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- The Extra Day - 10/57 -


"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.


The Extra Day - 10/57

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