility that takes no risks. Oblivious, apparently, of all secret
warnings of excitement or alarm, she lay in a tight round ball,
inactive, undisturbed. Even her breathing revealed her peculiar
idiosyncrasy: no actual movement on her surface was discernible. Her
breathing involved the least possible disturbance of the pink and
white contours that bulged the sheets and counterpane. Her face was
calm, expressionless, and even dull, yet wore a certain look as though
she knew so much that she had no need to maintain her position by the
least assertion. Exertion would have been a denial of her right to
exist. And exist she certainly did. The weight of her personality lent
balance to the quivering uncertainty of this mysterious dawn. Maria
remained an unassailable reality, an immovable centre round which
anything might happen, yet never end, and certainly no disaster come.
And Judy, glancing at her as she disappeared below her own sheets,
noted this fact without understanding that she did so. This was
another aspect of the thing she didn't know she knew.

"Maria's asleep," she felt, "so there's no need to get up yet. It's
all right!" In spite of the marvellous thing she knew was coming, that
is, she felt herself anchored safely to the firm reality of calm
Maria, soundly, peacefully asleep. And five minutes later she was in
the same desirable condition herself.

But, hardly were they all asleep, than a figure none of them had
noticed, yet all perhaps had vaguely felt, rose out of the little
ditch this side of the laurel shrubberies, and advanced slowly towards
the old Mill House. The shape was shadowy and indeterminate at first;
it might have been a bush, a sheaf of straw, a clump of high-grown
weeds, for birds fluttered just above it, and the swallows darted down
without alarm. A shaggy thing, it seemed part of the natural
landscape.

Half-way across the lawn, however, it paused and stretched itself; it
rubbed its eyes; it yawned; and, as it shook the sleep from face and
body, the outline grew distinctly clearer. The thing that had looked
like a bundle of hay or branches resolved itself into a human being;
the loose untidiness gave place to definite shape, as leaves, grass,
twigs, and wisps of straw fell fluttering from it to the ground. It
was a pathetic and yet wonderful sight, beauty, happiness, and peace
about it somewhere, together with a soft and tender sweetness that
tempered the wildness of its aspect. Indescribably these qualities
proclaimed themselves. It was a man.

"They've seen me twice," he mentioned to the dipping swallows. "This
is my third appearance. They'll recognise me without a word. The Day
has come."

He stood a moment, shaking the extras of the night from hair and
clothing, then laughed with a sound like running water as the birds
swooped down and carried the straws and twigs away with a great
business of wings. Next, glancing up at the open windows of the house,
he started forward with a light but steady step. "They will not be
surprised," he said, "for they have always believed in me. They knew
that some day I should come, and in the twinkling of an eye!" He
paused and chuckled in his beard. "I'm not _the_ one thing they're
expecting, but I'm next door to it, and I can show them how to look at
any rate."

And he began softly humming the words of a little song he had
evidently made up himself, and therefore liked immensely. He neared
the walls; the sunrise tipped a happy, glorious face; he disappeared
from view as though he had melted through the old grey stone. And a
flight of swallows, driven by the fresh dawn wind, passed high
overhead across the heavens, leading the night away. They swung to the
rhythm of his little song:

 My secret's in the wind and open sky,
   There is no longer any Time--to lose;
 The world is young with laughter; we can fly
   Among the imprisoned hours as we choose.

 The rushing minutes pause; an unused day
   Breaks into dawn and cheats the tired sun;
 The birds are singing. Hark! Come out and play!
   There is no hurry! Life has just begun!




THE EXTRA DAY

BEHIND _TIME_


I


The day broke. It broke literally. The sky gave way and burst asunder,
scattering floods of radiant sunshine. This was the feeling in Uncle
Felix's heart as he came downstairs to breakfast in the schoolroom. A
sensation of feathery lightness was in him, of speed as well: he could
rise above every obstacle in the world, only--there were no obstacles
in the world to rise above. Boredom, despair, and pessimism, he
suddenly realised, meant deficiency of energy merely. "Birds can rise
above everything--and so can I!"--as though he possessed a robin's
normal temperature of 110 degrees!

Although it was Sunday morning, and a dark suit was his usual custom,
he had slipped into flannels and a comfortable low collar, without
thinking about it one way or the other. "It's a jolly day," he hummed
to himself, "and I'm alive. We must do all kinds of things--
everything! It's all one thing really!" It seemed there was a new,
uplifting sense of joy in merely being alive. He repeated the word
again and again--"alive, alive, alive!" Of course a robin sang: it was
the natural thing to do.

He looked out of the window while dressing, and caught the startling
impression that this life emanated from the world of familiar trees
and grass and flowers spread out before his eyes. Everything was
singing. Beauty had dropped down upon the earth; the earth, moreover,
knew that she was beautiful--she was obviously enjoying herself, both
as a whole and in every tiniest nook and corner of her gigantic being.
Yet without undue surprise he noted this; the marvel was there as
always, but he did not pause to say, "How marvellous!" It was as
natural as breathing, and as easily accepted. He was always breathing,
but he never stopped and thought, "Good Lord, I'm breathing! How
dreadful if it stopped!" He simply went on breathing. And so, with the
beauty of this radiant morning, it never occurred to him "This will
not last, the sun will set, the shadows fall, the marvel pass and
die." That this particular day could end did not even suggest itself.

On his way down the passage, Judy and Tim came dancing from their
rooms to meet him. They, too, were dressed in their everyday-adventure
things, no special sign of Sunday anywhere about them--slipped into
their summery clothing as naturally as birds and flowers grow into the
bright and feathery stuff that covers them. This notion struck him,
but faintly; it was not a definite thought. He might as well have
noticed, "Ah, the sky is dressed in light, or mist! The wind blows it
into folds and creases!" Yet the notion did strike him with its little
dream-like hammer, because with it came a second tiny blow, producing,
it seemed, a soft blaze of light behind his eyes somewhere: "I've
recovered the childhood sense of reality, the vivid certainty, the
knowledge!... Somebody's coming.... Somebody's here--hiding still,
perhaps, yet nearer..." It flashed like a gold-fish in some crystal
summer fountain... and was gone again.

In the passage Judy touched his hand, and said confidingly, "You will
take me to the end of the world to-day, Uncle."

It was true and possible. No special preparation was required for any
journey whatsoever. They were already prepared for anything--like
birds. And some one, it seemed, had taken his name away!

"We'll do everything at once," said Tim, with the utmost assurance in
tone and manner.

"Of course," was his obvious and natural reply to each, no
explanations or conditions necessary. Things would happen of
themselves, spontaneously. There was only one thing to do! "We're
alive," he added. They just looked at him as he said it, then pulled
him down the passage a little faster than before. Yet the way they ran
dancing along that oil-cloth passage held something of the joy and
confidence with which birds launch themselves into flight across the
earth. There was this sense of spontaneous excitement and delight
about.

"He's here already," Judy whispered, as they neared the breakfast
room. "I can feel it."

"Came in while we were asleep," her brother added. "I know it," and he
clapped his hands.

"At dawn, yes," agreed Uncle Felix, saying it on the spur of the
moment. He was perplexed a little, perhaps, but did not hesitate. He
had not _quite_ the assurance of the others. He meant to let himself
go, however.

There was not the slightest doubt or question anywhere; _they_
believed because they knew; what they had expected for so long had
happened. The Stranger in the Tea-cup had arrived at last. They went
down the long corridor of the Old Mill House, every window open to the
sunshine that came pouring in. The very walls seemed made of
transparent, shining paper. The world came flowing in. A happiness of
the glowing earth sang in their veins. At the door they paused a
second.

"I know exactly who he is," breathed Judy softly.

"I know what he looks like," whispered Tim.

"There was never time to see him properly before," said Uncle Felix.
"Things went by so fast. He whizzed and vanished. But now--of course-"

They pushed the door open and went in.

Breakfast was already laid upon the shining cloth; hot dishes steamed;
there were flowers upon the table, and climbing roses peeped in round
the grey walls of sun-baked stone. A bird or two hopped carelessly
upon the window-sill, and a smell of earth and leaves was in the air.
Sunshine, colour, and perfume filled the room to overflowing, yet not
so full that there was not ample space for the "somebody" who had
brought them. For somebody certainly was there--some one whom the
children, moreover, took absolutely for granted.

There had been surprise outside the door, but there was none when they
were in. Something like a dream, it seemed, this absence of
astonishment, though, of course, no one took it in that way. For, at
first, no one spoke at all. The children went to their places, lifting
the covers to see what there was to eat. They did the normal, natural
thing; eyed and sniffed the porridge, cream, brown sugar, and
especially approved the dish of comfortable, fat poached eggs on
toast. They were satisfied with what they saw; everything was as it
ought to be--plentiful, available, on hand. There was enough for
everybody.

But Uncle Felix paused a moment just inside the open door, and stared;
he looked about him as though the incredible thing had really happened
at last. A rapt expression passed over his face, and his eyes seemed
fixed upon something radiant that hung upon the air. He sighed, and
caught his breath. His heart grew amazingly light within him. Every
thought and feeling that made up his personality--so it felt, at
least--had wings of silver tipped with golden fire.

"At last!" he murmured softly to himself, "at last!"

He moved forward slowly into the room, his eyes still fixed on
vacancy. The face showed exquisite delight, but the lips were
otherwise dumb. He looked as if he had caught a glimpse of something
he could not utter.

"Porridge, please, Uncle," he heard a voice saying, as some one put a
large silver spoon into his hand. "I like the hard lumps." And another
voice added, "I like the soupy, slippery stuff, please." He pulled
himself together with an effort.

"Ah," he mumbled, peeping from the dishes at the children's faces,
"the tea has stopped turning in the cup at last. He's come up to the
surface."

And they turned and looked at him, but without the least surprise
again; it was perfectly natural, it seemed, that there should be this
Presence in the room; their Uncle's remark was neither here nor there.
He had a right to express his own ideas in his own way if he wanted
to. Their own remarks outside the door they had apparently forgotten.
That, indeed, was already a very long time ago now. In the full bliss
of realisation, anticipation was naturally not remembered. The
excitement in the passage belonged to some dim Yesterday--almost when
they were little.

They began immediately to talk _at_ the Stranger in the room.

"I didn't _hear_ anybody come," remarked Tim, as he mixed cream and
demerara sugar inside an artificial pool of porridge, "but it's all
the same--now. Our Somebody's here all right." And then, between
gulps, he added, "The swallows laid an awful lot of eggs in the night,
I think."

"On tiptoe just at dawn," remarked Judy casually, following her own
train of thought, and intent upon chasing a slippery poached egg round
and round her plate at the same time. "The birds were awake, of
course."

The birds! As she said it, a memory of some faint, exquisite dream, of
years and years ago it seemed, fled also on tiptoe through the bright,
still air, and through three listening hearts as well. The robin, the
swallows, and the up-and-under bird made secret signs and vanished.

"They know everything first, of course," said Uncle Felix aloud;
"they're up so early, aren't they?" To himself he said, "I'm dreaming!
This is a dream!" his reason still fluttering a little before it died.
But he kept his secret about the robin tightly in its hiding-place.

"Before they've happened--_really_," Tim mentioned. "They do a thing
to-morrow long before to-morrow's come." He knew something the others
could not possibly know.

"Everything comes from the air, you see," advanced Judy, secure in the
memory of her private morning interview. "But it can disappear under--
underneath when it wants to."

"Or into a hole," agreed Tim.

And somebody in that breakfast-room, somebody besides themselves,
heard every word they spoke, listened attentively, and understood the
meanings they thought they hid so cleverly. They knew, moreover, that
he did so.

"Let's pretend," Tim suddenly exclaimed, catching his sister's eye
just as it was wandering into the pot of home-made marmalade.

"All right," she said at once, "same as usual, I suppose?"

Tim nodded, glancing across the table. "Sitting next to _you_, Uncle"
--he pointed to the unoccupied chair and unused plate--"in that empty
place."

"Thank you," murmured the man, still hovering between reality and
dream. He said it shyly. It was all too marvellous to ask questions
about, he felt.

"It's a lovely morning," continued Judy politely, smiling at the empty
place. "Will you have tea and coffee, or milkhotwaterandsugar?" She
listened attentively for the answer, the smile of a duchess on her
rosy face, then bowed and handed a lump of sugar to Tim, who set it
carefully in the middle of the plate.

"Butter or honey?" inquired the boy, "or butter and honey?" He, too,
waited for the inaudible reply, then asked his Uncle to pass the pot
of honey _and_ the butter-dish. The Stranger, apparently, liked sweet
things best--at any rate, natural things.

They went on with their breakfast then, eating as much as ever they
could hold, talking about everything in the world as usual, and
occasionally bowing to the empty chair, addressing remarks to it, and
listening to--answers! Sometimes they passed things, too--another lump
of sugar, more drops of honey, a thick blob of clotted cream as well.
It was obvious to them that somebody occupied that chair, so real,
indeed, that Uncle Felix found himself passing things and making
observations about the weather and even arranging a few crumbs of
bread in a row beside the other delicacies. It was the right thing to
do evidently; acting spontaneously, he had performed an inspired
action. And the odd thing was that the food, lying in the blaze of
sunlight on the plate, slowly underwent a change: the sugar got
smaller in size, the honey-drops diminished, the blob of cream lost
its first circumference, and even the bread-crumbs seemed to dwindle
visibly.

"It's very hot this morning," said Judy after a bit. "The sun's
hungrier than usual," and she pushed the plate into the shade. But it
was clear that she referred to some one other than the sun, although
the sun belonged to what was going on. "Thirsty, too," she added,
"although there are bucketsful of dew about."

"And extra bright into the bargain," declared Tim. "I love shiny stuff
like that to wear and dress in. It fits so easily--no bothering
buttons."

"And doesn't wear out or stain, does it?" put in Uncle Felix, saying
the first thing that came into his head--and again behaving in the
appropriate, spontaneous manner. It was clear that the Stranger--to
them, at least--was clothed in the gold and silver of the brilliant
morning. There was a delicate perfume, too, as of wild flowers and
sweet little roadside blossoms. The very air of the room was charged
with some living light and beauty brought by the invisible guest. It
was passing wonderful. The invading Presence seemed all about them
like a spreading fire of loveliness and joy--yet natural as sunshine.

Then, suddenly, Tim sprang up from his chair, and ran to the empty
seat. His face shone with keen and eager expectancy, but wore a touch
of shyness too.

"I want to be like you," he said in a hushed voice that had all the
yearning of childhood breaking through it. "Please put your hand on
me." He lowered his head and closed his eyes. He made an odd grimace,
half pleasure and half awe, like a boy about to plunge into a pool of
water,--then stood upright, proud and delighted as any victorious
king. He drew a long breath of relief. He seemed astonished that it
had been so easily accomplished.

"I'm full of it!" he cried. "I'm burning! He touched me on the head!"

"Touched!" cried Judy, full herself of joy and happy envy.

The boy nodded his head, as though he would nod it off on to the
tablecloth. He looked as if any minute he might burst into flame with
the sheer enjoyment of it. "Warm all over," he gasped. "I could strike
a match on my trousers now like Weeden."

Then, while Uncle Felix rubbed his eyes and did his best to see the
invisible, Judy sprang lightly from her chair, ran up to the vacant
place, put out her arms and bent her face down so that her falling
torrent of hair concealed it for a moment. She certainly put her arms
round--something. The next minute she straightened up again with
triumph and tumult in her shining eyes.

"I kissed him," she announced, flushed like any rose, "and he kissed
me back. He blew the wind into my hair as well. I'm flying! I'm
lighter than a feather!" And she went, dancing and flitting, round the
table like a happy bird.

Then Uncle Felix rose sedately from his seat. He did not mean to be
left out of all this marvellous business merely because his body was a
little older and more worn. He stretched his arm across the table,
missing the cream-jug by a narrow margin, but knocking the toast-rack
over in his eagerness. He held his hand out to the empty chair.

"Please take my hand," he said, "and let me have something too."

He went through the pantomime of shaking hands, but to his intense
amazement it seemed that there was an answering clasp. A smooth, soft
running touch closed gently on his own; it was cool and yielding,
delicate as the down upon a robin's breast, yet firm as steel. And in
that moment he knew that his glimpse on entering the room was not a
trick, but had been a passing glimpse of what the children always
believed in, hoped for--saw.

"Thank you," he murmured, withdrawing his hand and examining it, "very
much indeed. This _is_ a beautiful day."

An extraordinary power came into him, a feeling of confidence and
security and joy he had never known before. Yet all he could find to
say was that it was a very beautiful day. The commonest speech
expressed exactly what he felt. Ordinary words at last had meaning,
small words could tell it.

"It's all right?" remarked Tim, in an excited but quite natural tone.

"It _is_," he answered.

"Then let's go out now and do all sorts of things. There's simply
heaps to do."

"Out into the sun," cried Judy. "Come on. We'll get into our old
garden boots." And she dragged her brother headlong out of the room.




THE STRANGER WHO IS WONDER

II


And Uncle Felix moved forward into the pool of sunlight that blazed
upon the faded carpet pattern. It was composed of round, fat trees,
this pattern, with birds like goblin peacocks flying in mid-air
between them. The sunshine somehow lifted them, so that they floated
upon the quivering atmosphere; the pattern seemed to hover between him
and the carpet. And he too felt himself lifted--in mid-air--part of
the day and sunshine.

He closed his eyes; he tried to realise who and where he was; all he
could remember, however, went into a single sentence and kept
repeating itself on the waves of his singing, dancing blood: "Clock's
stopped, clock's stopped,--stopped clocks, stopped clocks...!" till it
sounded like a puzzle sentence--then lost all meaning.

He sat down in a chair, but the chair was next to the "empty" one, and
from it something poured into him, over him, round him, as wind pours
about a bird or tree. He became enveloped by it; his mind began to
rush, yet rushed in a circle, so that he never entirely lost sight of
it. Another set of words replaced the first ones: "Behind Time, behind
Time," jostling on each other's heels, tearing round and round like a
Catherine Wheel, shining and dancing as they spun.

He opened his eyes and looked about him. The room was full of wonder.
It glistened, sparkled, shone. A million things, screened hitherto
from sight by thick clouds of rushing minutes, paused and offered
themselves; things that were commonplace before stood still, revealed
in startling glory. They no longer raced past at headlong speed.
Visible at last, unmasked, they showed themselves as they really were,
in naked beauty. This beauty settled on everything in golden rain, it
settled on himself as well. All that his eyes rested on looked--
distinguished....

And, like snow-flakes, words and thoughts came thickly crowding, like
flakes of fire too. He snatched at them, caught them in bunches, tried
to sort them into sentences. They were everywhere about him, showering
down as from a box of cardboard letters overturned in the sky. The
reality he sought hid among them as a whole--he knew that--but no mere
sequence of words and letters could quite capture this reality.

He plunged his hands among the flying symbols....

In a flash a number of things--an enormous number of things--became
extraordinarily clear and simple; they became one single thing. Then,
while reason and vision still fluttered to and fro, like a pair of
butterflies, first one and then the other leading, he dashed in
between them. He seized handfuls of the flying letters and made the
queerest sentences out of them, longer and faster-moving than the
first ones.

"Time _is_ the arch-deceiver. It drives things past us in a hurrying
flock. We snatch at them. And those we miss seem lost for ever because
some one calls out, in a foolish voice of terror and regret, 'Too
late!' Yet, in reality, _we_ stand still; the rush of the hours is a
sham. We see things out of proportion, like trees from the window of a
train, their beauty hidden in a long, thick smudge. _We_ do not move;
it is the train that hurries us along: the trees are always steadily
there--and beautiful. There is enough of everything for everybody--no
need to try and get there first. To hurry is to chase your tail, which
some one has suggested does not belong to you. It can never be
captured by pursuit. But pause--stand still--it instantly presents
itself, twitches its tip, and laughs: 'I've been here all the time.
I'm part of you!'"

He turned towards the empty chair and smiled. The smile, he felt, came
marvellously back to him from the sunshine and the open world of sky
and trees beyond. There was some one there who smiled--invisibly.

"You're real, quite real," the letters danced instantly into new
sentences. "But you are so awfully close to me--so close I cannot see
you."

He felt the invisible Stranger suddenly as real as that. There was
only one thing to see--only one thing everywhere. The beauty of the
discovery put reason utterly and finally to flight. But that one thing
was hiding. The Stranger concealed himself--he hid on purpose. He
wanted to be looked for--found. And the heart grew "warm" or "cold"
accordingly: when it was warm that mysterious anticipation stirred--
"Some one is coming!"

And Uncle Felix, sitting in the sunlight of that breakfast-room,
understood that the entire universe formed a conspiracy to hide "him."
Some one, indeed, had come, slipped into the gorgeous and detailed
clothing of the entire world as easily as birds and trees slip into
their own particular clothing, planning with Time to hide him, wanting
to play a little--to play at Hide-and-Seek. "Let them all look for me!
I'm hiding!..."

Yet so few would play! Instead of coming out to find him where he hid
so simply in the open, they built severe and gloomy edifices; invented
Rules of the game by which each could prove himself right and all the
others wrong.... Oh, dear!... And all the time, _he_ hid there in the
open before their very eyes--in the wind, the stream, the grass, in
the sunlight and the song of birds, and especially behind little
careless things that took no thought ... waiting to play and let
himself be found... while songs and poems and fairy-tales, even
religious too, cried endlessly across the world, "Look and you'll find
him." There _was_ only one thing to say: "Search in the open; he hides
there!"

Everything became clear and simple--one thing, Life was a game of
Hide-and-Seek. There were obstacles placed in the way on purpose to
make it more interesting. One of them was Time. But everything was one
thing, and one thing only; a peacock and a policeman were the same, so
were an elephant and a violet, an uncle and a bee, a Purple Emperor
and a child like Tim or Judy: all did, said, lived one and the same
thing only. They looked different--because one looked _at_ them
differently.

Smiling happily to himself again as the letters grouped themselves
swiftly into these curious sentences, he heard the birds singing in
the clean, great sky... and it seemed to him that the Stranger blew
softly upon his eyes and hair. The sentences instantly telescoped:
"Come, look for me! There is no hurry; life has just begun...." And he
barely had time to realise that the entire complicated mass of them
had, after all, only this one thing to say... when the returning
children bursting into the room scattered his long reverie, and the
last cardboard letter disappeared like magic into empty space.

"Where is he?" cried Tim at once, staring impatiently about him. There
was rebuke and disappointment in his eyes. "Uncle, you've been
arguing. He's gone!"

Judy was equally quick to seize the position of affairs. "You've
frightened him away!" she declared with energy. "Quick! We must go out
and look!"

"Yes," muttered their uncle a little guiltily, and was about to add
something by way of explanation when he felt Judy pull his sleeve.
"Look!" she whispered. "He can't have gone so _very_ far!"

She pointed to the plate with the sugar, honey, cream, and crumbs upon
it; a bird was picking up the crumbs, a wasp was on the lump of sugar,
a bee beside it, standing on its head, was drinking at the drop of
honey; all were unafraid, and very leisurely about it; there seemed no
hurry; there was enough for every one. Then, as the trio of humans
stared with delight, they saw another guest arrive and dance up gaily
to the feast. A gorgeous butterfly sailed in, hovered above the
crowded plate a moment, then settled comfortably beside its companions
and examined the blob of cream. The others moved a little to make room
for it. It was a Purple Emperor, the rarest butterfly in all England,
whose home was normally high above the trees.

"Of course," Judy whispered to her brother, as she watched the bee
make room for its larger neighbour; "they belong to him--"

"He sent them," replied Tim below his breath, "just to let us know--"

"Yes," mumbled Uncle Felix for the second time, a soft amazement
stealing over him. "He brought them. And they're all the same thing
really."

