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- The Extra Day - 5/57 -
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.
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?"
"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,
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