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- The Extra Day - 40/57 -
"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
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