There was the perfume of a thousand flowers in the room. A faint
breeze floated through the open window and touched his eyes. He heard
the world outside singing in the sunshine. "Come along," he said in a
low, hushed whisper; "let's go and look." And he moved eagerly--over
the tree-and-peacock pattern.

They tiptoed out together, while the bird cocked up its head to watch
them go; the bee, still drinking, raised its eyes; and all four
fluttered their wings as though they laughed. They seemed to say
"There is no hurry! We're all alive together! There's enough for all;
no need to get there first!" _They_ knew. The golden day lay waiting
outside with overflowing beauty, and he who had brought them in stood
just behind this beauty that hid and covered them. When they had eaten
and drunk, they, too, would come and join the search. Exceedingly
beautiful they were--the shy grace of the dainty bird, the brilliant
wasp in black and gold, the soft brown bee, the magnificent Purple
Emperor, fresh from the open spaces above the windy forest: all said
the same big, joyful thing, "We are alive!... No hurry!..."

The trio flew down the passage, took the stairs in leaps and bounds,
raced across the hall where the back-door, standing open, framed the
lawn and garden in a blaze of sunshine.

And as Uncle Felix followed, half dancing like the other two, he saw a
little thing that vaguely reminded him of--another little thing. The
memory was vague and far away; there was a curious distance in it,
like the distance of a dream recalled in the day-light, no longer what
is called quite real. For his eye caught something gleaming on the
side-table below the presentation clock, and the odd, ridiculous word
that sprang into his mind was "salver." It was the silver salver on
which Thompson brought in visitors' cards. But it was a plate as well;
and, being a plate, he remembered vaguely something about a
collection. The association of ideas worked itself out in a remote and
dreamlike way; he felt in his pocket for a shilling, a sixpence, or a
threepenny bit, and wondered for a second where the big, dark building
was to which all this belonged. Something was changed, it seemed. His
clothes, this dancing sunshine, joy and laughter. The world was new.
What did it mean?...

"No bells are ringing," flashed back the flying letters in a spray.

He was on the point of catching something by the tail... when he saw
the children waiting for him on the sunny lawn outside. He ran out
instantly to join them. They had noticed nothing odd, apparently. It
had never even occurred to them. And in himself the memory dived away,
its very trail obliterated as though it had not been.

For this was Sunday morning, yet Sunday had not--happened.




HIDE-AND-SEEK

III


The garden clung close and soft about the Old Mill House as a mood
clings about the emotion that has summoned it. Uncle Felix, Tim, and
Judy were as much a part of it as the lilac, hyacinths, and tulips.
Any minute, it seemed, the butterflies and bees and birds might settle
on them too.

For a bloom of exquisite, fresh wonder lay upon the earth, lay softly
and secure as though it need never pass away. No fading of daylight
could dim the glory of all the promises of joy the day contained, no
hint of waning anywhere. "There is no hurry," seemed written on the
very leaves and blades of grass. "We're all alive together! Come and--
look!" The garden, lying there so gently in its beauty, hid a secret.

Yet, though all was so calm and peaceful, there was nowhere the
dulness of stagnation. Life brimmed the old-world garden with
incessant movement that flashed dancing and rhythm even into things
called stationary. The joy of existence ran riot everywhere without
check or hindrance; there was no time--to pause and die. For the
sunlight did not merely lie upon the air--it poured; wind did not
blow--it breathed, ambushed one minute among the rose-trees just above
the ground, and cantering next through the crests of the busy limes.
The elms and horse-chestnuts that ordinarily grew now leaped--leaped
upwards to the sun; while all flying things--birds, insects, bees, and
butterflies--passed in and out like darting threads of colour, pinning
the beauty into a patterned tapestry for all to see. The entire day
was charged with the natural delight of endless, sheer existence. It
was visible.

Each detail, moreover, claimed attention, as though never seen
properly before; no longer dulled by familiarity, but shaking off its
"ordinary" appearance, proud to be looked at, naked and alive. The
rivulet ran on, but did not run away; the gravel paths, soft as rolled
brown sugar, led somewhere, but led in both directions, each of them
inviting; the blue of the sky did not stay "up there and far away,"
but dropped down close in myriad flakes, lifting the green carpet of
the lawn to meet it. The day seemed like a turning circle that changed
every moment to show another aspect of its gorgeous pattern, yet,
while changing, only turned, unable to grow older or to pass away.
There was something real at last, something that could be known,
enjoyed--something of eternity about it. It was real.

"Wherever has he got to?" exclaimed Judy, trying to pierce the
distances of earth and sky with distended eyes. "He can't be very far
away, because--I kissed him."

Tim, sitting beside her on the grass, felt the exquisite mystery of it
too. It was marvellous that any one could vanish in such a way. But he
hesitated too. He felt uncertain about something. His thoughts flew
off to that strange wood he loved to play in. He remembered the
warning: "Beware the centre, if you enter; For once you're _there_,
you disappear!" But this explanation did not appeal to him as likely
now. He stared at Judy and his uncle. Some one _had_ touched him,
making him warm and happy. He remembered that distinctly. He had
caught a glimpse--though a glimpse too marvellous to be seen for long,
even to be remembered properly. "But there's no good looking unless we
know where to look," he remarked. "Is there?"

"He's just gone out like a candle," whispered Judy.

"Extror'nary," declared her brother, hugging the excitement that
thrilled his heart. "But he can't be really lost. I'm sure of that!"

And a great hush fell upon them all. Some one, it seemed, was
listening; some one was watching; some one was waiting for them to
move.

"Uncle?" they said in the same breath together, then hung upon his
answer.

This authority hesitated a moment, looking about him expectantly as
though for help.

"I think," he stated shyly, "I think--he's--hiding."

Nothing more wonderful ever fell from grown-up lips. They had heard it
said before--but only said. Now they realised it.

"Hiding!" They stood up; they could see further that way. But they
waited for more detail before showing their last approval.

"Out here," he added.

They were not quite sure. They expected a disclosure more out of the
ordinary. It _might_ be true, but--

"Hide-and-seek?" they repeated doubtfully. "But that's just a game."
They were unsettled in their minds.

"Not _that_ kind," he replied significantly. "I mean the kind the rain
plays with the wind and leaves, the stream with the stones and roots
along its bank, the rivers with the sea. That's the kind of hide-and-
seek I mean!"

He chose instinctively watery symbols. And his tone conveyed something
so splendid and mysterious that it was impossible to doubt or hesitate
a moment longer.

"Oh," they exclaimed. "It never ends, you mean?"

"Goes on for ever and ever," he murmured. "The moment the river finds
the sea it disappears and the sea begins to look. The wind never
really finds the clouds, and the sun and the stars--"

"_We_ know!" they shouted, cutting his explanations short.

"Come on then!" he cried. "We've got the hunt of our lives before us."
And he began to run about in a circle like an animal trying to catch
its tail.

"But are we to look for him, or he for us?" inquired the boy, after a
preliminary canter over the flower-beds.

"We for him." They sprang to attention and clapped their hands.

"It's an enormous hide," said Tim. "We may get lost ourselves. Better
look out!"

And then they waited for instructions. But the odd thing was that
their uncle waited too. There was this moment's hesitation. They
looked to him. The old fixed habit asserted itself: a grown-up must
surely know more than they did. How could it be otherwise? In this
case, however, the grown-up seemed in doubt. He looked at them. It
_was_ otherwise.

"It's so long since I played this kind of hide-and-seek," he murmured.
"I've rather forgotten--"

He stopped short. There certainly was a difficulty. Nobody knew in
what direction to begin.

"It's a snopportunity," exclaimed Judy. "I'm sure of that!"

"We just look--everywhere!" cried Tim.

A light broke over their uncle's face as if a ray of sunshine touched
it. His mind cleared. Some old, forgotten joy, wonderful as the dawn,
burst into his heart, rose to fire in his eyes, flooded his whole
being. A glory long eclipsed, a dream interrupted years ago, an
uncompleted game of earliest youth--all these rose from their hiding-
place and recaptured him, soul and body. He glanced at the children.
These things he had recaptured, they, of course, had never lost; this
state and attitude of wonder was their natural prerogative; he had
recovered the ownership of the world, but they had possessed it
always. They knew the whole business from beginning to end--only they
liked to hear it stated. That was obviously his duty as a grown-up: to
stick the label on.

"Of course," he whispered, deliciously enchanted. "You've got it. It's
_the_ snopportunity! The great thing is to--look."

And, as if to prove him right, a flock of birds passed sweeping
through the air above their heads, paused in mid-flight, wheeled,
fluttered noisily a second, then scattered in all directions like
leaves whirled by an eddy of loose, autumn wind.

"Come on," cried Tim, remembering perhaps the "dodgy" butterfly and
trying to imitate it with his arms and legs. "I know where to go
first. Just follow me!"

"And there'll be signs, remember," Uncle Felix shouted as he followed.
"Whoever finds a sign must let the others know at once."

They began with the feeling that they would discover the Stranger in a
moment, sure of the places where he had tried cleverly to conceal
himself, but soon began to realise that this was no ordinary game, and
that he certainly knew of mysterious spots and corners they had never
dreamed about. It was as Tim declared, "an enormous hide." Come-Back
Stumper's cunning dive into bed was nothing compared to the skill with
which this hider eluded their keen searching. There was another
difference too. In Stumper's case their interest had waned, they felt
they had been cheated somehow, they knew themselves defeated and had
given up the search. But here the interest was unfailing; it increased
rather than diminished; they were ever on the very edge of finding
him, and more than once they shrieked with joy, "I've got him!"--only
to find they had been "very hot" but not quite hot enough. It was,
like everything else upon this happy morning, endless.

It continued and continued, as naturally as the rivulet that ran for
ever downhill to find the sea, that nothing, it seemed, could put a
stop to, much less an end. The feeling that time was passing utterly
disappeared; weeks, months, and years lay waiting somewhere near, but
could be left or taken, used or not used, as they pleased. To take a
week and use it was like picking a flower that looked much prettier
growing sweetly in the sunny earth. Why pick it? It came to an end
that way! The minutes, the hours and days, morning, noon and night as
well, the very seasons too, offered themselves, and--vanished. They
did not come and go, they were just "there"; and to steal into one or
other of them at will was like stealing into one mood after another as
the heart decreed. They were mere counters in the gorgeous and
unending game. They helped to hide the mysterious Stranger who was
evidently in the centre round which all life lay grouped so
marvellously. They hid and covered him as moods hide and cover the
heart that wears them--temporarily. Uncle Felix and the children used
them somewhat in this way, it seems, for while they looked and hunted
in and out among them, any minute, day or season was recoverable at
will. They did not pass away. It was the seekers who passed through
them. To Uncle Felix, at any rate, it seemed a fact--this joyous
sensation of immense duration, yet of nothing passing away: the bliss
of utter freedom. He gasped to realise it. But the children did not
gasp. They had always known that nothing ever really came to an end.
"The weather's still here," he heard Judy calling across the lawn to
Tim--as though she had just been looking among December snowdrifts and
had popped back again into the fragrance of midsummer hayfields. "The
Equator's made of golden butterflies, all shining," the boy called
back, having evidently just been round the world and seen its gleaming
waist....

But none of them had found what they were looking for....

They had looked in all the difficult places where a clever player
would be most likely to conceal himself, yet in vain; there was no
definite sign of him, no footprints on the flower-beds or along the
edge of the shrubberies. The garden proper had been searched from end
to end without result. The children had been to the particular hiding-
places each knew best, Tim to the dirty nook between the ilex and the
larder window, and Judy to the scooped-out trunk of the rotten elm,
and both together to the somewhat smelly channel between the yew trees
and a disused outhouse--all equally untenanted.

In the latter gloomy place, in fact, they met. No sunlight pierced the
dense canopy of branches; it was barely light enough to see. Judy and
Tim advanced towards each other on tiptoe, confident of discovery at
last. They only realised their mistake at five yards' distance.

"You!" exclaimed Tim, in a disappointed whisper. "I thought it was
going to be a sign." "I felt positive he'd be in here somewhere," said
Judy.

"Perhaps we're both signs," they declared together, then paused, and
held a secret discussion about it all.

"He's got a splendid hide," was the boy's opinion. "D'you think Uncle
Felix knows anything? You heard what he said about signs...!"

They decided without argument that he didn't. He just went "thumping
about" in the usual places. He'd never find him. They agreed it was
very wonderful. Tim advanced his pet idea--it had been growing on him:
"I think _he_ knows some special place we'd never look in--a hole or
something." But Judy met the suggestion with superior knowledge: "He
moves about," she announced. "He doesn't stop in a hole. He flies at
an awful rate--from place to place. That's--signs, I expect."

"Wings?" suggested Tim.

Judy hesitated. "You remember--at breakfast, wasn't it?--ages and ages
ago--all had wings--those things--"

She broke off and pointed significantly at the figure of Uncle Felix
who was standing with his head cocked up at an awkward angle, staring
into the sky. Shading his eyes with one hand, he was apparently
examining the topmost branches of the tall horse-chestnuts.

"He couldn't have got up a tree, could he, or into a bird's nest?"
said the girl. She offered the suggestion timidly, yet her brother did
not laugh at her. There was this strange feeling that the hider might
be anywhere--simply anywhere. This was no ordinary game.

"There's such a lot," Tim answered vaguely.

She looked at him with intense admiration. The wonder of this
marvellous game was in their hearts. The moment when they would find
him was simply too extraordinary to think about.

Judy moved a step closer in the darkness. "Can he get small, then--
like that?" she whispered.

But the question was too much for Tim.

"Anyhow he gets about, doesn't he?" was the reply, the vagueness of
uncertain knowledge covering the disappointment. "There are simply
millions of trees and nests and--and rabbit-holes all over the place."

They were silent for a moment. Then Judy asked, still more timidly:

"I say, Tim?"

"Well."

"What does he really look like? I can't remember quite. I mean--shall
we recognise him?"

Tim stared at her. "My dear!" he gasped, as though the question almost
shocked him. "Why, he touched me--on the head! I felt it!"

Judy laughed softly; it was only that she wanted to remind herself of
something too precious to be forgotten.

"_I_ kissed him!" she whispered, a hint of triumph in her voice and
eyes.

They stood staring at one another for a little while, weighing the
proofs thus given; then Tim broke the silence with a question of his
own. It was the result of this interval of reflection. It was an
unexpected sort of question:

"Do you know what it is we want?" he asked. "I do," he added
hurriedly, lest she should answer first.

"What?" she said, seeing from his tone and manner that it was
important.

"We shall never, never find him this way," he said decisively.

"What?" she repeated with impatience.

Tim lowered his voice. "What we want," he said with the emphasis of
true conviction, "is--a Leader."

Judy repeated the word after him immediately; it was obvious; why
hadn't she thought of it herself? "Of course," she agreed. "That's it
exactly."

"We're looking wrong somewhere," her brother added, and they both
turned their heads in the direction of Uncle Felix who was still
standing on the lawn in a state of bewilderment, examining the
treetops. He expected something from the air, it seemed. Perhaps he
was looking for rain--he loved water so. But evidently he was not a
proper leader; he was even more bewildered than themselves; he, too,
was looking wrong somewhere, somehow. They needed some one to show
them how and where to look. Instinctively they felt their uncle was no
better at this mighty game than they were. If only somebody who knew
and understood--a leader--would turn up!

And it was just then that Judy clutched her brother by the arm and
said in a startled whisper, "Hark!"

They harked. Through the hum of leaves and insects that filled the air
this sweet June morning they heard another sound--a voice that reached
them even here beneath the dense roof of shrubbery. They heard words
distinctly, though from far away, rising, falling, floating across the
lawn as though some one as yet invisible were singing to himself.

For it was the voice of a man, and it certainly was a song. Moreover,
without being able to explain it exactly, they felt that it was just
the kind of singing that belonged to the kind of day: it was right and
natural, a fresh and windy sound in the careless notes, almost as
though it was a bird that sang. So exquisite was it, indeed, that they
listened spellbound without moving, standing hand in hand beneath the
dark bushes. And Uncle Felix evidently heard it too, for he turned his
head; instead of examining the tree-tops he peered into the rose trees
just behind him, both hands held to his ears to catch the happy song.
There was both joy and laughter in the very sound of it:

     My secret's in the wind and open sky;
     There is no longer any Time--to lose;
     The world is young with laughter; we can fly
     Among the imprisoned hours as we choose.
     The rushing minutes pause; an unused day
     Breaks into dawn and cheats the tired sun.
     The birds are singing. Hark! Come out and play!
     There is no hurry; life has just begun.

The voice died away among the rose trees, and the birds burst into a
chorus of singing everywhere, as if they carried on the song among
themselves. Then, in its turn, their chorus also died away. Tim looked
at his sister. He seemed about to burst--if not into song, then into a
thousand pieces.

"A leader!" he exclaimed, scarcely able to get the word out in his
excitement. "Did you hear it?"

"Tim!" she gasped--and they flew out, hand in hand still, to join
their uncle in the sunshine.

"Found anything?" he greeted them before they could say a word. "I
heard some one singing--a man, or something--over there among the rose
trees--"

"And the birds," interrupted Judy. "Did you hear them?"

"Uncle," cried Tim with intense conviction, "it's a sign. I do believe
it's a sign--"

"That's exactly what it is," a deep voice broke in behind them "--a
sign; and no mistake about it either."

All three turned with a start. The utterance was curiously slow; there
was a little dragging pause between each word. The rose trees parted,
and they found themselves face to face with some one whom they had
seen twice before in their lives, and who now made his appearance for
the third time therefore--the man from the End of the World: the
Tramp.




THE LEADER

IV


He was a ragged-looking being, yet his loose, untidy clothing became
him so well that his appearance seemed almost neat--it was certainly
natural: he was dressed in the day, the garden, the open air. Judy and
Tim ran up fearlessly and began fingering the bits of stuff that clung
to him from the fields and ditches. In his beard were some stray rose
leaves and the feather of a little bird. The children had an air of
sheltering against a tree trunk--woodland creatures--mice or squirrels
chattering among the roots, or birds flown in to settle on a hedge.
They were not one whit afraid. For nothing surprised them on this
marvellous morning; everything that happened they--accepted.

"He's shining underneath," Judy whispered in Tim's ear, cocking her
head sideways so that she could catch her brother's eye and at the
same time feel the great comfort of the new arrival against her cheek.

"And awfully strong," was the admiring reply.

"So soft, too," she declared--though whether of mind or body was not
itemized--"like feathers."

"And smells delicious," affirmed Tim, "like hay and rabbits."

Each child picked out the quality the heart desired and approved;
almost, it seemed, each felt him differently. Yet, although not one
whit afraid, they whispered. Perhaps the wonder of it choked their
utterance a little.

The Tramp smiled at them. All four smiled. The way he had emerged from
among the rose trees made them smile. It was as natural as though he
had been there all the time, growing out of the earth, waving in the
morning air and sunlight. There was something simple and very
beautiful about him, perhaps, that made them smile like this. Then
Uncle Felix, whom the first shock of surprise had apparently deprived
of speech, found his voice and observed, "Good-morning to you, good-
morning." The little familiar phrase said everything in a quite
astonishing way. It was like a song.

"_Good_-morning," replied the Tramp. "It is. I was wondering how long
it would be before you saw me."

"Ah!" said Judy and Tim in the same breath, "of course."

"The fact is," stammered Uncle Felix, "you're so like the rest of the
garden--so like a bit of the garden, I mean--that we didn't notice you
at first. But we heard--" he broke off in the middle of the sentence--
"That _was_ you singing, wasn't it?" he asked with a note of hushed
admiration in his voice.

The smile upon the great woodland face broadened perceptibly. It was
as though the sun burst through a cloud. "That's hard to say," he
replied, "when the whole place is singing. I'm just like everything
else--alive. It's natural to sing, and natural to dance--when you're
alive and looking--and know it."

He spoke with a sound as though he had swallowed the entire morning, a
forest rustling in his chest, singing water just behind the lips.

_"Looking!"_ exclaimed Uncle Felix, picking out the word. He moved
closer; the children caught his hands; the three of them sheltered
against the spreading figure till the four together seemed like a
single item of the landscape. "Looking!" he repeated, "that's odd.
We've lost something too. You said too,--just now--something about--a
sign, I think?" Uncle Felix added shyly.

All waited, but the Tramp gave no direct reply. He smiled again and
folded two mighty arms about them. Two big feathery wings seemed round
them. Judy thought of a nest, Tim of a cozy rabbit hole, Uncle Felix
had the amazing impression that there were wild flowers growing in his
heart, or that a flock of robins had hopped in and began to sing.

"Lost something, have you?" the Tramp enquired genially at length; and
the slow, leisurely way he said it, the curious half-singing utterance
he used, the words falling from his great beard with this sound as of
wind through leaves or water over sand and pebbles--somehow included
them in the rhythm of existence to which he himself naturally
belonged. They all seemed part of the garden, part of the day, part of
the sun and earth and flowers together, marvellously linked and caught
within some common purpose. Question and answer in the ordinary sense
were wrong and useless. They must _feel_--feel as he did--to find what
they sought.

It was Uncle Felix who presently replied: "Something--we've--mis-laid,"
he said hesitatingly, as though a little ashamed that he expressed the
truth so lamely.

"Mis-laid?" asked the Tramp. "Mis-laid, eh?"

"Forgotten," put in Tim.

"Mis-laid or forgotten," repeated the other. "That all?"

"Some_body_, I should have said," explained Uncle Felix yet still
falteringly, "somebody we've lost, that is."

"Hiding," Tim said quickly.

"About," added Judy. There was a hush in all their voices.

The Tramp picked the small feather from his beard--apparently a water-
wagtail's--and appeared to reflect a moment. He held the soft feather
tenderly between a thumb and finger that were thick as a walking-stick
and stained with roadside mud and yellow with flower-pollen too.

"Hiding, is he?" He held up the feather as if to see which way it
fluttered in the wind. "Hiding?" he repeated, with a distinct
broadening of the smile that was already big enough to cover half the
lawn. It shone out of him almost like rays of light, of sunshine, of
fire. "Aha! That's his way, maybe, just a little way he has--of
playing with you."

"You know him, then! You know who it is?" two eager voices asked
instantly. "Tell us at once. You're leader now!" The children, in
their excitement, almost burrowed into him; Uncle Felix drew a deep
breath and stared. His whole body listened.

And slowly the Tramp turned round his shaggy head and gazed into their
faces, each in turn. He answered in his leisurely, laborious way as
though each word were a bank-note that he dealt out carefully, fixing
attention upon its enormous value. There was certainly a tremor in his
rumbling voice. But there was no hurry.

"I've--seen him," he said with feeling, "seen him--once or twice. My
life's thick with memories--"

"Seen him!" sprang from three mouths simultaneously.

"Once or twice, I said." He paused and sighed. Wind stirred the rose
trees just behind him. He went on murmuring in a lower tone; and as he
spoke a sense of exquisite new beauty stole across the old-world
garden. "It was--in the morning--very early," he said below his
breath.

"At dawn!" Uncle Felix whispered.

"When the birds begin," from Judy very softly.

"To sing," Tim added, a single shiver of joy running through all three
of them at once. The enchantment of their own dim memories of the
dawn--of a robin, of swallows, and of an up-and-under bird flashed
magically back.

The Tramp nodded his great head slowly; he bowed it to the sunlight,
as it were. There was a great light flaming in his eyes. He seemed to
give out heat.

"Just seen him--and no more," he went on marvellously, as though
speaking of a wonderful secret of his own. "Seen him a-stealing past
me--in the dawn. Just looked at me--and went--went back again behind
the rushing minutes!"

"Was it long ago? How long?" asked Judy with eager impatience
impossible to suppress. They did not notice the reference to Time,
apparently.

