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- The Extra Day - 20/57 -


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.


The Extra Day - 20/57

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