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- The Extra Day - 51/57 -
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
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