The wanderer scratched his tangled crop of hair and seemed to
calculate a moment. He gazed down at the small white feather in his
hand. But the feather held quite still. No breath of wind was
stirring. "When I was young," he said, with an expression half
quizzical, half yearning. "When I first took to the road--as a boy--
and began to look."

"As long ago as that!" Tim murmured breathlessly. It was like a
stretch of history.

The Tramp put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "I was about your age,"
he said, "when I got tired of the ordinary life, and started
wandering. And I've been wandering and looking ever since. Wandering--
and wondering--and looking--ever since," he repeated in the same slow
way, while the feather between his great fingers began to wave a
little in time with the dragging speech.

The wonder of it enveloped them all three like a perfume rising from
the entire earth.

"We've been looking for ages too," cried Judy.

"And we've seen him," exclaimed her brother quickly.

"Somebody," added Uncle Felix, more to himself than to the others.

The Tramp combed his splendid beard, as if he hoped to find more
feathers in it.

"This morning, wasn't it?" he asked gently, "very early?"

They reflected a moment, but the reflection did not help them much.
"Ages and ages ago," they answered. "So long that we've forgotten
rather--"

"Forgotten what he looks like. That's it. Same trouble here," and he
tapped his breast. "We're all together, doing the same old thing. The
whole world's doing it. It's the only thing to do." And he looked so
wise and knowing that their wonder increased to a kind of climax; they
were tapping their own breasts before they knew it.

"Doing it everywhere," he went on, weighing his speech as usual; "only
some don't know they're doing it." He looked significantly into their
shining eyes, then finished with a note of triumph in his voice. "We
do!"

"Hooray!" cried Tim. "We can all start looking together now."

"Maybe," agreed the wanderer, very sweetly for a tramp, they thought.

They glanced at their Uncle first for his approval; the Tramp glanced
at him too; his face was flushed and happy, the eyes very bright. But
there was an air of bewilderment about him too. He nodded his head,
and repeated in a shy, contented voice--as though he surrendered
himself to some enchantment too great to understand--"I think so; I
hope so; I--wonder!"

"We've looked everywhere already," Tim shouted by way of explanation--
when the Tramp cut him short with a burst of rolling laughter:

"But in the wrong kind of places, maybe," he suggested, moving forward
like a hedge or bit of hayfield the wind pretends to shift.

"Oh, well--perhaps," the boy admitted.

"Probly," said Judy, keeping close beside him.

"Of course," decided Uncle Felix; "but we've been pretty warm once or
twice all the same." He lumbered after the other three, yet something
frisky about him, as about a pony released into a field and still
uncertain of its bounding strength.

"Have you really?" remarked their leader, good-humouredly, but with a
touch of sarcasm. "Good and right, so far as it goes; only 'warm' is
not enough; we want to be hot, burning hot and steaming all the time.
That's the way to find him." He paused and turned towards them; he
gathered them nearer to him with his smiling eyes somehow. "It's like
this," he went on more slowly than ever: "A good hider doesn't choose
the difficult places; he chooses the common ordinary places where
nobody would ever think of looking." He kept his eyes upon them to
make sure they understood him. "The little, common places," he
continued with emphasis, "that no one thinks worth while. He hides in
the open--bang out in the open!"

"In the open!" cried the children. "The open air!"

"In the open!" gasped Uncle Felix. "The open sea!"

The Tramp almost winked at them. He looked like a lot of ordinary
people. He looked like everybody. He looked like the whole world
somehow. He smiled just like a multitude. He spoke, as it were, for
all the world--said the one simple thing that everybody everywhere was
trying to say in millions of muddled words and sentences. The wind and
trees and sunshine said it with him, for him, after him, before him.
He said the thing--so Uncle Felix felt, at any rate,--that was always
saying itself, that was everywhere heard, though rarely listened to;
but, according to the children, the thing they knew and believed
already. Only it was nice to hear it stated definitely--_they_ felt.

And the tide of enchantment rose higher and higher; in a tide of
flowing gold it poured about all three.

"That's it," the Tramp continued, as though he had not noticed the
rapture his very ordinary words had caused. "Sea and land and air
together. But more than that--he hides deep and beautiful."

"Deeply and beautifully," murmured the writer of historical novels,
all of them entirely forgotten now.

"Deep and beautiful," repeated the other, as though he preferred the
rhythm of his own expression. He drew himself up and swallowed a long
and satisfying draught of air and sunshine. He waved the little
wagtail's feather before their eyes. He touched their faces with its
tip. "Deep, tender, kind, and beautiful," he elaborated. "Those are
the signs--signs that he's been along--just passed that way. The whole
world's looking, and the whole world's full of signs!"

For a moment all stood still together like a group of leafy things a
passing wind has shaken, then left motionless; a wild rose-bush, a
climbing vine, a clinging ivy branch--all three kept close to the
stalwart figure of their big, incomparable leader.

And Judy knew at last the thing she didn't know; Tim felt himself
finally in the eternal centre of his haunted wood; in the eyes of
Uncle Felix there was a glistening moisture that caught the sunlight
like dew upon the early lawn. He staggered a little as though he were
on a deck and the sea was rolling underneath him.

"How ever did you find it out?" he asked, after an interval that no
one had cared to interrupt. "What in the world made you first think of
it?" And though his voice was very soft and clear, it was just a
little shaky.

"Well," drawled the Tramp, "maybe it was just because I thought of
nothing else. On the road we live sort of simply. There's never any
hurry; the wind's a-blowing free; everything's sweet and careless--and
so am I." And he chuckled happily to himself.

"Let's begin at once!" cried Tim impatiently. "I feel warm already--
hot all over--simply burning."

The Tramp signified his agreement. "But you must each get a feather
first," he told them, "a feather that a bird has dropped. It's a sign
that we belong together. Birds know everything first. They go
everywhere and see everything all at once. They're in the air, and on
the ground, and on the water, and under it as well. They live in the
open--sea or land. And if you have a feather in your hand--well, it
means keeping in touch with everything that's going. They go light and
easy; we must go light and easy too."

They stared at him with wonder at the breaking point. It all seemed so
obviously and marvellously true. How had they missed it up till now?

"So get a feather," he went on quietly, "and then we can begin to look
at once."

No one objected, no one criticised, no one hesitated. Tim knew where
all the feathers were because he knew every nest in the garden. He led
the way. In less than two minutes all had small, soft feathers in
their hands.

"Now, we'll begin to look," the Tramp announced. "It's the loveliest
game on earth, and the only one. It's Hide-and-Seek behind the rushing
minutes. And, remember," he added, holding up a finger and chuckling
happily, "there's no hurry, the wind's a-blowing free, the sun is
warm, everything's sweet and careless--and so are we."




THE COMMON SIGNS

V


"But has he called yet?" asked Tim, remembering suddenly that it
wasn't fair to begin till the hider announced that he was ready. "He's
got to hoot first, you know. Hasn't he?" he added doubtfully.

"Listen!" replied the man of the long white roads. And he held his
feather close against his ear, while the others copied him. Fixing
their eyes upon a distant point, they listened, and as they listened,
their lips relaxed, their mouths opened slowly, their eyebrows lifted
--they heard, apparently, something too wonderful to be believed.

To Uncle Felix, still fumbling in his mind among unnecessary
questions, it seemed that the power of hearing had awakened for the
first time, or else had grown of a sudden extraordinarily acute. The
children merely listened and said "Oh, oh, oh!"; the sound they heard
was familiar, though never fully understood till now. For him, it was,
perhaps, the recovery of a power he had long forgotten. At any rate
he--heard. For the air passed through the tiny fronds of the feather--
through the veined web of its delicate resistance--round the hollow
stem and across the fluffy breadth of it--with a humming music as of
wind among the telegraph wires, only infinitely sweet and far away.
There were several notes in it, a chord--the music that accompanies
all flying things, even a butterfly or settling leaf, and ever fills
the air with unguessed melody.

It opened their power of hearing to a degree as yet undreamed of even
by the all-believing children. Their feathers became wee, accurate,
tuning-forks for all existence. They understood that everything in the
whole world sang; that no rose leaf fluttered to the earth, no rabbit
twitched its ears, no mouse its tail, no single bluebell waved a head
towards its bluer neighbour, without this exquisite accompaniment of
fairy music.

"Listen, listen!" the Tramp repeated softly from time to time,
watching their faces keenly. "Listen, and you'll hear him calling...!"

And this fairy humming, having so marvellously attuned their hearing,
then led them on to the larger, louder sounds; they pricked their ears
up, as the saying goes; they noticed the deeper music everywhere. For
the morning breeze was rustling and whispering among the leaves and
blades of grass with a thousand happy voices. It was the ordinary
summer sound of moving air that no one pays attention to.

"Oh, that!" exclaimed Uncle Felix. "I hadn't noticed it." He felt
ashamed. He who had taught them the beauty of the self-advertising
Night-Wind, had somehow missed and overlooked the wonder--the
searching, yearning beauty--of this meek, incomparable music: because
it was so usual. For the first time in his life he heard the wind as
it slipped between the leaves, shaking them into rapture.

"And that," laughed the Tramp, cocking his great head to catch the
murmur of the stream beyond the lawn, "if the dust of furniture and
houses ain't blocked your ears too thickly." They stooped to listen.
"Like laughter, isn't it?" he observed, "singing and laughing mixed
together?"

They straightened up again, too full of wonder to squeeze out any
words.

"It's everywhere," said Uncle Felix, "this calling--these calling
voices. Is that where you got _your_ song from?"

"It's everywhere and always," replied the other evasively. "The birds
get their singing from it. They get everything first, of course, then
pass it on. The whole world's music comes from that, though there's
nothing--_nothing_," he added with emphasis, "to touch the singing of
a bird. He's calling everywhere and always," he went on as no one
contradicted him or ventured upon any question; "only you've got to
listen close. He calls soft and beautiful. He doesn't shout and yell
at you."

"Soft and beautiful, yes," repeated Uncle Felix below his breath, "the
small, still voices of the air and sea and earth." And, as he said it,
they caught the murmur of the little stream; they heard singing in the
air as well. The blackbirds whistled in one direction, the thrushes
trilled and gurgled in another, and overhead, both among the covering
leaves and from the open sky, a chorus of twittering and piping filled
the chambers of the day. Judy recalled, as of long ago, the warning
bugle-call of an up-and-under bird; Tim faintly remembered having
overheard some swallows "discussing" together; Uncle Felix saw a robin
perched against a sky of pearly grey at the end of an interminable
corridor that stretched across whole centuries.... Then, close beside
the three of them, a bumble-bee, a golden fly, and a company of summer
gnats went by--booming, trumpeting, singing like a tiny carillon of
bells respectively.

"Hark and listen," exclaimed the Tramp with triumph in his voice, and
looking down at Tim particularly. "He's calling all the time. It's the
little ordinary sounds that give the hints."

"It's an enormous hide; I mean to look for ever and ever," cried the
delighted boy.

"I can hear everything in the world now," cried Judy.

"Signs," said Uncle Felix, after a pause. This time he did not make a
question of his thought, but merely dropped the word out like a note
of music into the air. His feather answered it and took it further.

The Tramp caught the word flying before it reached the ground:

"Deep, tender, kind and beautiful," he said, "but above all--
beautiful." He turned his shaggy head and looked about him carelessly.
"There's one of them, for instance," he added, pointing across the
lawn. "There's a sign. It means he's passed that way! He ain't too far
away--may-be."

They followed the direction of his eyes. A dragon-fly paused hovering
above the stream, its reflection mirrored in the clear running water
underneath. Against the green palisade of reeds its veined and crystal
wings scattered the sunlight into shining flakes. The blue upon its
body burned--a patch of flaming beauty in mid-air. They watched it for
a moment. Then, suddenly--it was gone, the spot was empty. But the
speed, the poise, the perfect movement, the flashing wings, above all
the flaming blue upon its tail still held them spellbound. Somehow, it
seemed, they had borrowed that speed, that flashing beauty, making the
loveliness part and parcel of themselves. Swiftly they turned and
stared up at the Tramp. There was a rapt look upon his tangled face.

"A sign," he was saying softly. "He's passed this way. He can't be
hiding very far from here." And, drawing a long, deep breath, he gazed
about him into endless space as though about to sing again.

The dragon-fly had vanished, none knew whither, gone doubtless into
some new hiding-place; it just gave the hint, then slipped away upon
its business. But the wonder and the beauty it had brought remained
behind, crept into every heart. The mystery of life, the reality that
lay hiding at the core of things, the marvel and the dream--all these
were growing clearer. All lovely things were "signs." And there fell a
sudden hush upon the group, for the Thing that Nobody could Understand
crept up and touched them.

Abruptly, then, lest the wonder of it should prove more than they
could bear perhaps, a blackbird whistled with a burst of flying
laughter at them from the shrubberies. Laughter and dancing both were
part of wonder. The Tramp at once moved forward, chuckling in his
beard; he waved his arms; his step was lighter, quicker; he was
singing softly to himself: they only caught stray sentences, but they
loved the windy ringing of his voice. They knew not where he borrowed
words and tune: "The world is young with laughter; we can fly....
Among the imprisoned hours as we choose.... The birds are singing....
Hark! Come out and play.... There is no hurry.... Life has just
begun...."

"Come on!" cried Tim. "Let's follow him; we're getting frightfully
warm!"

He seized Judy and his uncle by the hands and cleared the rivulet with
a running leap. The Tramp, however, preferred to wade across. "Get
into everything you can," he explained in mid-stream with a laugh. "It
keeps you in touch; it's all part of the looking."

He led them into the field where the blackbird still went on whistling
its heart out into the endless summer morning. But to them it seemed
that he led them out across the open world for ever and ever....

It grew very marvellous, this game of hide and seek. Sometimes they
forgot it was a game at all, forgot what they were looking for, forgot
that they were looking for anything or any one at all. Yet the mighty
search continued subconsciously, even when passing incidents drew
their attention from their chief desire. Always, at the back of
thought, lay this exquisite, sweet memory in their hearts, something
they half remembered, half forgot, but very dear, very marvellous.
Some one was hiding somewhere, waiting, longing to play with them,
expecting to be found.

It may be that intervals went by, those intervals called years and
months; yet no one noticed them, and certainly no one named them. They
knew one feeling only--the joy of endless search. Some one was hiding,
some one was near, and signs lay scattered everywhere. This some one
lay in his wonderful hiding-place and watched their search with
laughter in his eyes. He remained invisible; perhaps they would never
see him actually; but they felt his presence everywhere, in every
object, every tree and flower and stone, in sun and wind, in water and
in earth. The power and loveliness of common things became insistent.
They were aware of them. It seemed they brushed against this shining
presence, pushing for ever against a secret door of exit that led into
the final hiding-place. Eager to play with them, yet more eager still
to be discovered, the wonderful hider kept just beyond their sight and
touch, while covering the playground with endless signs that he was
near enough for them to know for certain he was--there. For among the
four of them there was no heart that doubted. None explained. None
said No.... Nor was there any hurry.

"_I_ believe," announced Tim at length, with the air of a sage about
him, "the best way is to sit still and wait; then he'll just come out
like a rabbit and show himself." And, as no one contradicted, he added
confidently, "that's _my_ idea." His love was evidently among the
things of the soil, rabbits, rats and hedgehogs, both hunter and
adventurer strong in him.

"A hole!" cried Judy with indignation. "Never! He's in the air. I
heard a bird just now that--"

"Whew!" whistled Uncle Felix, interrupting her excitedly. "He's been
along here. Look! I'm sure of it." And he said it with such conviction
that they ran up, expecting actual footprints.

"How do you know?" Tim asked dubiously, seeing no immediate proof
himself. All paused for the reply; but Uncle Felix also paused. He had
said a thing it seemed he could not justify.

"Don't hesitate," said the Tramp, watching him with amusement. "Don't
think before you speak. There's nothing to think about until you've
spoken."

Uncle Felix wore an expression of bewilderment. "I meant the flowers,"
he stammered, still unsure of his new powers.

"Of course," the other chuckled. "Didn't I tell you 'tender and
beautiful,' and 'bang out in the open'?"

"Then you're right, Uncle; they _are_ signs," cried Judy, "and you
_do_ like butter," and she danced away to pick the dandelions that
smothered the field with gold. But the Tramp held out his feather like
a wand.

"They're our best signs, remember," he cried. "You might as well pick
a feather out of a living bird."

"Oh!"--and she pulled herself up sharply, a little flush running
across her face and the wind catching at her flying hair. She swayed a
moment, nearly overbalancing owing to the interrupted movement, and
looking for all the world like a wild young rose tree, her eyes two
shining blossoms in the air. Then she dropped down and buried her nose
among the crowd of yellow flowers. She smelt them audibly, drawing her
breath in and letting it out again as though she could almost taste
and eat the perfume.

"That's better," said the Tramp approvingly. "Smell, then follow," and
he moved forward again with his dancing, happy step. "All the wild,
natural things do it," he cried, looking back over his shoulder at the
three who were on their knees with faces pressed down against the
yellow carpet. "It's the way to keep on the trail. Smell--then
follow."

Something flashed through the clearing mind of the older man, though
where it came from he had less idea than the dandelions: a mood of
forgotten beauty rushed upon him--

      "O, follow, follow!
      Through the caverns hollow,
      As the song floats thou pursue,
      Where the wild bee never flew--"

and he ran dancing forward after the great Tramp, singing the words as
though they were his own.

Yet the flowers spread so thickly that the trail soon lost itself; it
seemed like a paper-chase where the hare had scattered coloured petals
instead of torn white copy-books. Each searcher followed the sign of
his or her own favourite flower; like a Jack-in-the-Box each one
bobbed up and down, smelling, panting, darting hither and thither as
in the mazes of some gnat--or animal-dance, till knees and hands were
stained with sweet brown earth, and lips and noses gleamed with the
dust of orange-tinted pollen.

"Anyhow, I'd rather look than find," cried Tim, turning a somersault
over a sandy rabbit-mound.

The swallows flashed towards Judy, a twittering song sprinkling itself
like liquid silver behind them as they swooped away again.

"I expect," the girl confessed breathlessly, "that when we do find
him--we shall just die--!"

"Of happiness, and wonder," ventured Uncle Felix, watching a common
Meadow Brown that perched, opening and closing its wings, upon his
sleeve. And the Tramp, almost invisible among high standing grass and
thistles, laughed and called in his curious, singing voice, "There is
no hurry! Life has just begun!"

"Then we might as well sit down," suggested Uncle Felix, and suiting
the action to the word, chose a nice soft spot upon the mossy bank and
made himself comfortable as though he meant to stay; the Tramp did
likewise, gathering the children close about his tangled figure. For
one thing a big ditch faced them, its opposite bank overgrown with
bramble bushes, and for another the sloping moss offered itself
invitingly, like a cushioned sofa. So they lay side by side, watching
the empty ditch, listening to the faint trickle of water tinkling down
it. Slender reeds and tall straight grasses fringed the nearer edge,
and, as the wind passed through them with a hush and whisper, they
bent over in a wave of flowing green.

"He's certainly gone that way," Judy whispered, following with her
eyes the direction of the bending reeds. She was getting expert now.

"Along the ditch, I do believe," agreed Tim. There were no flowers in
it, and few, perhaps, would have found beauty there, yet the pointing
of the reeds was unmistakable. "It's chock full of stuff," he added,
"but a rat could get along, so I suppose--"

"The signs are very slight sometimes," murmured the Tramp, his head
half buried in the moss, "and sometimes difficult as well. You'd be
surprised." He flung out his arms and legs and continued laughingly.
"When things are contrary you may be sure you're getting somewhere--
getting warm, that is."

The children heard this outburst, but they did not listen. They were
absorbed in something else already, for the movements of the reeds
were fascinating. They began to imitate them, swaying their heads and
bodies to and fro in time, and crooning to themselves in an attempt to
copy the sound made by the wind among the crowded stalks.

"Don't," objected Uncle Felix, half in fun, "it makes me dizzy." He
was tempted to copy them, however, and made an effort, but the
movement caught him in the ribs a little. His body, like his mind, was
not as supple as theirs. An oak tree or an elm, perhaps, was more his
model.

"Do," the Tramp corrected him, swaying as he said it. "Swing with a
thing if you want to understand it. Copy it, and you catch its
meaning. That's rhythm!" He made an astonishing mouthful of the word.
The children overheard it.

"How do you spell it?" Judy asked.

"I don't," he replied; "I do it. Once you get into the"--he took a
great breath--"rhythm of a thing, you begin to like it. See?"

And he went on swaying his big shoulders in imitation of the rustling
reeds. All four swayed together then, holding their feathers before
them like little flying banners. More than ever, they seemed things
growing out of the earth, out of the very ditch. The movement brought
a delicious, soothing sense of peace and safety over them; earth, air,
and sunshine all belonged to them, plenty for everybody, no need to
get there first and snatch at the best places. There was no hurry,
life had just begun. They seemed to have dug a hole in space and
curled up cosily inside it. They whispered curious natural things to
one another. "A wren is settling on my hair," said Judy: "a butterfly
on my neck," said Uncle Felix: "a mouse," Tim mentioned, "is making
its nest in my trousers pocket." And the Tramp kept murmuring in his
voice of wind and water, "I'm full of air and sunlight, floating in
them, floating away... my secret's in the wind and open sky... there
is no longer any Time--to lose...."

A bright green lizard darted up the sun-baked bank, vanishing down a
crack without a sound; it left a streak of fire in the air. A golden
fly hovered about the tallest reed, then darted into another world,
invisibly. A second followed it, a third, a fourth--points of gold
that pinned the day fast against the moving wall of green. A wren shot
at full speed along the bed of the ditch, threading its winding length
together as upon a woven pattern. All were busy and intent upon some
purpose common to the whole of them, and to everything else as well;
even the things that did not move were doing something.

"I say," cried Tim suddenly, "they're covering him up. They're hiding
him better so that we shan't find him. We've got too warm."

How long they had been in that ditch when the boy exclaimed no one
could tell; perhaps a lifetime, or perhaps an age only. It was long
enough, at any rate, for the Tramp to have changed visibly in
appearance--he looked younger, thinner, sprightlier, more shining. He
seemed to have shed a number of outward things that made him bulky--
bits of beard and clothing, several extra waistcoats, and every scrap
of straw and stuff from the hedges that he wore at first. More and
more he looked as Judy had seen him, ages and ages ago, emerging from
the tarpaulin on the rubbish-heap at the End of the World.

He sprang alertly to his feet at the sound of Tim's exclamation. The
sunlit morning seemed to spring up with him.

"We have been very warm indeed," he sang, "but we shall get warmer
still before we find him. Besides, those things aren't hiding him--
they're looking. Everything and everybody in the whole wide world is
looking, but the signs are different for everybody, don't you see?
Each knows and follows their own particular sign. Come on!" he cried,
"come on and look! We shall find him in the end."




COME-BACK STUMPER'S SIGN

VI


The steep bank was easily managed. They were up it in a twinkling, a
line of dancing figures, all holding hands.

First went the Tramp, shining and glowing like a mirror in the
sunshine--fire surely in him; next Judy, almost flying with the joy
and lightness in her--as of air; Tim barely able to keep tight hold of
her hand, so busily did his feet love the roots and rabbit-holes of--
earth; and finally, Uncle Felix, rolling to and fro, now sideways, now
toppling headlong, roaring as he followed like a heavy wave. Fire,
air, earth, and water--they summarised existence; owned and possessed
the endless day; lived it, were one with it. Their leader, who
apparently had swallowed the sun, fused and unified them in this
amazing way with--fire.

And hardly had they passed the line of shy forget-me-nots on the top
of the bank, than they ran against a curious looking object that at
first appeared to be an animated bundle of some kind, but on closer
inspection proved to be a human figure stooping. It was somebody very
busy about the edges of a great clump of bramble bushes. At the sound
of their impetuous approach it straightened up. It had the face of a
man--yellowish, patched with red, breathless and very hot. It was
Come-back Stumper.

He glared at them, furious at being disturbed, yet with an uneasy air,
half comical, half ashamed, as of being--caught. He took on a
truculent, aggressive attitude, as though he knew he would have to
explain himself and did not want to do so. He turned and faced them.

"Mornin'," he grunted fiercely. "It's a lovely day."

But they all agreed so promptly with him that he dropped the offensive
at once. His face was _very_ hot. It dripped.

"Energetic as usual," observed Uncle Felix, while Tim poked among the
bushes to see what he had been after, and Judy offered him a very
dirty handkerchief to mop his forehead with. His bald head shone and
glistened. Wisps of dark hair lay here and there upon it like the
feathers of a crow's torn wing.

"Thanks, dear," he said stiffly, using the few inches of ragged
cambric and then tucking the article absent-mindedly into a pocket of
his shooting coat. "I've been up very early--since dawn. Since dawn,"
he repeated in a much louder voice, "got up, in fact, with the sun."
He meant to justify his extreme and violent activity. He glanced at
the Tramp with a curious air of respect. Tim thought he saluted him,
but Judy declared afterwards he was only wiping "the hot stuff off the
side of his dear old head."

"Wonderful moment,--dawn, ain't it, General?" said the Tramp. "Best in
the whole day when you come to think of it."

"It is, sir," replied Stumper, as proud as though a Field-Marshal had
addressed him, "and the first." He looked more closely at the Tramp;
he rubbed his eyes, and then produced the scrap of cambric and rubbed
them again more carefully than before. Perhaps he, too, had been
hoping for a leader! Something very proud and happy stole upon his
perspiring face of ochre. He moved a step nearer. "Did you notice it
this morning?" he asked in a whisper, "the dawn, I mean? Never saw
anything like it in me life before. Thought I was in the Himalayas or
the Caucasus again. Astonishin', upon me word--the beauty of it! And
the birds! Did you hear 'em? Expect you usually do, though," he added
with a touch of unmistakable envy and admiration in his tone.

"Uncommon," agreed the Tramp, "and no mistake about it. _They_ knew,
you see." They no longer called each other "Sir" and "General"; they
had come to an understanding apparently.

"Umph!" said Stumper, and looked round shyly at the others.

Stumper was evidently under the stress of some divine emotion he was
half ashamed of. An unwonted passion stirred him. He seemed a prey to
an unusual and irrepressible curiosity. Only the obvious fact that his
listeners shared the same feelings with him loosened his sticky tongue
and stole self-consciousness away. He had expected to be laughed at.
Instead the group admired him. The Tramp--his manner proved it--
thought of him very highly indeed.

"Never knew such a day in all me life before," Stumper admitted
frankly. "Couldn't--simply couldn't stay indoors."

He still retained a trace of challenge in his tone. But no one
challenged. Judy took his arm. "So you came out?" she said softly.

"Like us," said Uncle Felix.

"Of course," Tim added. But it was the Tramp who supplied the
significant words they had all been waiting for, Stumper himself more
eagerly than any one else. "To look," he remarked quite naturally.

Stumper might have just won a great world-victory, judging by the
expression that danced upon his face. He dropped all pretence at
further concealment. He put his other arm round Tim's shoulder, partly
to balance himself better against Judy's pushing, and partly because
he realised the companionship of both children as very dear just then.
He had a great deal to say, and wanted to say it all at once, but
words never came to him too easily; he had missed many an opportunity
in life for the want of fluent and spontaneous address. He stammered
and halted somewhat in his delivery. A new language with but a single
word in it would have suited him admirably.

"Yes," he growled, "I came out--to look. But when I got out--I clean
forgot what it was--who, I mean--no, _what_," he corrected himself
again, "I'd come out to look for. Can't make it out at all." He broke
off in a troubled way.

"No?" agreed Judy sympathetically, as though _she_ knew.

"But you want to find it awfully," Tim stated as a fact.

"Awfully," admitted Stumper with a kind of fierceness.

"Only you can't remember what it looks like quite?" put in Uncle
Felix.

Stumper hesitated a moment. "Too wonderful to remember properly," he
said more quietly; something like that. "But the odd thing is," he
went on in a lower tone, "I've seen it. I _know_ I've seen it. Saw it
this mornin'--very early--when the pigeon woke me up--at dawn."

"Pigeon!" exclaimed Tim and Judy simultaneously. "Dawn!"

"Carrier-pigeon--flew in at my open window--woke me," continued the
soldier in his gruff old voice. "I've used 'em--carrier-pigeons, you
know. Sent messages--years ago. I understand the birds a bit.
Extraordinary thing, I thought. Got up and looked at it." He blocked
again.

"Ah!" said some one, by way of encouragement.

"And it looked back at me." By the way he said it, it was clear he
hardly expected to be believed.

"Of course," said Uncle Felix.

"Naturally," added Tim.

"And what d'you think?" Stumper went on, a note of yearning and even
passion in his voice. "What d'you think?" he whispered: "I felt it had
a message for me--brought _me_ a message--something to tell me--"

"Round its neck or foot?" asked Tim.

Stumper drew the boy closer and looked down into his face. "Eyes," he
mumbled, "in its small bright eyes. There was a flash, I saw it
plainly--something strange and marvellous, something I've been looking
for all my life."

No one said a single word, but the old soldier felt the understanding
sympathy rising like steam from all of them.

"Then, suddenly, it was gone--out into the open sky--bang into the
sunrise. And I saw the dawn all over everything. I dressed--rushed
out--and--"

"Had it laid an egg?" Tim asked, remembering another kind of hunting
somewhere, long ago.

"How could it?" Judy corrected him quickly. "There was--no time--"
then stopped abruptly. She turned towards Come-Back Stumper; she gave
him a hurried and affectionate hug. "And then," she asked, "what
happened next?"

Stumper returned the hug, including Tim in it too. "I found _this_--
fluttering in my hand," he said, and held up a small grey feather for
them to admire. "It's the only clue I've got. The pigeon left it."

While they admired the feather and exhibited their own, Tim crying,
"We've got five now, nearly a whole wing!" Stumper was heard to murmur
above their heads, "And since I--came out to look--I've felt--quite
different."

"Your secret's in the wind and open sky!" cried Judy, dancing round
him with excitement. Her voice came flying from the air.

"You're awfully warm--you're hot--you're burning!" shouted Tim,
clapping his hands. His voice seemed to rise out of the earth.

"We've all seen it, all had a glimpse," roared Uncle Felix with a
sound of falling water, rolling up nearer as he spoke. "It's too
wonderful to see for long, too wonderful to remember quite. But we
shall find it in the end. We're all looking!" He began a sort of
dancing step. "And when we find it--" he went on.

"We'll change the world," shouted Stumper, as though he uttered a
final word of command.

"It's a he, remember," interrupted Tim. "Come along!"

And then the Tramp, who had been standing quietly by, smiling to
himself but saying nothing, came nearer, opened his great arms and
drew the four of them together. His voice, his shining presence, the
warm brilliance that glowed about him, seemed to envelop them like a
flame of fire and a fire of--love.

"We're thinking and arguing too much," he drawled in his leisurely,
big voice, "we lose the trail that way, we lose the rhythm. Just love
and look and wonder--then we'll find him. There is no hurry, life has
just begun. But keep on looking all the time." He turned to Stumper
with a chuckle. "You said you had a flash," he reminded him. "What's
become of it? You can't have lost it--with that pigeon's feather in
your hand!"

"It's waggling," announced Tim, holding up his own, while the others
followed suit. The little feathers all bent one way--towards the
bramble clump. Their tiny, singing music was just audible in the
pause.

"Yes," replied Come-Back Stumper at length. "I've had a flash--
flashes, in fact! What's more," he added proudly, "I was after a
couple of them--just when you arrived."

Everybody talked at once then. Uncle Felix and the children fell to
explaining the signs and traces they had already discovered, each
affirming vehemently that their own particular sign was the loveliest
--the dragon-fly, the flowers, the wind, the bending reeds, even the
lizard and the bumble-bee. The chorus of sound was like the chattering
of rooks among the tree-tops; in fact, though the quality of tone of
course was different, the resemblance to a concert of birds, all
singing together in a summer garden, was quite striking. Out of the
hubbub single words emerged occasionally--a "robin," "swallows," an
"up-and-under bird"--yet, strange to say, so far as Stumper was
concerned, only one thing was said; all said the same one thing; he
heard this one thing only--as though the words and sentences they used
were but different ways of pronouncing it, of spelling it, of uttering
it. Moreover, the wind in the feather said it too, for the sound and
intonation were similar. It was the thing that wind and running water
said, that flame roared in the fireplace, that rain-drops pattered on
the leaves, even house-flies, buzzing across the window-panes--
everything everywhere, the whole earth, said it.

He stood still, listening in amazement. His face had dried by now; he
passed his hand across it; he tugged at his fierce military moustache.

"Hiding--near us--in the open--everywhere," he muttered, though no one
heard him; "I've had my flashes too."

"Different people get different signs, of course," the Tramp made
himself heard at length, "but they're all the same. All lie along the
trail. The earth's a globe and circle, so everything leads to the same
place--in the end."

"Yes," said Stumper; "thank you"--as though he knew it already, but
felt that it was neatly put.

"Follow up your flash," added the Tramp. "Smell--then follow. That is
--keep on looking."

Stumper turned, pirouetting on what the children called his "living
leg." "I will," he cried, with an air of self-abandonment, and
promptly diving by a clever manoeuvre out of their hands, he fell
heavily upon all fours, and disappeared beneath the dense bramble
bushes just behind them. Panting, and certainly perspiring afresh, he
forced his way in among the network of thick leaves and prickly
branches. They heard him puffing; it seemed they heard him singing
too, as he reached forward with both arms into the dark interior.
Caught by his whole-hearted energy, they tried to help; they pushed
behind; they did their best to open a way for his head between the
entwining brambles.

"Don't!" he roared inside. "You'll scratch my eyes out. I shan't see--
anything!" His mouth apparently was full of earth. They watched the
retreating soles of his heavy shooting-boots. Slowly the feet were
dragged in after him. They disappeared from sight. Stumper was gone.

"He'll come back, though," mentioned Judy. The performance had been so
interesting that she almost forgot its object, however. Tim reminded
her. "But he won't find anything in a smelly place like that," he
declared. "I mean," he added, "it can't be a beetle or a grub that
we're--looking for." Yet there was doubt and wonder in his voice.
Stumper, a "man like that," and a soldier, a hunter too, who had done
scouting in an Indian jungle, and met tigers face to face--a chap like
that could hardly disappear on all fours into a clump of bramble
bushes without an excellent reason!

An interval of comparative silence followed, broken only by the faint
murmur of the wind that stirred their humming feathers. They stood in
a row and listened intently. Hardly a sound came from the interior of
the bramble bushes. The soldier had justified his title. He had
retired pletely. To Judy it occurred that he might be suffocated, to
Tim that he might have been eaten by some animal, to Uncle Felix that
he might have slipped out at the other side and made his escape. But
no one expressed these idle thoughts in words. They believed in
Stumper really. He invariably came back. This time would be no
exception to the rule.

And, presently, as usual, Stumper did come back. They heard him
grunting and panting long before a sign of him was visible. They heard
his voice, "Got him! Knew I was right! Bah! Ugh!" as he spluttered
earth and leaves from his mouth apparently. He emerged by degrees and
backwards; backed out, indeed, like an enormous rabbit. His boots, his
legs, his hands planted on the ground, his neck and then his face,
looking out over his shoulder, appeared successively. "Just the kind
of place he _would_ choose!" he exclaimed triumphantly, collapsing
back upon his haunches and taking a long, deep breath. Beside the
triumph in his voice there was a touch of indescribable, gruff
sweetness the children knew was always in his heart--no amount of
curried-liver trouble could smother _that_. Just now it was more
marked than usual.

"Show us!" they cried, gathering round him. Judy helped him to his
feet; he seemed a little unsteady. Purple with the exertion of the
search, both cheeks smeared with earth, neck-tie crooked, and old grey
shooting-coat half-way up his back, Come-Back Stumper stood upright,
and looked at them with shining eyes. He was the picture of a happy
and successful man.

"There!" he growled, and held out a hand, palm upwards, still
trembling with his recent exertions. "Didn't I tell you?"

They crowded round to examine a small object that lay between two
smears of earth in the centre of the upturned palm. It was round and
had a neat little opening on its under side. It was pretty, certainly.
Their heads pressed forward in a bunch, like cabbages heaped for
market. But no one spoke.

"See it?" said Stumper impatiently; "see what it is?" He bent forward
till his head mixed with theirs, his big aquiline nose in everybody's
way.

"We see it--yes," said Uncle Felix without enthusiasm. "It's a snail
shell--er--I believe?" The shade of disappointment in his voice was
reflected in the children's faces too, as they all straightened up and
gazed expectantly at the panting soldier. "Is that all?" was the
sentence no one liked to utter.

But Stumper roared at them. "A snail shell!" he boomed; "of course
it's a snail shell! But did you ever see such a snail shell in your
lives before? Look at the colour! Look at the shape! Put it against
your ears and hear it singing!" He was furious with their lack of
appreciation.

"It's the common sort," said Uncle Felix, braver than the others,
"something or other vulgaris--"

"Hundreds of them everywhere," mentioned Tim beneath his breath to
Judy.

But Stumper overheard them.

"Common sort! Hundreds everywhere!" he shouted, his voice almost
choking in his throat; "look at the colour! Look at the shape, I tell
you! Listen to it!" He said the last words with a sudden softness.

They lowered their heads again for a new examination.

"What more d'you want, I'd like to know? There's colour for you!
There's wonder! There's a sheer bit of living beauty!" and he lowered
his head again so eagerly that it knocked audibly against Tim's skull.

"Please move your nose away," said Tim, "I can't see."

"Common indeed!" growled the soldier, making room willingly enough,
while they obeyed his booming orders. They felt a little ashamed of
themselves for being so obtuse, for now that they looked closer they
saw that the shell was certainly very beautiful. "Common indeed!" he
muttered again. "Why, you don't know a sign when it's straight before
your noses!"

Judy pulled the fingers apart to make it roll towards her; she felt it
all over, stroking the smooth beauty of its delicate curves. It was
exquisitely tinted. It shone and glistened in the morning sunlight.
She put it against her ear and listened. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "It _is_
singing," as the murmur of the wind explored its hollow windings.

"That's the Ganges," explained Stumper in a softer voice. "The waves
of the Ganges breaking on the yellow sands of India. Wind in the
jungle too." His face looked happy as he watched her; his explosions
never lasted long.

She passed it over to her brother, who crammed it against his ear and
listened with incredible grimaces as though it hurt him. "I can hear
the tigers' footsteps," he declared, screwing up his eyes, "and birds
of paradise and all sorts of things." He handed it on reluctantly to
his uncle, who listened so deeply in his turn that he had to shut both
eyes. "I hear calling voices," he murmured to himself, "voices
calling, calling everywhere....it's wonderful... like a sea of voices
from the other side of the world... the whole world's singing...!"

"And look at the colour, will you?" urged Stumper, snatching it away
from the listener, who, seemed in danger of becoming entranced. "Why,
he's not only passed this way--he's actually touched it. That's his
touch, I tell you!"

"That's right," mumbled the Tramp, watching the whole performance with
approval. "Folks without something are always sharper than the
others." But this reference to a wooden leg was also too low for any
one to hear it.

Besides Stumper was saying something wonderful just then; he lowered
his voice to say it; there was suppressed excitement in him; he
frowned and looked half savagely at them all:

"I found other signs as well," he whispered darkly. "Two other signs.
In the darkness of those bushes I saw--another flash--two of 'em!" And
he slowly extended his other hand which till now he had kept behind
his back. It was tightly clenched. He unloosed the fingers gradually.
"Look!" he whispered mysteriously. And the hand lay open before their
eyes. "He's been hiding in those very bushes, I tell you. A moment
sooner and we might have caught him."

His enthusiasm ran all over them as they pressed forward to examine
the second grimy hand. There were two things visible in it, and both
were moving. One, indeed, moved so fast that they hardly saw it. There
was a shining glimpse--a flash of lovely golden bronze shot through
with blue--and it was gone. Like a wee veiled torch it scuttled across
the palm, climbed the thumb, popped down the other side and dropped
upon the ground. Vanished as soon as seen!

"A beetle!" exclaimed Uncle Felix. "A tiny beetle!"

"But dipped in colour," said Stumper with enthusiasm, "the colour of
the dawn!"

"Another sign! I never!" He was envious of the soldier's triumph.

"He looks in the unlikely places," muttered the Tramp again,
approvingly. "You've been pretty warm this time." But, again, he said
it too low to be audible. Besides, Stumper's other "find" engrossed
everybody's attention. All were absorbed in the long, dainty object
that clung cautiously to his hand and showed no desire to hurry out of
sight after the brilliant beetle. It was familiar enough to all of
them, yet marvellous. It presented itself in a new, original light.

They watched it spellbound; its tiny legs moved carefully over the
wrinkles of the soldier's skin, feeling its way most delicately, and
turning its head this way and that to sniff the unaccustomed odour.
Sometimes it looked back to admire its own painted back, and to let
its distant tail know that all was going well. The coloured hairs upon
the graceful body were all a-quiver. It fairly shone. There was
obviously no fear in it; it had perfect control of all its length and
legs. Yet, fully aware that it was exploring a new country, it
sometimes raised its head in a hesitating way and looked questioningly
about it and even into the great faces so close against its eyes.

"A caterpillar! A common Woolly Bear!" observed Tim, yet with a touch
of awe.

"It tickles," observed Stumper.

"I'll get a leaf," Judy whispered. "It doesn't understand your smell,
probly." She turned and picked the biggest she could find, and the
caterpillar, after careful observation, moved forward on to it,
turning to inform its following tail that all was safe. Gently and
cleverly they restored it to the bush whence Stumper had removed it.
It went to join the snail-shell and the beetle. They stood a moment in
silence and watched the quiet way it hid itself among the waves of
green the wind stirred to and fro. It seemed to melt away. It hid
itself. It left them. It was gone.

And Stumper turned and looked at them with the air of a man who has
justified himself. He had certainly discovered definite signs.

But there was bewilderment among the group as well as pleasure. For
signs, they began to realise now, were everywhere indeed. The world
was smothered with them. There was no one clear track that they could
follow. All Nature seemed organised to hide the thing they looked for.
It was a conspiracy. It was, indeed, an "enormous hide," an endless
game of hide-and-seek. The interest and the wonder increased sensibly
in their hearts. The thing they sought to find, the Stranger, "It," by
whatever name each chose to call the mysterious and evasive "hider,"
was so marvellously hidden. The glimpse they once had known seemed
long, long ago, and very far away. It lay like a sweet memory in each
heart, half forgotten, half remembered, but always entirely believed
in, very dear and very exquisite. The precious memory urged them
forward. They would search and search until they re-discovered it,
even though their whole lives were spent in the looking. They were
quite positive they would find him in the end.

All this lay somehow in the expression on Stumper's face as he glared
at them and ejaculated a triumphant "There! I told you so!" And at
that moment, as though to emphasize the thrill of excited bewilderment
they felt, a gorgeous brimstone butterfly sailed carelessly past
before their eyes and vanished among the pools of sunlight by the
forest edge. Its presence added somehow to the elusive and difficult
nature of their search. Its flamboyant beauty was a kind of challenge.

"That's what the caterpillar gets into," observed Tim dreamily.

"Let's follow it," said Judy. "_I_ believe the flying signs are best."

"Puzzlin' though," put in the Tramp behind them. They had quite
forgotten his existence. "Let's ask the gardener what _he_ thinks."

He pointed to a spot a little further along the edge of the wood where
the figure of a man was visible. It seemed a good idea. Led by the
Tramp, Uncle Felix and Stumper following slowly in the rear, they
moved forward in a group. Weeden might have seen something. They would
ask him.




WEEDEN'S SIGN

VII


John WEEDEN--the children always saw his surname in capitals--was
probably the most competent Head Gardener of his age, or of any other
age: he supplied the household with fruit and vegetables without
grumbling or making excuses. When asked to furnish flowers at short
notice for a dinner-party he made no difficulty, but just produced
them. Neither did he complain about the weather; wet or dry, it was
always exactly what his garden needed. All weather to him was Fine
Weather. He believed in his garden, loved it, lived in it, was almost
part of it. To make excuses for it was to make excuses for himself.
WEEDEN was a genius.

But he was mysterious too. He was one-eyed, and the loss endeared him
to the children, relating him also, once or twice removed, to Come-
Back Stumper; it touched their imaginations. Being an artist, too, he
never told them how he lost it, a pitchfork and a sigh were all he
vouchsafed upon the exciting subject. He understood the value of
restraint, and left their minds to supply what details they liked
best. But this wink of pregnant suggestion, while leaving them
divinely unsatisfied, sent them busily on the search. They imagined
the lost optic roaming the universe without even an attendant eyelid,
able to see things on its own account--invisible things. "Weeden's
lost eye's about," was a delightful and mysterious threat; while "I
can see with the Gardener's lost eye," was a claim to glory no one
could dispute, for no one could deny it. Its chief duty, however, was
to watch the "froot and vegebles" at night and to keep all robbers--
two-foot, four-foot, winged, or wriggling robbers--from what Aunt
Emily called "destroying everything."

A source of wonder to the children, this competent official was at the
same time something of an enigma to the elders. His appearance, to
begin with, was questionable, and visitors, being shown round the
garden, had been known to remark upon it derogatively sometimes. It
was both in his favour and against him. For, either he looked like an
untidy parcel of brown paper, loose ends of string straggling out of
him, or else--in his Sunday best--was indistinguishable from a rose-
bush wrapped up carefully in matting against the frost. Yet, in either
aspect, no one could pretend that he looked like anything but a
genuine Head Gardener, the spirit of the kitchen-garden and the
potting-shed incarnate.

It was the way he answered questions that earned for him the title of
enigma--he avoided a direct reply. (He was so cautious that he would
hesitate even when he came to die.) He would think twice about it. The
decision to draw the final breath would incapacitate him. He would
feel worse--and probably continue alive instead, from sheer inability
to make his mind up. In all circumstances, owing to his calling
doubtless, he preferred to hedge. If Mrs. Horton asked for celery, he
would intimate "I'll have a look." When Daddy enquired how the
asparagus was doing, he obtained for reply, "Won't you come and see it
for yourself, sir?" Upon Mother's anxious enquiry if there would be
enough strawberries for the School Treat, WEEDEN stated "It's been a
grand year for the berries, mum." Then, just when she felt relieved,
he added, "on the 'ole."

For the children, therefore, the Gardener was a man of mystery and
power, and when they saw his figure in the distance, their imagination
leaped forward with their bodies, and WEEDEN stood wrapped in a glory
he little guessed. He was bent double, digging (as usual in his spare
time) for truffles beneath the beech trees. These mysterious
delicacies with the awkward name he never found, but he liked looking
for them.

At first he was so intent upon his endless quest that he did not hear
the approach of footsteps.

"No hurry," said the Tramp, as they collected round the stooping
figure and held their feathers up to warn his back. For the wandering
eye had a way of seeing what went on behind him. An empty sack,
waiting for the truffles, lay beside him. He looked like an untidy
parcel, so he was _not_ in his Sunday clothes.

At the sound of voices he straightened slowly and looked round. He
seemed pleased with everything, judging by the expression of his eye,
yet doubtful of immediate success.

"Good mornin'," he said, touching his speckled cap to the authorities.

"Found any?" enquired Uncle Felix, sympathetically.

"It seems a likely spot, maybe," was the reply. "I'm looking." And he
closed the mouth of the sack with his foot lest they should see its
emptiness.

But the use of the verb set the children off at once.

"I say," Tim exploded eagerly, "we're looking too--for somebody who's
hiding. Have you seen any one?"

"Some one very wonderful?" said Judy. "Has he passed this way? It's
Hide-and-Seek, you know."

WEEDEN looked more mysterious at once. It was strange how a one-eyed
face could express so big a meaning. He scratched his head and smiled.

"All my flowers and vegitubles is a-growin' nicely," he said at
length. "It is a lovely mornin' for a game." His eye closed and
opened. The answer was more direct than usual. It meant volumes.
WEEDEN was in the know. They felt him somehow related to their leader
--a kind of organised and regulated tramp.

"You _have_ seen him, then?" cried Judy.

"With your gone eye!" exclaimed Tim. "Which way? And what signs have
you got?"

"Flowers, beetles, snail-shells, caterpillars--anything beautiful is a
sign, you know," went on Judy, breathlessly.

"Deep, tender, kind and beautiful," interposed the Tramp, laying the
accent significantly on the first adjective, as if for Weeden's
special benefit.

WEEDEN looked up. "Sounds like my garden things," he said darkly, more
to himself than to the others. He gazed down into the hole he had been
digging. The moist earth glistened in the sunlight. He sniffed the
sweet, rich odour of it, and scratched his head in the same spot as
before--just beneath the peak of his speckled cap. His nose wrinkled
up. Then he looked again into the faces, turning his single eye slowly
upon each in turn. The Tramp's remark had reached his cautious brain.

"There's no sayin' where anybody sich as you describe him to be might
hide hisself a day like this," he observed deliberately, his optic
ranging the sunny landscape with approval. "I never saw sich a
beautiful day before--not like to-day. It's endless sort of. Seems to
me as if I'd been at this 'ole for weeks."

He paused. The others waited. WEEDEN was going to say something real
any moment now, they felt.

"No hurry," the Tramp reminded him. "Everything's light and careless,
and so are we. There is no longer any Time--to lose."

His voice half sang, half chanted in the slow, windy way he had, and
the Gardener looked up as if a falling apple had struck him on the
head. He shifted from one leg to the other; he seemed excited, moved.
His single eye was opened--to the sun. He looked as if his body was
full of light.

"_You_ was the singer, was you?" he asked wonderingly, the tone low
and quiet. "It was you I heard a-singin'--jest as dawn broke!" He
scratched his head again. "And me thinkin' all the time it was a
bird!" he added to himself.

The Tramp said nothing.

WEEDEN then resumed his ordinary manner; he went on speaking as
before. But obviously--somewhere deep down inside himself--he had come
to a big decision.

"Gettin' nearer and nearer," he resumed his former conversation
exactly where he had left it off, "but never near enough to get
disappointed--ain't it? When you gets to the end of anything, you see,
it's over. And that's a pity."

Uncle Felix glanced at Stumper; Stumper glanced down at the end of his
"wooden" leg; the Tramp still said nothing, smiling in his beard, now
combed out much smoother than before.

"It comes to this," said Weeden, "my way of thinkin' at least." He
scratched wisdom from another corner of his head. "There's a lot of
'iding goin' on, no question about _that_; and the great thing is--my
way of thinkin' at any rate--is--jest to keep on lookin'."

The children met him eagerly at this point, using two favourite words
that Aunt Emily strongly disapproved of: "deslidedly," said one;
"distinkly," exclaimed the other.

"That's it," continued WEEDEN, pulling down his cap to hide, perhaps,
the spot where wisdom would leak out. "And, talking of signs, I say--
find out yer own pertickler sign, then follow it blindly--till the
end."

He straightened up and looked with an air of respectful candour at the
others. The decision of his statement delighted them. The children
felt something of awe in it. Something of their Leader's knowledge
evidently was in him.

"Miss Judy, she gets 'er signs from the air," he said, as no one
spoke. "Master Tim goes poking along the ground, looking for something
with his feet. He feels best that way, feels the earth--things a-
growin' up or things wot go down into 'oles. Colonel Stumper--and no
offence to you, sir--chooses dark places where the sun forgets to
shine--"

"Dangerous, jungly places," whispered Tim, admiringly.

"And Mr. Felix--" he hesitated. Uncle Felix's easiest way of searching
seemed to puzzle him. "Mr. Felix," he went on at length, "jest messes
about all over the place at once, because 'e sees signs everywhere and
don't know what to foller in partickler for fear of losin' hisself."

Come-Back Stumper chuckled audibly, but Uncle Felix asked at once--
"And you, WEEDEN? What about yourself, I wonder?"

The Gardener replied without his usual hesitation. It was probably the
most direct reply he had ever made. No one could guess how much it
cost him. "Underground," he said. "My signs lies underground, sir.
Where the rain-drops 'ides theirselves on getting down and the grubs
keeps secret till they feel their wings. Where the potatoes and the
reddishes is," he added, touching his cap with a respectful finger. He
went on with a hint of yearning in his tone that made it tremble
slightly: "If I could find igsackly where and 'ow the potatoes gets
big down there"--he pointed to the earth--"or how my roses get colour
out of the dirt--I'd know it, wouldn't I, sir? I'd--'ave him, fair!"

The effort exhausted him, it seemed. So deeply was he moved that he
had almost gone contrary to his own nature in making such an explicit
statement. But he had said something very real at last. It was clear
that he was distinctly in the know. Living among natural growing
things, he was in touch with life in a deeper sense than they were.

"And me?" the Tramp mentioned lightly, smiling at his companion of the
outdoor life. "Don't leave me out, please. I'm looking like the rest
of you."

WEEDEN turned round and gazed at him. He wore a strange expression
that had respect in it, but something more than mere respect. There
was a touch of wonder in his eye, a hint of worship almost. But he did
not answer; no word escaped his lips. Instead of speaking he moved up
nearer; he took three cautious steps, then halted close beside the
great burly figure that formed the centre of the little group.

And then he did a curious and significant little act; he held out both
his hands against him as a man might hold out his hands to warm them
before a warm and comforting grate of blazing coals.

"Fire," he said; then added, "and I'm much obliged to you."

He wore a proud and satisfied air, grateful and happy too. He put his
cap straight, picked up his spade, and prepared without another word
to go on digging for truffles where apparently none existed. He seemed
quite content with--looking.

A pause followed, broken presently by Tim: a whisper addressed to all.

"He never finds any. That shows how real it is."

"They're somewhere, though," observed Judy.

They stood and watched the spade; it went in with a crunching sound;
it came out slowly with a sort of "pouf," and a load of rich, black
earth slid off it into the world of sunshine. It went in again, it
came out again; the rhythm of the movement caught them. How long they
watched it no one knew, and no one cared to know: it might have been a
moment, it may have been a year or two; so utterly had hurry vanished
out of life it seemed to them they stood and watched for ever...when
they became aware of a curious sensation, as though they felt the
whole earth turning with them. They were moving, surely. Something to
which they belonged, of which they formed a part--was moving. A windy
voice was singing just in front of them. They looked up. The words
were inaudible, but they knew it was a bit of the same old song that
every one seemed singing everywhere as though the Day itself were
singing.

The Tramp was going on.

"Hark!" said Tim. "The birds are singing. Let's go on and look."

"The world is wild with laughter," Judy cried, snatching the words
from the air about her. "We can fly--" She darted after him.

"Among the imprisoned hours as we choose," boomed the voice of Uncle
Felix, as he followed, rolling in behind her.

"We can play," growled Stumper, hobbling next in the line. "_My_ life
has just begun."

Their Leader waited till they all came up with him. They caught him
up, gathering about him like things that settled on a sunny bush. It
almost seemed they were one single person growing from the earth and
air and water. The Tramp glowed there between them like a heart of
burning fire.

"_He_ ought to be with us, too," said Judy, looking back.

"No hurry," replied the Tramp. "Let him be; he's following _his_ sign.
When he's ready, he'll come along. It's a lovely day."

They moved with the rhythm of a flock of happy birds across the field
of yellow flowers, singing in chorus something or other about an
"extra day." A hundred years flowed over them, or else a single
instant. It mattered not. They took no heed, at any rate. It was so
enormous that they lost themselves, and yet so tiny that they held it
between a finger and a thumb. The important thing was--that they were
getting warmer.

Then Judy suddenly nudged Tim, and Tim nudged Uncle Felix, and Uncle
Felix dug his elbow into Come-Back Stumper, and Stumper somehow or
other caught the attention of the Tramp--a sort of panting sound,
half-whistle and half-gasp. They paused and looked behind them.

"He's ready," remarked their Leader, with a laughing chuckle in his
beard. "He's coming on!"

WEEDEN, sure enough, had quietly shouldered his shovel and empty sack,
and was making after them, singing as he came. Judy was on the point
of saying to her brother, "Good thing Aunt Emily isn't here!" when she
caught a look in his eyes that stopped her dead.




AUNT EMILY FINDS--HERSELF

VIII


"My dear!" he exclaimed in his tone of big discovery.

Judy made a movement like a swan that inspects the world behind its
back. She tried to look everywhere at once. It seemed she did so.

"Gracious me!" she cried. She instinctively chose prohibited words.
"_My_ gracious me!"

For the places of the world had marvellously shifted and run into one
another somehow. A place called "Somewhere Else" was close about her;
and standing in the middle of it was--a figure. Both place and figure
ought to have been somewhere else by rights. Judy's surprise, however,
was quite momentary; swift, bird-like understanding followed it. Place
was a sham and humbug really; already, without leaving the schoolroom
carpet, she and Tim had been to the Metropolis and even to the East.
This was merely another of these things she didn't know she knew; she
understood another thing she didn't understand. She believed.

The rest of the party had disappeared inside the wood; only Tim
remained--pointing at this figure outlined against the trees. But
these trees belonged to a place her physical eyes had never seen.
Perhaps they were part of her mental picture of it. The figure,
anyhow, barred the way.

It was a woman, the last person in the world they wished to see just
then. The face, wearing an expression as though it tried to be happy
when it felt it ought not to be, was pointed; chin, ears, and eye-
brows pointed; nose pointed too--round doors and into corners--an
elastic nose; there was a look of struggling sweetness about the thin,
tight lips; the entire expression, from the colourless eyes down to
the tip of the decided chin, was one of marked reproach and
disapproval that at the same time fought with an effort to be
understanding, gentle, wise. The face wanted to be very nice, but was
prevented by itself. It was pathetic. Its owner was dressed in black,
a small, neat bonnet fastened carefully on the head, an umbrella in
one hand, and big goloshes on both feet. There were gold glasses
balanced on the nose. She smiled at them, but with a smile that
prophesied rebuke. Before she spoke a word, her entire person said
distinctly NO.

"Bother!" Tim muttered beneath his breath, then added, "It's her!"
Already he felt guilty--of something he had not done, but might do
presently. The figure's mere presence invited him to break all rules.

"We thought," exclaimed Judy, trying to remember what rules she had
just disobeyed, and almost saying "hoped,"--"we thought you were at
Tunbridge Wells." Then with an effort she put in "Aunty."

Yet about the new arrival was a certain flustered and uneasy air, as
though she were caught in something that she wished to hide--at any
rate something she would not willingly confess to. One hand, it was
noticed, she kept stiffly behind her back.

"Children," she uttered in an emphatic voice, half-surprised
remonstrance, half-automatic rebuke; "I am astonished!" She looked it.
She pursed her lips more tightly, and gazed at the pair of culprits as
though she had hoped better things of them and _again_ had been
disappointed. "You know quite well that this is out of bounds." It
came out like an arrow, darting.

"We were looking for some one," began Tim, but in a tone that added
plainly enough "it wasn't you."

"Who's hiding, you see," quoth Judy, "but expecting us--at once." The
delay annoyed her.

"You are both well aware," Aunt Emily went on, ignoring their excuses
as in duty bound, "that your parents would not approve. At this hour
of the morning too! You ought to be fast asleep in bed. If your father
knew--!"

Yet, strange to say, the children felt that they loved her suddenly;
for the first time in their lives they thought her lovable. A kind of
understanding sympathy woke in them; there was something pitiable
about her. For, obviously, she was looking just as they were, but
looking in such a silly way and in such hopelessly stupid places. All
her life she had been looking like this, dressed in crackling black,
wearing a prickly bonnet and heavy goloshes, and carrying a useless
umbrella that of course must bother her. It was disappointment that
made her talk as she did. But it was natural she should feel
disappointment, for it never rained when she had her umbrella, and her
goloshes were always coming off.

"She's stuck in a hole," thought Tim, "and so she just says things at
us. She hurts herself somewhere. She's tired."

"She has to be like that," thought Judy. "It's really all pretending.
Poor old thing!"

But Aunt Emily was not aware of what they felt. They were out of bed,
and it was her duty to find fault; they were out of bounds, and she
must take note of it. So she prepared to scold a little. Her bonnet
waggled ominously. She gripped her umbrella. She spoke as though it
was very early in the morning, almost dawn--as though the sun were
rising. There was confusion in her as to the time of day, it seemed.
But the children did not notice this. They were so accustomed to being
rebuked by her that the actual words made small impression. She was
just "saying things"; they were often very muddled things; the
attitude, not the meaning, counted. And her attitude, they divined,
was subtly different.

"You know this is forbidden," she said. "It is damp and chilly. It's
sure to rain presently. You'll get your feet wet. You should keep to
the gravel paths. They're plain enough, are they not?" She looked
about her, sniffing--a sniff that usually summoned disasters in a
flock.

"Oh, yes," said Tim; "and they look like brown sugar, _we_ thought."

"It does not matter what you thought, Timothy. The paths are made on
purpose to be walked upon and used--"

"They're beautifully made," interrupted Judy, unable to keep silent
longer. "WEEDEN made them for us."

"And we've used them all," exclaimed Tim, "only we came to an end of
them. We've done with them--paths!" The way he uttered the
substantives made it instantly sound ridiculous.

Aunt Emily opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again
without saying it. She stared at them instead. They watched her. All
fear of her had left their hearts. A new expression rose struggling
upon her pointed features. She fidgeted from one foot to the other.
They felt her as "Aunty," a poor old muddled thing, always looking in
ridiculous places without the smallest notion she was wrong. Tim saw
her suddenly "all dressed up on purpose" as for a game. Judy thought
"She's bubbling inside--really."

"There's WEEDEN in there," Tim mentioned, pointing to the wood behind
her.

Something uncommonly like a smile passed into Aunt Emily's eyes, then
vanished as suddenly as it came. Judy thought it was like a bubble
that burst the instant it reached the sunlight on the surface of a
pond.

"And how often," came the rebuke, automatically rather, "has your
Mother told you _not_ to be familiar with the Gardener? Play if you
want to, but do not play with your inferiors. Play with your Uncle
Felix, with Colonel Stumper, or with me--"

Another bubble had risen, caught the sunshine, reflected all the
colours of the prism, then burst and vanished into airy spray.

"But they're looking with us," Tim insisted eagerly. "We're all
looking together for something--Uncle Felix, Come-Back Stumper,
everybody. It's wonderful. It never ends."

Aunt Emily's hand, still clutching the umbrella, stole up and put her
bonnet straight. It was done to gain a little time apparently. There
was a certain hesitation in her. She seemed puzzled. She betrayed
excitement too.

"Looking, are you?" she exclaimed, and her voice held a touch of
mellowness that was new. "Looking!"

She stopped. She tried to hide the mellowness by swallowing it.

"Yes," said Tim. "There's some one hiding. It's Hide-and-Seek, you
see. We're the seekers. It's enormous."

"Will you come with us and look too?" suggested Judy simply. Then
while Aunt Emily's lips framed themselves as from long habit into a
negative or a reprimand, the child continued before either reached
delivery: "There are heaps of signs about; anything lovely or
beautiful is a sign--a sign that we're getting warm. We've each got
ours. Mine's air. What's yours, Aunty?"

Aunt Emily stared at them; her bewilderment increased apparently; she
swallowed hard again. The children returned her stare, gazing
innocently into her questioning eyes as if she were some strange bird
at the Zoo. The new feeling of kinship with her grew stronger in their
hearts. They knew quite well she was looking just as they were;
_really_ she longed to play their game of Hide-and-Seek. She was very
ignorant, of course, they saw, but they were ready and willing to
teach her how to play, and would make it easy for her into the
bargain.

"Signs!" she repeated, in a voice that was gentler than they had ever
known it. There was almost a sound of youth in it. Judy suddenly
realised that Aunt Emily had once been a girl. A softer look shone in
the colourless eyes. The lips relaxed. In a hat she might have been
even pretty. No one in a bonnet could be jolly. "Signs!" she repeated;
"deep and beautiful! Whatever in the world--?"

She stopped abruptly, started by the exquisite trilling of a bird that
was perched upon a branch quite close behind her. The liquid notes
poured out in a stream of music, so rich, so lovely that it seemed as
if no bird had ever sung before and that they were the first persons
in the world who had ever heard it.

"My sign!" cried Judy, dancing round her disconcerted and bewildered
relative. "One of my signs--that!"

"Mine is rabbits and rats and badgers," Tim called out with
ungrammatical emphasis. "Anything that likes the earth are mine." He
looked about him as if to point one out to her. "They're everywhere,
all over the place," he added, seeing none at the moment. "Aunty,
what's yours? Do tell us, because then we can go and look together."

"It's _much_ more fun than looking alone," declared Judy.

No answer came. But, caught by the astounding magic of the singing
bird, Aunt Emily had turned, and in doing so the hand behind her back
became visible for the first time since their meeting. The children
saw it simultaneously. They nudged each other, but they said no word.
The same moment, having failed to discover the bird, Aunt Emily turned
back again. She looked caught, they thought. But, also she looked as
if she had found something herself. The secret joy she tried to hide
from them by swallowing it, rose to her wrinkled cheeks and shone in
both her eyes, then overflowed and rippled down towards her trembling
mouth. The lips were trembling. She smiled, but so softly, sweetly,
that ten years dropped from her like a dissolving shadow. And the hand
she had so long kept hidden behind her back stole forth slowly into
view.

"How did you guess that I was looking for anything?" she inquired
plaintively in an excited yet tremulous tone. "I thought no one knew
it." She seemed genuinely surprised, yet unbelievably happy too. A
great sigh of relief escaped her.

"We're all the same," one of them informed her; "so you are too!
Everybody's looking." And they crowded round to examine the objects in
her hand--a dirty earth-stained trowel and a fern. They knew she
collected ferns on the sly, but never before had they seen her bring
home such a prize. Usually she found only crumpled things like old
bits of wrinkled brown paper which she called "specimens." This one
was marvellously beautiful. It had a dainty, slender stalk of ebony
black, and its hundred tiny leaves quivered like a shower of green
water-drops in the air. There was actual joy in every trembling bit of
it.

"That's my sign," announced Aunt Emily with pride: "Maidenhair! It'll
grow again. I've got the roots." And she said it as triumphantly as
Stumper had said "snail-shell."

"Of course, Aunty," Judy cried, yet doubtfully. "_You_ ought to know."
She twiddled it round in her fingers till the quivering fronds emitted
a tiny sound. "And you can use it as a feather too." She lowered her
head to listen.

"We've each got a feather," mentioned Tim. "It's a compass. Shows the
way, you know. You hear him calling--that way."

"The Tramp explained that," Judy added. "He's Leader. Come on, Aunty.
We ought to be off; the others went ages ago. We're going to the End
of the World, and they've already started."

For a moment Aunt Emily looked as rigid as the post beside a five-
barred gate. The old unbending attitude took possession of her once
again. Her eyes took on the tint of soapy water. Her elastic nose
looked round the corner. She frowned. Her black dress crackled. The
mention of a tramp and the End of the World woke all her savage
educational instincts visibly.

"He's a singing tramp and shines like a Christmas Tree," explained
Judy, "and he looks like everybody in the world. He's extror'iny." She
turned to her brother. "Doesn't he, Tim?"

Tim ran up and caught his Aunt by the umbrella hand. He saw her
stiffening. He meant to prevent it if he could.

"Everybody rolled into one," he agreed eagerly; "Daddy and Mother and
the Clergyman and you."

"And me?" she asked tremulously.

"Rather!" the boy said vehemently; "as you are now, all rabbity and
nice."

Aunt Emily slowly removed one big golosh, then waited.

"Cleaned up and young," cried Judy, "and smells delicious--like
flowers and hay--"

"And soft and warm--"

"And sings and dances--"

"And is positive that if we go on looking we shall find--exactly what
we're looking for."

Aunt Emily removed the other golosh--a shade more quickly than the
first one. She kicked it off. The stiffness melted out of her; she
smiled again.

"Well," she began--when Judy stood on tip-toe and whispered in her ear
some magic sentence.

"Dawn!" Aunt Emily whispered back. "At dawn--when the birds begin to
sing!"

Something had caught her heart and squeezed it.

Tim and Judy nodded vehemently in agreement. Aunt Emily dropped her
umbrella then. And at the same moment a singing voice became audible
in the trees behind them. The song came floating to them through the
sunlight with a sound of wind and birds. It had a marvellous quality,
very sweet and very moving. There was a lilt in it, a laughing, happy
lilt, as though the Earth herself were singing of the Spring.

And Aunt Emily made one last vain attempt: she struggled to put her
fingers in her ears. But the children held her hands. She crackled and
made various oppressive and objecting sounds, but the song poured into
her in spite of all her efforts. Her feet began to move upon the
grass. It was awful, it was shocking, it was forbidden and against all
rules and regulations: yet--Aunt Emily danced!

And a thin, plaintive voice, like the voice of her long-forgotten
youth, slipped out between her faded lips--and positively sang:

     "The world is young with laughter; we can fly
      Among the imprisoned hours as we choose...."

But to Tim and Judy it all seemed merely right and natural.

"Come on," cried the boy, pulling his Aunt towards the wood.

"We can look together now. You've got your sign," exclaimed Judy,
tugging at her other hand. "Everything's free and careless, and so are
we."

"Aim for a path," Tim shouted by way of a concession. "Aunty'll go
quicker on a path."

But Aunty was nothing if not decided. "I know a short-cut," she sang.
"Paths are for people who don't know the way. There's no time--to
lose. Dear me! I'm warm already!" She dropped her umbrella.

And, actually dancing and singing, she led the way into the wood,
holding the fern before her like a wand, and happy as a girl let out
of school.

But as they went, Judy, knowing suddenly another thing she didn't
know, made a discovery of her own, an immense discovery. It was bigger
than anything Tim had ever found. She felt so light and swift and
winged by it that she seemed almost to melt into the air herself.

"I say, Tim," she said.

"Yes."

She took her eyes from the sky to see what her feet were doing; Tim
lifted his from the earth to see what was going on above him in the
air.

Judy went on: "I know what," she announced.

"What?" He was not particularly interested, it seemed.

Judy paused. She dropped a little behind her dancing Aunt. Tim joined
her. It all happened as quickly as a man might snap his fingers; Aunt
Emily, her heart full of growing ferns, noticed nothing.

"We've found her out!" whispered Judy, communicating her immense
discovery. "What she really is, I mean!"

He agreed and nodded. It did not strike him as anything wonderful or
special. "Oh, yes," he answered; "rather!" He did not grasp her
meaning, perhaps.

But his sister was bursting with excitement, radiant, shivering almost
with the wonder of it.

"But don't you see? It's--a sign!" she exclaimed so loud that Aunt
Emily almost heard it. "She's found herself! She was hiding--from
herself. That's part of it all--the game. It's the biggest sign of
all!"

She was so "warm" that she burned all over.

"Oh, yes," repeated Tim. "I see!" But he was not particularly
impressed. He merely wanted his Aunt to find an enormous fern whose
roots were growing in the sweet, sticky earth _he_ loved. Her sign was
a fern; his was the ground. It made him understand Aunt Emily at last,
and therefore love her; he saw no further than that.

Judy, however, _knew_. She suddenly understood what the Tramp meant by
"deep." She also knew now why Stumper, WEEDEN, Uncle Felix too, looked
at him so strangely, with wonder, with respect, with love. Something
about the Tramp explained each one to himself. Each one found--
himself. And she--without realising it before, had acquired this power
too, though only in a small degree as yet. The Tramp believed in
everybody; she, without knowing it, believed in her Aunt. It was
another thing she didn't know she knew.

And the real, long-buried, deeply-hidden Aunt Emily had emerged
accordingly. All her life she had been hiding--from herself. She had
found herself at last. It was the biggest sign of all.

Tim caught her hand and dragged her after him. "Come on," he cried,
"we're getting frightfully warm. Look at Aunty! Listen, will you?"

Aunt Emily, a little way in front of them, was digging busily with her
dirty trowel. Her bonnet was crooked, her skirts tucked up, her white
worsted stockings splashed with mud, her elastic-sided boots scratched
and plastered. And she was singing to herself in a thin but happy
voice that was not unlike an old and throaty corncrake: "The birds are
singing....Hark! Come out and play....Life is an endless
search...._I've_ just begun...!"

They listened for a little while, and then ran headlong up to join
her.




SIGNS EVERYWHERE!

IX


And it was somewhere about here and now--the exact spot impossible to
determine, since it was obviously a circular experience without
beginning, middle or end--that the gigantic character of the Day
declared itself in all its marvellous simplicity. For as they dived
deeper and deeper towards its centre, they discovered that its centre,
being everywhere at once, existed--nowhere. The sun was always rising
--somewhere.

In other words, each seeker grasped, in his or her own separate way,
that the Splendour hiding from them lay actually both too near and far
away for any individual eye to see it with completeness. Someone,
indeed, had come; but this Someone, as Judy told herself, was "simply
all over the place." To see him "distinkly is an awful job," according
to Uncle Felix; or as Come-Back Stumper realised in the middle of
another clump of bramble bushes, "Perspective is necessary to proper
vision." "He" lay too close before their eyes to be discovered fully.
Tim had long ago described it instinctively as "an enormous hide," but
it was more than that; it was a universal hide.

Alone, perhaps, Weeden's lost optic, wandering ubiquitously and
enjoying the bird's-eye view, possessed the coveted power. But, like
the stars, though somewhat about, it was invisible. WEEDEN made no
reference to it. He attended to one thing at a time, he lived in the
present; one eye was gone; he just looked for truffles--with the
other.

Yet this did not damp their ardour in the least; increased it rather:
the gathering of the clues became more and more absorbing. Though not
seen, the hider was both known and felt; his presence was a certainty.
There was no real contradiction.

For signs grew and multiplied till the entire world seemed overflowing
with them, and hardly could the earth contain them. They brimmed the
sunny air, flooded the ponds and streams, lay thick upon the fields,
and almost choked the woods to stillness. They trickled out, leaked
through, dripped over everywhere in colour, shape, and sound. The
hider had passed everywhere, and upon everything had left his
exquisite and deathless traces. The inanimate, as well as the animate
world had known the various touch of his great passing. His trail had
blazed the entire earth about them. For the very clouds were dipped in
snow and gold, and the meanest pebble in the lane wore a self-
conscious gleam of shining silver. So-called domestic creatures also
seemed aware that a stupendous hiding-place was somewhere near--the
browsing cow, contented and at ease, the horse that nuzzled their
hands across the gate, the very pigs, grubbing eternally for food, yet
eternally unsatisfied; all these, this endless morning, wore an
unaccustomed look as though they knew, and so were glad to be alive.
Some knew more than others, of course. The cat, for instance,
defending its kittens single-pawed against the stable-dog who
pretended to be ferocious; the busy father-blackbird, passing worms to
his mate for the featherless mites, all beak and clamour in the nest;
the Clouded Yellow, sharing a spray of honeysuckle with a Bumble-bee,
and the honeysuckle offering no resistance--one and all, they also
were aware in their differing degrees. And the seekers, noting the
signs, grew warmer and ever warmer. An ordinary day these signs, owing
to their generous profusion, might have called for no remark. They
would, probably, have drawn no attention to themselves, merely lying
about unnoticed, undiscovered because familiar. But this was not an
ordinary day. It was unused, unspoilt and unrecorded. It was the Some
Day of humanity's long dream--an Extra Day. Time could not carry it
away; it could not end; all it contained was of eternity. The great
hider at the heart of it was real. These signs--deep, tender, kind and
beautiful--were part of him, and in knowing, recognising them, they
knew and recognised him too. They drew near, that is, brushed up
closer, to his hiding-place from which _he_ saw them. They approached
within knowing distance of a Reality that each in his or her
particular way had always yearned for. They held--oh, distinkly held--
that they were winning. They won the marvellous game as soon as it
began. They never had a doubt about the end.

But their supreme, superb discovery was this: They had always secretly
longed to find the elusive hider; they now realised that _he_--wanted
them to find him, and that from his hiding-place he saw them easily.
That was the most wonderful thing of all....

To describe the separate adventures of each seeker would involve a
series of bulky trilogies no bookshelves in the world could carry;
they can, besides, be adequately told in three simple words that Tim
used--shouted with intense enthusiasm when he tripped over a rabbit-
hole and tumbled headlong against that everlasting Tramp: "I'm still
looking!" He dived away into another hole. "I'm looking still." "So am
I," the Tramp answered, also in three words. "I'm _very_ warm,"
growled Stumper; "I'm getting on," Aunt Emily piped; and while Judy
was for ever shouting out "I've found him!" Uncle Felix, puffing and
panting, could only repeat with rapture each time he met another
seeker: "A lovely day! A _lovely_ day!" They said so little--
experienced and felt so much!

From time to time, too, others joined them in the tremendous game. It
seemed the personality of the Tramp attracted them. Something about
him--his sincerity, perhaps, or his simplicity--made them realise
suddenly what they were about: as though they had not noticed it
before, not understood it quite, at any rate. They found themselves.
He did and said so little. But he possessed the unique quality of a
Leader--natural persuasion.

Thompson, for instance, cleaning the silver at the pantry window,
looked up and saw them pass. They caught him unawares. His pompous
manner hung like a discarded mask on a nail beside his livery. He wore
his black and white striped waistcoat, and an apron. Of course he
looked proper, as an old family servant ought to look, but he looked
cheerful too. He was humming to himself as he polished up the covers
and the candelabra.

"Well, I never!" he exclaimed, as the line of them filed by. "I never
did. And Mr. Weeden with 'em too!"

The Tramp passed singing and looked through the open window at the
butler. No more than that. Their eyes met between the bars. They
exchanged glances. But something incalculable happened in that
instant, just as it had happened to Stumper, Aunt Emily, and the rest
of them. Thompson put several questions into his look of sheer
astonishment.

"Why not?" the Tramp replied, chuckling as he caught the butler's eye.
"It's a lovely morning. We're just looking!"

Thompson was flabbergasted--as if all the old-fashioned families of
the world had suddenly praised him. All his life he had never done
anything but his ordinary duty.

"It's 'oliday time," said Weeden, coming next, "and all my flowers and
vegitubles is a-growin' nicely." He too seemed singing, dancing.
Something had happened. The whole world seemed out and playing.

Thompson forgot himself in a most unusual way, forgot that he was an
old family servant, that the apron-string met round his middle with
difficulty, that the Authorities were away and his responsibilities
increased thereby; forgot too, that for twenty years he had been
answering bells, over-hearing conversations without pretending to do
so, and that visitors wanted hot water and early tea at "7:30 sharp."
He remembered suddenly that he was a man--and that he was very fond of
some one. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, the flowers
were out upon the lawn, and it was Spring.

An amazing longing in him woke and stirred to life. There was a
singular itching in his feet. Something in his butler-heart began to
purr. "Looking, eh!" he thought. "There's something I've been looking
for too. I'd forgot about it."

"No one can make the silver shine as I can," he mumbled, watching the
retreating figures, "but it is about finished now,"--he glanced down
at it with pride--"and fit to set on the table. Why shouldn't I take a
turn in the garden too?"

He looked out a moment. The magic of the spring came upon him suddenly
like a revelation. He knew he was alive, that there was something he
wanted somewhere, something real and satisfying--if only he could find
it--find out what it was. For twenty years he had been living
automatically. Alfred Thompson suddenly felt free and careless. The
butler--yearned!

He hesitated, gave the dish-cover an extra polish, then called through
the door to Mrs. Horton:

"There's a tramp in the garden, Bridget, and Mr. Weeden's with him.
Mr. Felix is halso taking the air, and Master Tim--"

He stopped, hearing a step in the pantry. Mrs. Horton stood behind him
with a shawl about her shoulders. Her red face was smiling.

"Alfred, let's go out and take a look," she said. "Mary can see to the
shepherd's-pie. I've been as quick as I could," she added, as if
excusing herself. Moreover, she said distinctly, "shepherd's-_poie_."

"_I_ haven't been 'calling,'" replied the butler, "except only just
now--just this minute." He spoke as though he was being scolded for
not answering a bell. But he cast an admiring glance, half wild, half
reckless, at the cook.

"An' you shouting to me to come this last 'arf hour and more!" cried
Mrs. Horton. She, too, apparently, was in a "state."

"You are mistaken, Bridget, I have been singing, as I often do when
attending to the silver, but as for--"

"You can do without a hat," she interrupted. "Come on! I want to go
and look for--for--" She broke off, taking his arm as though they were
going down the Strand or Oxford Street. Her red face beamed. She
looked very proud and happy. She wanted to look for something too, but
she could not believe the moment had really come. She had put it away
so long--like a special dish in a cupboard.

"I don't know what's come over me," she went on very confidentially,
as she moved beside him through the scullery door, "but--but I don't
feel satisfied--not satisfied with meself as I used to be."

"No, Bridget?" It was in his best "7:30" manner. There was a struggle
in him.

"No," said Mrs. Horton, with decision. "I give satisfaction--that I
know--"

"We both do that," said Thompson proudly. "And no one can do a suet
pudding to a turn as you can. Only the other day I heard Sir William
a-speaking of it--"

She held his arm more tightly. They were on the lawn by now. The flood
of sunlight caught them, showed up the worn and shabby places in his
suit of broadcloth, gleamed on her bursting shoes she "fancied" for
her kitchen work. They heard the birds, they smelt the flowers, the
air bathed them all over like a sea.

"And the silver, Alfred," she said in a lower tone. "Who in the world
can make it look as you do? But what I've been feeling lately--since
this morning, that is to say--and feeling for the first time in me
life, so to speak--"

"Bridget, dear, you've got it!" he interrupted with excitement, "I've
felt it too. Felt it this morning first, when I woke up and remembered
that nobody wanted hot-water nor early tea, and I said to myself,
'There's more than that in it. I'm not doing all this just only for a
salary. I'm doing it for something else. What is it?'"

He spoke very rapidly for a butler. He looked down at her red and
smiling face.

"What is it?" he repeated, curiously moved.

She looked up at him without a word.

"It's something 'idden," he said, after a pause. "That's what it is."

"That's it," agreed Mrs. Horton. "Like a recipe."

There was another pause. The butler broke it. They stood together in
the middle of the field, flowers and birds and sunshine all about
them.

"A mystery--inside of us," he said, "I think--"

"Yes, Alfred," the cook murmured softly.

"_I_ think," he continued, "it's a song and dance we want. A little
life." He broke off abruptly, noticing the sudden movement of her
bursting shoes. She took a long step forwards, then sideways. She
opened her arms to the air and sun. She almost pirouetted.

"Life!" she cried, "'ot and fiery. Life! That's it. Hark, Alfred, d'ye
hear that singing far away?" She felt the Irish break out of her.
"Listen!" she cried, trying to drag him faster. "Listen, will ye? It
makes me wild entirely! Give me yer hand! Come on and dance wid me!
It's in me hearrt I feel it, in me blood. To the devil with me suet
puddings and shepherd-poies--that singing's real, that's loife, that's
lovely as a dhream! It's what I've been looking for iver since I can
remember. I've got it!"

And Thompson felt himself spinning through the air. Old families were
forgotten. The world was young with laughter. They could fly. They
did.

The silver was beautifully cleaned. He had earned his holiday.

"That singing!" he gasped, feeling his heart grow big. He followed her
across the flowered world. "I believe it is a bird! It would not
surprise me to be told--"

"A birrd!" cried Mrs. Horton, turning him round and round. "It's a
birrd from Heaven then! I've heard it all the morning. It's been
singing in me heart for ages. Now it's out! Come follow it wid me!
We'll go to the end of the wurrld to foinde it."

Her kitchen energy--some called it temper--had discovered a greater
scope than puddings.

"There is no hurry," the butler panted, moving along with her, and
trying hard to keep his balance. "We'll look together. We'll find it!"
And as they raced across the field among the flowers after the line of
disappearing figures, the Tramp looked back at them and waved his
hand.

"It's a lovely morning," he said, as they came up with the rest of the
party. "So you're looking too?"

Too much out of breath to answer, they just nodded, and the group
accepted them without more to-do. Their object evidently was the same.
Aunt Emily glanced up from her ferns, nodded and said, "Good morning,
it's a lovely day"--and resumed her digging again. It was like shaking
hands! They all went forward happily, eagerly, across the wide, wide
world together.

The absence of surprise the children knew had now become a
characteristic everybody shared. All were in the same state together.
The whole day flowed, there were no limitations or conditions, least
of all surprise. Even WEEDEN had forgotten hedges and artificial
boundaries. No one, therefore, ejaculated nor exclaimed when they ran
across the Policeman. He, too, was looking for some one, but, having
mislaid his notebook and pencil stub, was unable to mention any names,
and was easily persuaded to join the body of eager seekers. Being a
policeman, he was naturally a seeker by profession; he was always
looking for somebody somewhere--somebody who was going in the wrong
direction.

"That's just it," he said, the moment he saw the Tramp, taking his
helmet off as though an odd respect was in him. "That's just what I've
always felt," he went on vaguely. "I'm looking for some one wot's
a'looking for something else--only looking wrong."

"In the wrong places," suggested Stumper, remembering his Indian
scouting days.

"In the wrong way," put in Uncle Felix, full of experience by now.

The Policeman listened attentively, as though by rights he ought to
enter these sentences laboriously in his notebook.

"That's it, per'aps," he stated. "It takes 'em longer, but they finds
out in the end. If I was to show 'em the right way of looking instead
of arresting 'em--I'd be _reel_!" And then he added, as if he were
giving evidence in a Court of Justice and before a County Magistrate,
"There's no good looking for anything where it ain't, now is there?"

"Precisely," agreed Colonel Stumper, remembering happily that his
pockets were full of snail-shells. He knew _his_ sign.

Thompson, Mrs. Horton, Weeden, and the Policeman glanced at him
gratefully. But it was the last mentioned who replied:

"Because every one," he said with conviction at last, "has his own way
of looking, and even the burgular is only looking wrong." He, too, it
seemed, had found himself.

Their search, their endless hunt, their conversation and adventures
thus might be reported endlessly, if only the book-shelves of the
world were built more stoutly, and everybody could find an Extra Day
lying about in which to read it all. Each seeker held true to his or
her first love, obeying an infallible instinct. The adventure and
romance that hid in Tim and Judy, respectively, sent them headlong
after anything that offered signs of these two common but seductive
qualities. Judy lived literally in the air, her feet, her heart,
her eyes all off the ground; Tim, filled with an equally insatiable
curiosity, found adorable danger in every rabbit-run, and rescued
things innumerable. Off the ground he felt unsafe, unsure, and lost
himself. Stumper, faithful to his scouting passion, disappeared into
all kinds of undesirable places no one else would have dreamed of
looking in, yet invariably--came back; and while Uncle Felix tried a
little of everything and found "copy" in a puddle or a dandelion,
Weeden carried his empty sack without a murmur, knowing it would be
filled with truffles at the end. Aunt Emily, exceedingly particular,
but no longer interfering with the others, was equally sure of
herself. A touch of fluid youth ran in her veins again, and in her
heart grew a fern that presently she would find everywhere outside as
well--a maiden-hair.

Each, however, in some marvellous way, shared the adventures of the
others, as though the Tramp merged all seven of them into one single
being, unified them, at any rate, into this one harmonious, common
purpose with himself. For, while everybody had a different way of
looking, everybody's way--for that particular individual--was exactly
right.

"Smell, then follow," was the secret. "Find your own sign and stick to
it," the clue. Each sign, though by different routes, led straight
towards the marvellous hiding-place. To urge one's own sign upon
another was merely to delay that other; but to point out better signs
of his own particular kind was to send him on faster than before. Thus
there was harmony among them all, for every seeker, knowing this, had
--found himself.




REALITY

X


But, while there was no hurry, no passing, and, most certainly of all,
no passing away, there was a sense of enormous interval. There were
epochs, there were interludes, there was--duration.

Though everything had only just begun, it was yet complete, if not
completed.

At any point of an adventure that adventure could be taken over from
the very start, the experience holding all the thrill and wonder of
the first time.

Cake could be had and eaten too. Tim, half-way down a rabbit-hole,
could instantly find himself at the opening again, bursting with all
the original excitement of trembling calculations. With the others it
was similar.

There was no end to anything. Yet--there was this general
consciousness of gigantic interval. It turned in a circle round them--
everywhere....

They came together, then, all eight of them, into that place of
singular enchantment known as the End of the World, sitting in a group
about the prostrate elm that on ordinary days was Home. What they had
been doing each one knew assuredly, even if no one mentioned it. Tim,
who had been to India with Come-Back Stumper, had a feeling in his
heart that expressed itself in one word, "everywhere," accompanied by
a sigh of happy satisfaction; Judy felt what she knew as "Neverness";
she had seen the Metropolis inside out, with Uncle Felix apparently.
And these two couples now sat side by side upon the tree, gazing
contentedly at the colony of wallflowers that flamed in the sunshine
just above their heads. WEEDEN, cleaning his spade with a great nailed
boot, turned his good eye affectionately upon the sack that lay beside
him, full now to bursting. Aunt Emily breathed on her gold-rimmed
glasses, rubbed them, and put them on her elastic nose, then looked
about her peacefully yet expectantly, ready, it seemed, to start again
at any moment--anywhere. She guarded carefully a mossy bundle in her
black silk lap. A little distance from her Thompson was fastening a
flower into Mrs. Horton's dress, and close to the gate stood the
Policeman, smoking a pipe and watching everybody with obvious
contentment. His belt was loose; both hands stuck into it; he leaned
against the wooden fence.

On the ground, between the tree and the fence, the Tramp had made a
fire. He lay crouched about it. He and the fire belonged to one
another. It seemed that he was dozing.

And this sense of lying in the heart of an enormous circular interval
touched everybody with delicious peace; each had apparently found
something real, and was content merely to lie and--be with it. All
came gradually to sitting or reclining postures. Yet there was no
sense of fatigue; any instant they would be up again and looking.

Occasionally one or other of them spoke, but it was not the kind of
speech that struggled to express difficult ideas with tedious
sentences of many words. There was very little to _say_: mere
statements of indubitable reality could be so easily and briefly made.

"Now," said Tim, unafraid of contradiction.

"Then," said Judy, equally certain of herself.

"Now then," declared Uncle Felix, positive at last of something.

"Naturally," affirmed Aunt Emily.

"Of course," growled Come-Back Stumper. And while WEEDEN, looking
contentedly at his bursting sack, put in "Always," the Policeman,
without referring to his notebook, added from the fence, "That's
right." The remarks of Thompson and Mrs. Horton were not audible, for
they were talking to one another some little distance away beside the
Rubbish Heap, but their conversation seemed equally condensed and
eloquent, judging by the satisfied expression on their faces. Thompson
probably said, "Well," the cook adding, "I never!"

The Tramp, stretched out beside his little fire of burning sticks,
however, said more than any of them. He also said it shortly--as
shortly as the children. There was never any question who was Leader.

"Yes," he mentioned in a whisper that flowed about them with a sound
like singing wind.

It summed up everything in a single word. It made them warm, as though
a little flame had touched them. All the languages of the world, using
all their sentences at once, could have said no more than that
consummate syllable--in the way _he_ said it: _"Yes!"_ It was the word
the whole Day uttered.

For this was perfectly plain: Each of the group, having followed his
or her particular sign to the end of the world, now knew exactly where
the hider lay. The supreme discovery was within reach at last. They
were merely waiting, waiting in order to enjoy the revelation all the
more, and--waiting in an ecstasy of joy and wonder. Seven or eight of
them were gathered together; the hiding-place was found. It was now,
and then, and natural, and always, and right: it was Yes, and life had
just begun....

There happened, then, a vivid and amazing thing--all rose as one being
and stood up. The Tramp alone remained lying beside his little fire.
But the others stood--and listened.

The precise nature of what had happened none of them, perhaps, could
explain. It was too marvellous; it was possibly the thing that nobody
understands, and possibly the thing they didn't know they knew; yet
_they_ both knew and understood it. To each, apparently, the hiding-
place was simultaneously revealed. Their Signs summoned them. The
hider called!

Yet all they heard was the singing of a little bird. Invisible
somewhere above them in the sea of blazing sunshine, it poured its
heart out rapturously with a joy and a passion of life that seemed
utterly careless as to whether it was heard or not. It merely sang
because it was--alive.

To Judy, at any rate, this seemed what they heard. To the others it
came, apparently--otherwise. Their interpretations, at any rate, were
various.

Thompson and Mrs. Horton were the first to act. The latter looked
about her, sniffing the air. "It's burning," she said. "Mary don't
know enough. That's my job, anyhow!" and moved off in the direction of
the house with an energy that had nothing of displeasure nor of temper
in it. It was apparently crackling that she heard. Thompson went after
her, a willing alacrity in his movements that yet showed no sign of
undignified hurry. "I'll be at the door in no time," he was heard to
say, "before it's stopped ringing, I should not wonder!" There was a
solemn joy in him, he spoke as though he heard a bell. WEEDEN turned
very quietly and watched their disappearing figures. He shouldered his
heavy sack of truffles and his spade. No one asked him anything aloud,
but, in answer to several questioning faces, he mumbled cautiously,
though in a satisfied and pleasant voice, "My garden wants me--maybe;
I'll have a look"--obviously going off to water the apricots and rose
trees. He heard the dry leaves rustling possibly.

"Keep to the gravel paths," began Aunt Emily, adjusting her gold
glasses; "they're dry"--then changed her sentence, smiling to herself:
"They're so beautifully made, I mean." And gathering up her bundle of
living ferns, she walked briskly over the broken ground, then straight
across the lawn, waving her trowel at them as she vanished in the
shade below the lime trees. The shade, however, seemed deeper than
before. It concealed her quickly.

"I'll be moving on now," came the deep voice of the Policeman. He
opened the gate in the fence and consulted a notebook as he did so. He
passed slowly out of sight, closing the gate behind him carefully. His
heavy tramp became audible on the road outside, the road leading to
the Metropolis. "There's some one asking the way--" his voice was
audible a moment, before it died into the distance. The road, the
gateway, the fence were not so clear as hitherto--a trifle dim.

These various movements took place so quickly, it seemed they all took
place at once; Judy still heard the bird, however. She heard nothing
else. It was singing everywhere, the sky full of its tender and
delicious song. But the notes were a little--just a little--further
away she thought, nor could she see it anywhere.

And it was then that Come-Back Stumper, limping a trifle as usual,
approached them. He looked troubled rather, and though his manner was
full of confidence still, his mind had mild confusion in it somewhere.
He joined Uncle Felix and the children, standing in front of them.

"Listen!" he said in low, gruff voice. He held out an open palm, three
snail-shells in it, signifying that they should take one each.
"Listen!" he repeated, and put the smallest shell against his own ear.
"D'you hear that curious sound?" His head was cocked sideways, one ear
pressed tight against the shell, the other open to the sky. "The
Ganges..." he mumbled to himself after an interval, "but the stones
are moving--moving in the river bed.... That long, withdrawing roar!"
He was just about to add "down the naked shingles of the world," when
Uncle Felix interrupted him.

"Grating," he said, listening intently to his shell; "a metallic,
grating sound. What is it?" There was apprehension in his tone, a
touch of sadness. "It's getting louder too!"

"Footsteps," exclaimed Tim. "Two feet, not four. It's _not_ a badger
or a rabbit." He went on with sudden conviction--"and it's coming
nearer." There was disappointment and alarm in him. "Though it might
be a badger, p'r'aps," he added hopefully.

"But I hear singing," cried Judy breathlessly, "nothing but singing.
It's a bird." Her face was radiant. "It _is_ a long way off, though,"
she mentioned.

They put their shells down then, and listened without them. They
glanced from one another to the sky, all four heads cocked sideways.
And they heard the sound distinctly, somewhere in the air about them.
It had changed a little. It was louder. It _was_ coming nearer.

"Metallic," repeated Uncle Felix, with an ominous inflection.

"Machinery," growled Stumper, a fury rising in his throat.

"Clicking," agreed Tim. He looked uneasy.

"I only hear a bird," Judy whispered. "But it comes and goes--rather."
And then the Tramp, still lying beside his little fire of burning
sticks, put in a word.

"It's _we_ who are going," he said in his singing voice. "We're moving
on again."

They heard him well enough, but they did not understand quite what he
meant, and his voice died into the distance oddly, far away already,
almost on the other side of the fence. And as he spoke they noticed
another change in the world about them. Three of the party noticed it
--the males, Uncle Felix, Tim, and Come-Back Stumper.

For the light was fading; it was getting darker; there was a slight
sense of chill, a growing dimness in the air. They realised vaguely
that the Tramp was leaving them, and that with him went the light, the
heat, the brilliance out of their happy day.

They turned with one accord towards him. He still lay there beside his
little fire, but he seemed further off; both his figure and the
burning sticks looked like a picture seen at the end of a corridor, an
interminable corridor, edged and framed by gathering shadows that were
about to cover it. They stretched their hands out; they called to him;
they moved their feet; for the first time this wonderful day, there
was hurry in them. But the receding figure of the Tramp withdrew still
further and further, until an inaccessible distance intervened. They
heard him singing faintly "There is no hurry, Life has just
begun...The world is young with laughter...We can fly..." but the
words came sighing towards them from the inaccessible region where he
lay, thousands of years ago, millions of miles away, millions of
miles....

"You won't forget," were the last words they caught. "You know now.
You'll never forget...!"

When a sudden cry of joy and laughter sounded close behind them, and
they turned to see Judy standing on tiptoe, stretching her thin, slim
body as if trying to reach the moon. The light was dim; it seemed the
sun had set and moonlight lay upon the world; but her figure, bright
and shining, stood in a patch of radiant brilliance by herself. She
looked like a white flame of fire ascending.

"I've got it!" she was crying rapturously, "I've got it!" Her voice
was wild with happiness, almost like the singing of a bird.

The others stared--then came up close. But, while Tim ran, Stumper and
Uncle Felix moved more slowly. For something in them hesitated; their
attitudes betrayed them; there was a certain confusion in the minds of
the older two, a touch of doubt. The contrast between the surrounding
twilight and the brilliant patch of glory in which Judy stood
bewildered them. The long, slim body of the child, every line of her
figure, from her toes to the crown of her flying hair, pointing
upwards in a stream of shining aspiration, was irresistible, however.
She looked like a lily growing, nay rushing, upwards to the sun.

They followed the direction of her outstretched arms and hands. But it
was Tim who spoke first. He did not doubt as they did:

"Oh, Judy, where?" he cried out passionately. "Show me! Show me!"

The child raised herself even higher, stretching her toes and arms and
hands; her fingers lengthened; she panted; she made a tremendous
effort.

"There!" she said, without looking down. Her face was towards the sky,
her throat stretched till the muscles showed and her hair fell
backwards in a stream.

Then, following the direction of her eyes and pointing fingers, the
others saw for the first time what Judy saw--a small wild rose hung
shining in the air, dangling at the end of a little bending branch.
The bush grew out of the rubbish-heap, clambering up the wall. No one
had noticed it before. At the end of the branch hung this single
shining blossom, swinging a little in the wind. But it was out of
reach--just a shade too high for her eager fingers to take hold of it.
Beyond it grew the colony of wall-flowers, also in the curious light
that seemed the last glory of the fading day. But it was the rose that
Judy wanted. And from somewhere near it came the sweet singing of the
unseen bird.

"Too high," whispered Uncle Felix, watching in amazement. "You can't
manage it. You'll crick your back! oh--oh!" The sight of that blossom
drew his heart out.

"Impossible," growled Stumper, yet wondering why he said it. "It's out
of reach."

"Go it!" cried Tim. "You'll have it in a second. Half an inch more!
There--you touched it that time!"

For an interval no one could measure they watched her spellbound; in
each of them stirred the similar instinct--that they could reach it,
but that she could not. A deep, secret desire hid in all of them to
pick that gleaming wild rose that swung above them in the air. And,
meanwhile, the darkness deepened perceptibly, only Judy and the
blossom framed still in shining light.

Then, suddenly, the child's voice broke forth again like a burst of
music.

"I've got it! I've got it!"

There was a breathless pause. Her finger did not stretch a fraction of
an inch--but the rose was nearer. For the bird that still sang
invisibly had fluttered into view and perched itself deliberately upon
the prickly branch. It lowered the rose towards the human hands. It
hopped upon the twig. Its weight dropped the prize--almost into Judy's
fingers. She touched it.

"I've found him!" gasped the child.

She touched it--and sank with the final effort in a heap upon the
ground. The bird fluttered an instant, and was gone into the darkness.
The twig, released, flew back. But at the end of it, swinging out of
reach, still hung the lovely blossom in mid-air--unpicked.

There was confusion then about the four of them, for the light faded
very quickly and darkness blotted out the world; the rose was no
longer visible, the bush, the wall, the rubbish-heap, all were
shrouded. The singing-bird had gone, the Tramp beside his little fire
was hidden, they could hardly see one another's faces even. Voices
rose on every side. "She missed it!" "It was too lovely to be picked!"
"It's still there, growing....I can smell it!"

Yet above them all was heard Judy's voice that sang, rose out of the
darkness like a bird that sings at midnight: "I touched it! My airy
signs came true! I know the hiding-place! I've--found him!"

The voice had something in it of the Tramp's careless, windy singing
as well.

"Look! He's touched me...! Look...!"

For in that instant when the rose swung out of reach again, in that
instant when she touched it, and before the fading light hid
everything--all saw the petal floating down to earth. It settled
slowly, with a zigzag, butterfly course, fluttering close in front of
their enchanted eyes. And it was this petal, perhaps, that brought the
darkness, for, as it sank, it grew vast and spread until it covered
the entire sky. Like a fairy silken sheet of softest coloured velvet
it lay on everything, as though the heavens lowered and folded over
them. They felt it press softly on their faces. A curtain, it seemed--
some one had let the curtain down.

Beneath it, then, the confusion became extraordinary. There was tumult
of various kinds. Every one cried at once "I've found him! Now _I_
know!" At the touch of the petal, grown so vast, upon their eyelids,
each knew his "sign" had led him to the supreme discovery. This flower
was born of the travail of a universe. Child of the elements, or at
least blessed by them, this petal of a small wild-rose made all things
clear, for upon its velvet skin still lay the morning dew, air kissed
it, its root and origin was earth, and the fire of the sun blazed in
its perfect colouring.... Yet in the tumult and confusion such curious
behaviour followed. For Come-Back Stumper, crying that he saw a purple
beetle pass across the world, proceeded to curl up as though he
crawled into a spiral snail-shell and meant to go to sleep in it; Tim
shouted in the darkness that he was riding a huge badger down a hole
that led to the centre of the earth; and Uncle Felix begged every one
to look and see what he saw, darkness or no darkness--"the splash of
misty blue upon the body of a dragon-fly!"

They might almost have been telling their dreams at breakfast-time....

But while the clamour of their excited voices stirred the world
beneath the marvellous covering, there rose that other sound--
increasing until it overpowered every word they uttered. In the world
outside there was a clicking, grating, hard, metallic sound--as though
machinery was starting somewhere....

And Judy, managing somehow or other to lift a corner and peer out, saw
that the dawn was breaking in the eastern sky, and that a new day was
just beginning. The sun was rising.... She went back again to tell the
others, but she could not find them. She did not try very hard; she
did not look for them. She just closed her eyes.... The swallows were
chattering in the eaves, a robin sang a few marvellous bars, then
ceased, and an up-and-under bird sent forth its wild, high bugle-call,
then dived out of sight below the surface of the pond.

Judy did likewise--dived down and under, drawing the soft covering
against her cheek, and although her eyes were already closed she
closed them somehow a second time. "Everything's all right," she had a
butterfly sort of thought; "there's no hurry. It's not time...
yet...!"--and the petal covered her again from head to foot. She had
noticed, a little further off, a globular, round object lying
motionless beneath another corner of the covering. It gave her a
feeling of comfort and security. She slid away to find the others. It
seemed she floated, rather. "Everything's free and careless...and so
are--so am I...for we shall never...never forget...!" she remembered
sweetly--and was gone, fluttering after the up-and-under bird ...into
some hidden world she had discovered....

The old Mill House lay dreaming in the dawn. Transparent shades of
pink and gold stole slowly up the eastern sky. A stream of amber
diffused itself below the paling stars. Rising from a furnace below
the horizon it reached across and touched the zenith, painting mid-
heaven with a mystery none could understand; then sank downwards and
dipped the crests of the trees, the lawn, the moss-grown tiles upon
the roof in that sea of everlasting wonder which is light.

Dawn caught the old sleeping world once more in its breathless beauty.
The earth turned over in her sleep, gasped with delight--and woke.
There was a murmur and a movement everywhere. The spacious, stately
life that breathes o'er ancient trees came forth from the wood without
a centre; from the lines emanated that gracious, almost tender force
they harvest in the spring. There was a little shiver of joy among the
rose trees. The daisies blinked and stared. And the earth broke into
singing.

Then, in this chorus, came a pause; the thousand voices hushed a
moment; the robin ceased its passionate solo in the shrubbery. All
listened--listened to another and far sweeter song that stirred with
the morning wind among the rose trees. It was very soft and tender, it
died away and returned with a faint, mysterious murmur, it rose and
fell so gently that it may have been only the rustling of their
thousand leaves that guard the opening blossoms.

Yet it ran with power across the entire waking earth:

   My secret's in the wind and open sky,
     There is no longer any Time--to lose;
   The world is young with laughter; we can fly
     Among the imprisoned hours as we choose.
   The rushing minutes pause; an unused day
     Breaks into dawn and cheats the tired sun.
   The birds are singing: Hark! Come out and play!
     There is no hurry; life has just begun.

And as it died away the sun itself came up and shouted it aloud as
with a million golden trumpets.




CHAPTER XVIII

TIME GOES ON AGAIN---


Hardly had Judy closed her eyes for the second time, however, than the
globular object she had noticed in the corner stirred. It turned, but
turned all over, as though it were a ball. It made a sideways movement
too, a movement best described as budging. And, accompanying the
movements, was a comfortable, contented, satisfied sound that some
people call deep breathing, and others call a sigh.

The globular outline then grew slightly longer; one portion of it left
the central mass, but left it slowly. The lower part prolonged itself.
Slight cracks were audible like sharp reports, muffled but quite
distinct. Next, the other end of the ball extended itself, twisted in
a leisurely fashion sideways, rose above the general surface and
plainly showed itself. It, too, was round. It emerged. Upon its
surface shone two small pools of blue. It was a face. Even in the
grey, uncertain light this was beyond dispute. It was Maria's face.

Maria awoke. She looked about her calmly. Her mind, ever unclouded
because it thought of one thing only, took in the situation at a
glance. It was dawn, she was in bed and sleepy, it was not time to get
up. Dawn, sleep, bed and time belonged to her. There certainly was no
hurry.

The pools of blue then disappeared together, the smaller ball sank
down into the pillow to join the larger one, the lower portion that
had stretched itself drew in again, and a peaceful sigh informed the
universe that Maria intended to resume her interrupted slumbers. She
became once more a mere globular outline, self-contained, at rest.

But, in accepting life as it really was by lying down again, the
lesser ball had imperceptibly occupied a new position. Maria's head
had shifted. Her ear now pressed against another portion of the
pillow. And this pressure, communicating itself to an object that lay
beneath the pillow, touched a small brass handle, jerked it forward,
released a bit of quivering wire connected with a set of wheels, and
set in motion the entire insides of this hidden object. There was a
sound of grating. This hard, metallic sound rose through the feathers,
a clicking, thudding noise that reached her brain. It was--she knew
instantly--the stopped alarum clock. It had been overwound. The weight
of her head had started it again.

Maria, as usual, by doing nothing in particular, had accomplished
much. By yielding herself to her surroundings, she united her
insignificant personal forces with the gigantic purposes of Life. She
swung contentedly in rhythm with the universe. Maria had set the clock
going again!

There was excitement in her then, but certainly no hurry. Disturbing
herself as little as possible, she pushed one hand beneath the pillow,
drew out the ticking clock, looked at it quietly, remembered sleepily
that it had stopped at dawn--Uncle Felix had said so--put it on the
chair beside her bed, and promptly retired again into her eternal
centre.

"Tim's clock," she realised, "but I've got it." There was no
expression on her face whatever. Another child might have taken the
trouble--felt interested, at any rate--to try and see what time it
was. But Maria, aware that the dim light would make this a difficult
and tedious operation, did nothing of the sort. It could make no
difference anyhow to any one, anywhere! She was content to know that
it was some time or other, and that the clock was going again. Her
plan of life was: interfere with nothing. She did not know, therefore,
that the hands pointed with accuracy to 4 A. M., because she merely
did not care to know. But, not caring to know placed her on a loftier
platform of intelligence than the rest of the world--certainly above
that of her sister, Judy, who was snoring softly among the shadows
just across the room. Maria didn't know that she didn't know. No one
could rebuke her with "You might have known," much less "You didn't
know,"--because she didn't know she didn't know! It was the biggest
kind of knowledge in the world. Maria had it.

But before she actually regained her absolute centre, and long before
she lost sight of herself within its depths, dim thoughts came
floating through her mind like pictures that moonlight paints upon
high summer clouds. She saw these pictures; that is, she looked at
them and recognised their existence; but she asked no questions. They
reached her through the ticking of the busy clock beside the bed; the
ticking brought them; but it brought them back. Maria remembered
things. And chief among them were the following: That Uncle Felix had
promised everybody an Extra Day, that he had stopped all the clocks to
let it come, that this Extra Day was to be her own particular
adventure, that last night was Saturday, and that this was, therefore,
Sunday morning, very early.

And the instant she remembered these things, they were real--for her.
She accepted them, one and all, even the contradictions in them. If
this was actually an Extra Day it could not be Sunday morning too, and
_vice versa_. But yet she knew it was. Both were. The confusion was a
confusion of words only. There were too many words about.

"Why not?" expressed her attitude. The clock might tick itself to
death for all she cared. The Extra Day was her adventure and she
claimed it. But she did not bother about it.

Above all, she asked no questions. Nothing really meant anything in
particular, because everything meant everything. To ask questions,
even of herself, involved hearing a lot of answers and listening to
them. But answers were explanations, and explanations muddled and
obscured. Explanations were a new set of questions merely. People who
didn't know asked questions, and people who didn't understand gave
explanations. Aunt Emily explained--because she didn't understand.
Also, because she didn't understand, she didn't know. To ask a
question was the same thing as to explain it. Everything was one
thing. She, Maria, both knew and understood.

She did not say all this, she did not think it even; she just felt it
all: it was her feeling. Believing in her particular adventure of an
Extra Day, she had already experienced it. She had shared it with the
others too. It was _her_ Extra Day, so she could do with it what she
pleased. "They can have it," she gave the clock to understand. "I'm
going to sleep again." All life was an extra day to her.

She went to sleep; sleep, rather, came to her. Happy dreams amused and
comforted her. And, while she dreamed, the dawn slid higher up the
sky, ushering in--Sunday Morning.




CHAPTER XIX

--AS USUAL


Consciousness was first--unconsciousness; the biggest changes are
unconscious before they are conscious. They have been long preparing.
They fall with a clap; and people call them sudden and exclaim, "How
strange!" But it is only the discovery and recognition that are
sudden. It all has happened already long ago--happened before. The
faint sense of familiarity betrays it. It is there the strangeness
lies.

And it was this delicate fragrance of an uncommunicable strangeness
that floated in the air when Uncle Felix and the children came down to
breakfast that Sunday morning and heard the sound of bells in the wind
across the fields. They came down punctually for a wonder, too; Maria,
last but not actually late, brought the alarum clock with her. "It's
going," she stated quietly, and handed it to her brother.

Tim took it without a word, looked at it, shook it, listened to its
ticking against his ear, then set it on the mantelpiece where it
belonged. He seemed pleased to have it in his possession again, yet
something puzzled him. An expression of wonder flitted across his
face; the eyes turned upwards; he frowned; there was an effort in him
--to remember something. He turned to Maria who was already deep in
porridge.

"Did _you_ wind it up?" he asked. "I thought it'd stopped--last
night."

"It's going," she said, thinking of her porridge chiefly.

"It wasn't, though," insisted Tim. He reflected a moment, evidently
perplexed. "I wound it and forgot," he added to himself, "or else it
wound itself." He went to his place and began his breakfast.

"Wound itself," mentioned Maria, and then the subject dropped.

It was Sunday morning, and everybody was dressed in Sunday things. The
excitement of the evening before, the promise of an Extra Day, the
detailed preparation--all this had disappeared. Being of yesterday, it
was no longer vital: certainly there was no necessity to consult it.
They looked forward rather than backward; the mystery of life lay ever
just in front of them, what lay behind was already done with. They had
lived it, lived it out. It was in their possession therefore, part of
themselves.

No one of the four devouring porridge round that breakfast table had
forgotten about the promise, any more than they had forgotten giving
up their time-pieces, the conversation, and all the rest of it. It was
not forgetfulness. It was not loss of interest either that led no one
to refer to it, least of all, to clamour for fulfilment. It was quite
another motive that kept them silent, and that, even when Uncle Felix
handed back the watches, prevented them saying anything more than
"Thank you, Uncle," then hanging them on to belt and waistcoat.

Expectation--an eternal Expectation--was established in them.

But there was also this sense of elusive strangeness in their hearts,
the certainty that an enormous interval had passed, almost the
conviction that an Extra Day--had been. Somewhere, somehow, they had
experienced its fulfilment: It was now inside them. A strange
familiarity hung about this Sunday morning.

Yet there were still a million things to do and endless time in which
to do them. Expectation was stronger than ever before, but the sense
of Interval brought a happy feeling of completion too. There was no
hurry. They felt something of what Maria felt, living at the centre of
a circle that turned unceasingly but never finished. It was Maria's
particular adventure, and Maria had shared it with them. Wonder and
expectation made them feel more than usually--alive.

They talked normally while eating and drinking. If things were said
that skirted a mystery, no one tried to find its name or label it. It
was just hiding. Let it hide! To find it was to lose the mystery, and
life without mystery was unthinkable.

"That's bells," said Tim, "it's church this morning"; but he did not
sigh, there was no sinking of the heart, it seemed. He spoke as if it
was an adventure he looked forward to. "I've decided what I'm going to
be," he went on--"an engineer, but a mining engineer. Finding things
in the earth, valuable things like coal and gold." Why he said it was
not clear exactly; it had no apparent connection with church bells. He
just thought of life as a whole, perhaps, and what he meant to do with
it. He looked forward across the years to come. He distinctly knew
himself alive.

"I shall put sixpence in, I think," observed Judy presently. "It's a
lot. And I shall wear my blue hat with the pheasant's feather--"

"Pheasants feather," repeated Tim in a single word, amused as usual by
a curious sound.

"And a wild rose _here_," she added, pointing to the place on her
dress, though nobody felt interested enough to look. Her remark about
the Collection was more vital than the other. Collections in church
were made, they believed, to "feed the clergyman." And Sunday was the
clergyman's day.

"I've got sixpence," Tim hastened to remind everybody. "I've got a
threepenny bit as well."

"It's sixpence to-day, I think," Judy decided almost tenderly. Behind
her thought was a caring, generous impulse; the motherly instinct sent
her mind to the collection for the clergyman's comfort. But romance
stirred too; she wanted to look her best. Her two main tendencies
seemed very much alive this Sunday morning. The hat and the sixpence--
both were real.

Maria, as usual, had little or nothing to say. She spoke once,
however.

"I dreamed," she informed the company. She did not look up, keeping
her head bent over the bread and marmalade upon her plate; her blue
eyes rolled round the table once, then dropped again. No one asked for
details of her dream, she had no desire to supply them. She announced
her position comfortably, as it were, set herself right with life, and
quietly went on with the business of the moment, which was bread and
marmalade.

Uncle Felix looked up, however, as she said it.

"That reminds me," he observed, "I dreamed too. I dreamed that you
dreamed."

"Yes," Maria replied briefly, moving her eyes in his direction, but
not her head. No other remarks were made; the statement was too
muddled to stimulate interest particularly.

When breakfast was over they went to the open window and threw crumbs
to a robin that was obviously expecting to be fed. They all leaned out
with their heads in the sunlight, watching it. It hopped from a twig
on to the ground, its body already tight to bursting. It looked like a
toy balloon--as though it wore a dress of red elastic stretched to
such a point that the merest pinprick must explode it with a sharp
report; and it hopped as though springs were in its feet. The earth,
like a taut sheet, made it bounce. Tim aimed missiles of bread rolled
into pellets at its head, but never hit it.

"It's a lovely morning," remarked Uncle Felix, looking across the
garden to the yellow fields beyond. "A perfect day. We'll walk to
church." He brushed the breakfast crumbs from the waistcoat of his
neat blue suit, lit his pipe, sniffed the air contentedly, and had an
air generally of a sailor on shore-leave.

Judy sprang up. "There's button-holes to get," she mentioned, and flew
out of the room like a flash of sunlight or a bird.

Tim raced after her. "Wallflower for me!" he cried, while Judy's
answer floated back from halfway down the passage: "I'll have a wild
rosebud--it'll match my hat!"

Uncle Felix and Maria were left alone, gazing out of the window side
by side upon the "lovely morning." She was just high enough to see
above the edge, and her two hands lay sprawled, fingers extended, upon
the shining sill.

"Yes," she mentioned quietly, as to herself, "and I'll have a forget-
me-not." Her eyes rolled up sideways, meeting those of her uncle as he
turned and noticed her.

For quite suddenly he "noticed" her, became aware that she was there,
discovered her. He stared a moment, as though reflecting. That "yes"
had a queer, familiar sound about it, surely.

"Maria," he said, "I believe you will. Everything comes to you of its
own accord somehow."

She nodded.

"And there's another thing. You've got a secret--haven't you?" It
occurred to him that Maria was rather wonderful.

"I expect so," she answered, after a moment's pause. She looked wiser
than an owl, he thought.

"What is it? What _is_ your secret? Can't you tell me?"

For it came over him that Maria, for all her inactivity, was really
more truly alive than both the other children put together. Their
tireless, incessant energy was nothing compared to some deep well of
life Maria's outer calm concealed.

He continued to stare at her, reflecting while he did so. Through her
globular exterior, standing here beside him, rose this quiet tide
whose profound and inexhaustible source was nothing less than the
entire universe. Finding himself thus alone with her, he knew his
imagination singularly stirred. The full stream of this imagination--
usually turned into sea--and history-stories--poured now into Maria.
It was the way she had delivered herself of the monosyllable, "Yes,"
that first enflamed him.

The child, obviously, was quite innocent that her uncle's imagination
clothed her in such wonder; she was entirely unselfconscious, and
remained so; but, as she kept silent as well, there was nothing to
interrupt the natural process of his thought. "You're a circle, a
mystery, a globe of wonder," his mind addressed her, gazing downwards
half in play and half in earnest. "You're always going it. Though you
seem so still--you're turning furiously like a little planet!"

For this abruptly struck him, flashing the symbol into his
imagination--that Maria lived so close to the universe that her life
and movements were akin to those of the heavenly bodies. He saw her as
an epitome of the earth. Fat, peaceful, little, calm, rotund Maria--a
miniature earth! She had no call to hurry nor rush after things. Like
the earth she contained all things within herself. It made him smile;
he smiled as he looked down into her face; she smiled as she rolled
her blue eyes upwards into his.

Yet her calm was not the calm of sloth. In that mysterious centre
where she lived he felt her as tremendously alive.

For the earth, apparently so calm and steady, knows no pause. She
moves round her axis without stopping. She rushes with immense
rapidity round the sun. Simultaneously with these two movements she
combines a third; the sun, carrying her and all his other planets with
him, hurries at a prodigious rate through interstellar space,
adventuring new regions never seen before. Calm outwardly, and without
apparent motion, the earth--at this very moment, as he leaned across
the window-sill--was making these three gigantic, endless movements.
This peaceful summer morning, like any other peaceful summer morning,
she was actually spinning, rushing, rising. And in Maria--it came to
him--in Maria, outwardly so calm, something also--spun--rushed--rose!
This amazing life that brimmed her full to bursting, even as it
brimmed the robin and the earth, overflowed and dripped out of her
very eyes in shining blue. There was no need for her to dash about.
She, like the earth, was--carried.

All this flashed upon him while the alarum clock ticked off a second
merely, for imagination telescopes time, of course, and knows things
all at once.

"What _is_ your secret, Maria?" he asked again. "I believe it's about
that Extra Day we meant to steal. Is that it?"

Her eyes gazed straight before her across the lawn where Tim and Judy
were now visible, searching busily for button-holes.

"It was to be your particular adventure, wasn't it?"

"Yes," she told him at length, without changing her expression of
serene contentment.

His imagination warned him he was getting "at her" gradually. He
possibly read into her a thousand things that were not there.
Certainly, Maria was not aware of them. But, though Uncle Felix knew
this perfectly well, he persisted, hoping for a sudden disclosure that
would justify his search--even expecting it, perhaps.

"And what sort of a day would it be, then, this Extra Day of yours?"
he went on. "It would never end, of course, for one thing, would it?
There'd be no time?"

She nodded quietly by way of effortless agreement and consent.

"So that, in a sense, you'd have it always," he said, aware of
distinct encouragement. He felt obliged to help her. This was her
peculiar power--that everything was done for her while she seemed to
do it all herself. "You would live it over and over again, for ever
and ever. _That's_ your secret, I expect, isn't it?"

"I expect so," the child answered quietly. "I've always got it." She
moved in a little closer to his side as she said it. The disclosure he
expected seemed so near now that excitement grew in him. Across the
lawn he saw the hurrying figures of Tim and Judy, racing back with
their button-holes. There was no time to lose.

He put his arm about her, tilting her face upwards with one hand to
see it plainly. The blue dyes came up with it.

"Then, what kind of a day _would_ you choose, Maria? Tell me--in a
whisper."

And then the disclosure came. But it was not whispered. Uncle Felix
heard the secret in a very clear, decided voice and in a single word:

"Birthday."

At the same moment the others poured into the room; they came like a
cataract; it seemed that a dozen children rushed upon them in a
torrent. The air was full of voices and flowers suddenly. A smell of
the open world came in with them. Button-holes were fastened into
everybody, accompanied by a breathless chorus of where and how they
had been found, who got the best, who got it first, and all the rest.
From the End of the World they came, apparently, but while Tim had
climbed the wall for his, Judy picked hers because a bird had lowered
the branch into her very hand. For Uncle Felix she brought a spray of
lilac; Tim brought a bit of mignonette. Eventually he had to wear them
both.

"And here's a forget-me-not, Maria," cried Judy, stooping down to poke
it into her sister's blue and white striped dress. "That suits you
best, I thought."

"Thank you," said Maria, moving her eyes the smallest possible
fraction of an inch.

And they scampered out of the room again, Maria ambling slowly in the
rear, to prepare for church. There were prayer-books and things to
find, threepenny bits and sixpences for the collection. There was
simply heaps to do, as they expressed it, and not a moment to lose
either. Uncle Felix listened to the sound of voices and footsteps as
they flew down the passage, dying rapidly away into the distance, and
finally ceasing altogether. He puffed his pipe a little longer before
going to his room upon a similar errand. He watched the smoke curl up
and melt into the outer air; he felt the pleasant sunshine warm upon
his face; he smelt the perfume rising from his enormous button-hole.
But of these things he did not think. He thought of what Maria said.
The way she uttered that single word remained with him: "Birthday."

He had half divined her secret. For a birthday was the opening of
life; it was the beginning. Maria had "got it always." All days for
her were birthdays, Extra Days.

And while they walked along the lane to church he still was thinking
about it.

The conversation proved that he was absent-minded rather; yet not that
his mind was absent so much as intent upon other things. The children
found him heavy; he seemed ponderous to them. And pondering he
certainly was--pondering the meaning of existence. The children, he
realised, were such brilliant comments upon existence; their
unconscious way of living, all they said and thought and did, but
especially all they believed, offered such bright interpretations,
such simple solutions of a million things. They lived so really, were
so really--alive. They never explained, they just accepted; and the
explanations given they placed at their true value, still asking,
"Yes, but what is the meaning of all that?" So close to Reality they
lived--before reason, cloaked and confused it with a million complex
explanations. That "Yes" and "Birthday" of Maria's were illuminating
examples.

Of this he was vaguely pondering as they walked along the sunny lanes
to church, and his conversation proved it. For conversation with
children meant answering endless questions merely, and the questions
were prompted by anything and everything they saw. Reality poked them;
they gave expression to it by a question. And nothing real was
trivial; the most careless detail was important, all being but a
single question--an affirmation: "We're alive, so everything else is
too!"

His conversation proved that he had almost reached that state of time-
less reality in which they lived. He felt it this morning very
vividly. It seemed familiar somehow--like his own childhood recovered
almost.

He answered them accordingly. It didn't matter what was said, because
all the words in the world said one thing only. Whether the words,
therefore, made sense or not, was of no importance.

"Have you ever seen a rabbit come _out_ of its hole?" asked Tim. "They
do that for safety," he added; and if there was confusion in his
language, there was none in his thought. "Then no one can tell which
its hole is, you see. Because each rabbit--"

He broke off and glanced expectantly at his uncle. At junctures like
this his uncle usually cleared things up with an easy word or two. He
would not fail him now.

"Come _out_, no," was the reply; "no one ever sees a rabbit come out.
But I've seen them go _in_; and that's the same thing in the end. They
go down the wrong hole on purpose. _They_ know right enough. Rabbits
are rabbits."

"Of course," exclaimed Judy, "everything's itself and knows its own
sign--er--business, I mean."

"Yes," Maria repeated.

And before anything further could be mentioned--if there _was_
anything to mention--they arrived at the porch of the church, passed
under it without speaking, walked up the aisle and took their places
in the family pew, Maria occupying the comfortable corner against the
inner wall.




CHAPTER XX

--BUT DIFFERENTLY!


Church was very--that is, they enjoyed the service very much, without
knowing precisely why they liked it. They joined in the hymns with
more energy than usual, because they felt "singy" and knew the tunes
as well. Colonel Stumper handed round one of the bags at the end of a
long pole--and, though the clergyman didn't look at all as if he
required feeding, the threepenny bits dropped in without the least
regret on the part of the contributors. Tim's coin, however, having
been squeezed for several minutes before the bag came round, stuck to
his moist finger, and Stumper, thinking he had nothing to put in,
drove the long handle past him towards Maria. That same instant the
coin came un-stuck, and dropped with a rattle into the aisle. Come-
Back Stumper stooped to recover it. Whereupon, to Judy, Tim and Uncle
Felix, watching him, came a sudden feeling of familiarity, as though
all this had happened before. The bent figure, groping after the
hidden coin, seemed irresistibly familiar. It was very odd, they
thought, very odd indeed. Where--when--had they seen him groping
before like that, almost on all fours? But no one, of course, could
remark upon it, and it was only Tim and Judy who exchanged a brief,
significant glance. Maria, being asleep, did not witness it, nor did
she contribute to the feeding of the clergyman either.

There followed a short sermon, of which they heard only the beginning,
the end, and certain patches in the middle when the preacher raised
his voice abruptly, but the text, they all agreed, was "Seek and ye
shall find." During the delivery of the portions that escaped them,
Tim scratched his head and thought about rabbits, while Judy's mind
hesitated between various costumes in the pews in front of her, unable
to decide which she would wear when she reached the age of its
respective owner.

And so, in due course, feeling somehow that something very real had
been accomplished, they streamed out with the rest of the congregation
into the blazing summer sunshine. Expectant, inquisitive and hungry,
they stood between the yew trees and the porch, yawning and fidgeting
until Uncle Felix gave the signal to start. The sunlight made them
blink. There was something of pleasurable excitement in knowing
themselves part of a "Congregation," for a Congregation was distantly
connected with "metropolis" and "govunment," and an important kind of
thing at any time.

They stood and watched it. It scattered slowly, loth to separate and
go. There was no hurry certainly. People talked in lowered voices, as
if conversation after service was against the rules, and the church
and graves might overhear; they smiled, but not too gaily; they seemed
subdued; yet really they wanted to sing and dance--once safely out of
hearing and sight, they would run and jump and stand on their heads.
The children, that is, attributed their own feelings to them.

Several--all "Members" of the Congregation--approached and asked
unreal questions, to which Judy, as the eldest, gave unreal answers:

"Your parents will soon be back again?"

"Yes; Father comes to-morrow, Mother too."

"I hope they have enjoyed their little change."

"I think so--thank you."

Gradually the Congregation melted away, broughams and victorias drove
off sedately down the road, the horses making as little sound as
possible with their hoofs. The Choir-boys emerged from a side-door and
vanished into a field; a series of Old Ladies and Invalids felt their
way down the gravel path with sticks; the "Neighbours," looking clean
and dressed-up, went off in various directions--gravely, voices
hushed, manners circumspect. Tim, feeling as usual "awfully empty
after church," was sure they ran as fast as ever they could the moment
they were out of sight. A Congregation was a wonderful thing
altogether. It was a puzzle how the little church could hold so many
people. They watched the whole familiar business with suppressed
excitement, forgetting they were hungry and impatient. It was both
real and unreal, something better beckoned beyond all the time; but
there was no hurry. It was a deep childhood mystery--wonder filled
them to the brim.

"Come on, children; we'll be off now," sounded their uncle's voice,
and at the same moment Come-Back Stumper joined them. He had been
counting over the money with the clergyman, of course, all this time.
He was very slow. They hoped their contributions had been noticed.

"You'll come back with us?" suggested Uncle Felix. And Stumper,
growling his acceptance, walked home to lunch with them in the old
Mill House. In his short black coat, trousers of shepherd's plaid, and
knotted white tie bearing a neat horseshoe pin, he looked smart yet
soldierly. Tim apologised for his moist finger and the threepenny bit.
"I thought it had got down a hole," he said, "but you found it
wonderfully." "It simply flew!" cried Judy. "Clever old thing!" she
added with admiration.

"I've found harder things than that," said Stumper. "It hid itself
well, though--bang in the open like a lost collar-stud. Thought I'd
never look _there!"_

They glanced at one another with a curious, half-expectant air, and
Tim suddenly took the soldier's hand. But no one said anything more
about it; the sin was forgiven and forgotten. Uncle Felix put in a
vague remark concerning Indian life, and Stumper mentioned proudly
that a new edition of his scouting book was coming out and he had just
finished revising the last sheets. "All yesterday I spent working on
it," he informed them with a satisfied air, whereupon Tim said "Fancy
that!" and Judy exclaimed "Did you really?" They seemed to have an
idea that he was doing something else "all yesterday"; but no one knew
exactly what it was. Then Judy planted herself in the road before him,
made him stop, and picked something off his shoulder. "A tiny
caterpillar!" she explained. "Another minute and you'd have had it
down your neck." "It would have come back though," he said with a
gruff laugh. "It might'nt have," returned Judy. "But look; it's
awfully beautiful!" They examined it for a moment, all five of them,
and then Judy set it down carefully in the ditch and watched it march
away towards the safer hedge.

It was a pleasant walk home, all together; they took the short cut
across the fields; the world was covered with flowers, birds were
singing, the air was fresh and sweet and the delicious sunlight not
uncomfortably hot. Tim ran everywhere, exploring eagerly like a dog,
and, also like a dog, doubling the journey's length. He whistled to
himself; from time to time he came back to report results of his
discoveries. He was full of energy. Judy behaved in a similar manner,
dancing in circles to make her hair and dress fly out; she sang bits
of the hymn-tunes that she liked, taking the tune but fitting words of
her own upon it. Maria was carried over two fields and a half; the
down-hill parts she walked, however. She kept everybody waiting. They
could not leave her. She contrived to make herself the centre of the
party. Stumper and Uncle Felix brought up the rear, talking together
"about things," and whirling their sticks in the air as though it
helped them forward somehow.

On the slippery plank-bridge across the mill stream all paused a
moment to watch the dragon-flies that set the air on fire with their
coloured tails.

"The things that nobody can understand!" cried Judy.

"Nobody else," Tim corrected her. "We do!"

They leaned over the rail and saw their own reflections in the running
water.

"Why, Come-Back hasn't got a button-hole!" exclaimed Judy--and flew
off to find one for him, Tim fast upon her heels like a collie after a
dipping swallow. They raced down the banks where the golden king-cups
grew in spendthrift patches and disappeared among the colonies of
reeds. Between some hanging willow branches further down they were
visible a moment, like dryad figures peering and flitting through the
cataract of waving green. They searched as though their lives depended
on success. It was absurd that Stumper had no button-hole!

Maria, seated comfortably on the lower rail, watched their efforts and
listened to the bursts of laughing voices that came up-stream--then,
with a leisurely movement, took the flower from her own button-hole
and handed it to Stumper. The eyes rolled upwards with the flower--
solemnly. And Come-Back saw the action reflected in the stream below.

"Aw--thank you, my dear," he said, fastening the forget-me-not into
his Sunday coat, "but I ought not to take it all. It's yours." The
voice had a quiet, almost distant sound in it.

"Ours," Maria murmured to herself, addressing the faces in the water.
She took the fragment Stumper handed back to her. All three,
forgetting it was time for lunch, forgetting they were hungry,
forgetting that there was still half a mile of lane between them and
the house, gazed down at their reflections in the stream as though
fascinated. Uncle Felix certainly felt the watery-enchantment in his
soul. The reflections trembled and quivered, yet did not pass away.
The stream flowed hurrying by them, yet still was always there. It
gave him a strange, familiar feeling--something he knew, but had
forgotten. Everything in life was passing, yet nothing went--there was
no hurry. The rippling music, as the water washed the banks and made
the grasses swish, was audible, and there was a deeper sound of
swirling round the wooden posts that held the bridge secure. Bubbles
rose and burst in spray. A lark, hanging like a cross in the blue sky,
overhead, dropped suddenly as though it was a stone, but in the
reflection it rushed up into their faces. It seemed to rise at them
from the pebbly bed of the stream. Both movements seemed one and the
same--both were true--the direction depended upon the point of view.

It startled them and broke the water-spell. For the singing stopped
abruptly too. At the same moment Judy and Tim arrived, their arms full
of flowers, hemlock, ferns, and bulrushes. They were breathless and
exhausted; both talked at once; they had quite forgotten, apparently,
what they had gone to find. Judy had seen a king-fisher, Tim had
discovered tracks of an otter; in the excitement they forgot about the
button-hole. But, somehow, the bird, the animal, and the flowers were
the same thing really--one big simple thing. Only the point of view
was different.

"We've looked simply everywhere!" cried Judy.

"Just look what we found!" Tim echoed.

To Uncle Felix it seemed they said one and the same thing merely--
using _one_ word in many syllables.

"Beautiful!" agreed Stumper, as they emptied their arms at his feet in
wild profusion; "and enough for everybody too!"

Stumper also said the thing they had just said. Uncle Felix watched
him move forward, where Maria was already using the heaped-up greenery
as a cushion for her back, and pick something off the stem of a giant
bulrush.

"But that's what I like best," he exclaimed. "Look at the colour, will
you--blue and cream and yellow! You can hear the Ganges in it, if you
listen close enough." He held a small, coloured snail-shell between
his sinewy fingers, then placed it against his ear, while the others,
caught by a strange enveloping sense of wonder, stared and listened,
swept for a moment into another world.

"How marvellous!" whispered some one.

"Extrornary!" another murmured.

"Yes," said Maria. Her voice made a sound like a thin stone falling
from a height into water. But Maria had said the same thing as the
others, only said it shorter. An entire language lay in that mono-
syllable. Again, it was the point of view of doing, saying one
enormous thing. And Maria's point of view was everywhere at once--the
centre.

"Listen!" she added the next minute.

Perhaps the sunlight quivering on the surface of the stream confused
them, or perhaps it was the murmur and movement of the leaves upon the
banks that brought the sense of sweet, queer bewilderment upon all
five. A new sound there certainly was--footsteps, as though some one
came dancing--voices, as though some one sang. Figures were seen in
the distance among the waving world of green; they moved behind the
cataract of falling willow branches; and their distance was as the
distance of a half-remembered dream.

"They're coming," gasped Judy below her breath.

"They're coming back," Tim whispered, the tone muffled, underground.

"Eh?" ejaculated Stumper. "Coming back?" His voice, too, had distance
in it.

Whether they saw it in the reflections on the running water, or
whether the maze of shadow and sunshine in the wooded banks produced
it, no one knew exactly. The figures, at any rate, were plainly
visible, moving along with singing and dancing through the summery
noontide of the brilliant day. No one spoke while they went by, no one
except Maria who at intervals murmured "Yes." There was no other
audible comment or remark. They afterwards agreed that Weeden was seen
clearest, but Thompson and Mrs. Horton were fairly distinct as well,
and bringing up the rear was a figure in blue that could only have
been the Policeman who lived usually upon the high road to London.
They carried flowers in their arms, they moved lightly and quickly--it
was uncommonly like dancing--and their voices floated through the
woodland spaces with a sound that, if it was not singing, was at least
an excellent imitation--an attempt to sing!

"They're not lost," said Tim, as they disappeared from view. "They're
just looking--for the way."

"The way home," said Judy. "And they're following some one--who knows
it."

"Yes," added Maria. For another figure, more like a tree moving in the
wind than anything else, and certainly looking differently to each of
them--another figure was seen in advance of the group, seen in
flashes, as it were, and only glimpses of it discernible among the
world of moving green. This other figure was singing too; snatches of
wild sweet music floated through the quiet wood--one said the singing
of a bird, another, the wind, a third, the rippling murmur of the
stream--but, to one and all, an enchanting and enticing sound. And, to
one and all, familiar too, with the familiarity of a half-remembered
dream.

And a flood of memory rose about them as they watched and listened, a
tide that carried them away with it into the heart of something they
knew, yet had forgotten. In the few moments' interval an eternity
might have passed. Their hearts opened curiously, they saw wonder
growing like a flower inside--the exquisite wonder of common things.
There was something they were looking for, but they had found it. The
flower of wonder blossomed there before their very eyes, explaining
the world, but not explaining it away, explaining simply that it was
wonderful beyond all telling. They all knew suddenly what they didn't
know they knew; they understood what nobody understands. None knew why
it came just at this particular moment, and none knew where it came
from either. It was there, so what else mattered. It broke upon them
out of the heart of the summer's day, out of this very ordinary Sunday
morning, out of the brimming life all about them that was passing but
could never pass away. The familiar figures of the gardener, the
butler, the policeman and the cook brought back to them the memory of
something they had forgotten, yet brought it back in the form of
endless and inexhaustible enticement rather than of complete recovery.
There had been long preparation somewhere, growth, development; but
that was past and they gave no thought to it; Expectancy and Wonder
rushed them off their feet. The world hid something. Every one was
looking for it. _They_ must go on looking, looking, looking too!

_What_ it was they had forgotten--they entirely forgot. Only the
marvellous hint remained, and the certainty that it could be found.
For, to each of them it seemed, came this fairy reminder, stealing
deliciously upon the senses: somewhere, somehow, they had known an
experience that had enriched their lives. It had become part of them.
It had always been in them, but they had found it now. They felt quite
positive about it. They believed. To Tim came messages from the solid
earth about him, secrets from creatures that lived in it and knew;
Judy, catching a thousand kisses from the air upon her cheeks, divined
the mystery of all flying life--that brought the stars within her
reach; Maria, possessing all within herself, remained steady and calm
at the eternal centre of the circle--a clearing-house for messages
from everywhere at once. Asking nothing for herself, she merely wanted
to give away, give out. She said "Yes" to all that came her way; and
all did come her way. To every one of them, to Stumper and Uncle Felix
too, came a great conviction that they had passed nearer, somehow, to
an everlasting joy. There was no hurry, life had just begun--seemed
singing everywhere about them. There was Unity.

"It's a lovely day," remarked Uncle Felix presently. "I want my
luncheon."

He picked up Maria and moved on across the bridge.

"It's the Extra Day," Maria whispered in his ear. "It's my adventure,
but you all can have it."

The others followed with Come-Back Stumper, and in the lane they saw
the figures of Weeden, Thompson and Mrs. Horton in front of them,
coming home from church. They were walking quietly enough.

"We're not late, then," Tim remarked. "There's lots of time!"

Crossing the field in the direction of the London road a policeman was
moving steadily. They saw him stoop and pick a yellow flower as he
went. He was off to take charge of the world upon his Sunday beat. He
disappeared behind a hedge. The butler and the cook vanished through a
side-door into the old Mill House about the same time.

In due course, they also arrived at the porch, and Uncle Felix set his
burden down. As they scraped their muddy boots and rubbed them on the
mat, their backs were turned to the outside world; but Maria, whose
boots required no scraping, happened to face it still. As usual she
faced in all directions like a circle.

"Look," she said. "There's some one coming!"

And they saw the figure of a tramp go past the opening of the drive
where the London road was just visible. He paused a moment and looked
towards the house. He did not come in. He just looked--and waved his
hand at them. The next minute he was gone. But not before Maria had
returned his wave.

"He'll come back," suggested Stumper, as they went inside.

"Yes," said Maria. "He's mine--but you can have him too."

Ten minutes later, when they all sat down to lunch, the big blue
figure of the policeman passed the opening of the drive. Being
occupied with hot roast beef, they did not see him. He paused a
moment, looked towards the house, and then went slowly out of sight
again along the London road, following the tramp....

THE END







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