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- The Extra Day - 52/57 -
meant, and his voice died into the distance oddly, far away already, almost on the other side of the fence. And as he spoke they noticed another change in the world about them. Three of the party noticed it --the males, Uncle Felix, Tim, and Come-Back Stumper.
For the light was fading; it was getting darker; there was a slight sense of chill, a growing dimness in the air. They realised vaguely that the Tramp was leaving them, and that with him went the light, the heat, the brilliance out of their happy day.
They turned with one accord towards him. He still lay there beside his little fire, but he seemed further off; both his figure and the burning sticks looked like a picture seen at the end of a corridor, an interminable corridor, edged and framed by gathering shadows that were about to cover it. They stretched their hands out; they called to him; they moved their feet; for the first time this wonderful day, there was hurry in them. But the receding figure of the Tramp withdrew still further and further, until an inaccessible distance intervened. They heard him singing faintly "There is no hurry, Life has just begun...The world is young with laughter...We can fly..." but the words came sighing towards them from the inaccessible region where he lay, thousands of years ago, millions of miles away, millions of miles....
"You won't forget," were the last words they caught. "You know now. You'll never forget...!"
When a sudden cry of joy and laughter sounded close behind them, and they turned to see Judy standing on tiptoe, stretching her thin, slim body as if trying to reach the moon. The light was dim; it seemed the sun had set and moonlight lay upon the world; but her figure, bright and shining, stood in a patch of radiant brilliance by herself. She looked like a white flame of fire ascending.
"I've got it!" she was crying rapturously, "I've got it!" Her voice was wild with happiness, almost like the singing of a bird.
The others stared--then came up close. But, while Tim ran, Stumper and Uncle Felix moved more slowly. For something in them hesitated; their attitudes betrayed them; there was a certain confusion in the minds of the older two, a touch of doubt. The contrast between the surrounding twilight and the brilliant patch of glory in which Judy stood bewildered them. The long, slim body of the child, every line of her figure, from her toes to the crown of her flying hair, pointing upwards in a stream of shining aspiration, was irresistible, however. She looked like a lily growing, nay rushing, upwards to the sun.
They followed the direction of her outstretched arms and hands. But it was Tim who spoke first. He did not doubt as they did:
"Oh, Judy, where?" he cried out passionately. "Show me! Show me!"
The child raised herself even higher, stretching her toes and arms and hands; her fingers lengthened; she panted; she made a tremendous effort.
"There!" she said, without looking down. Her face was towards the sky, her throat stretched till the muscles showed and her hair fell backwards in a stream.
Then, following the direction of her eyes and pointing fingers, the others saw for the first time what Judy saw--a small wild rose hung shining in the air, dangling at the end of a little bending branch. The bush grew out of the rubbish-heap, clambering up the wall. No one had noticed it before. At the end of the branch hung this single shining blossom, swinging a little in the wind. But it was out of reach--just a shade too high for her eager fingers to take hold of it. Beyond it grew the colony of wall-flowers, also in the curious light that seemed the last glory of the fading day. But it was the rose that Judy wanted. And from somewhere near it came the sweet singing of the unseen bird.
"Too high," whispered Uncle Felix, watching in amazement. "You can't manage it. You'll crick your back! oh--oh!" The sight of that blossom drew his heart out.
"Impossible," growled Stumper, yet wondering why he said it. "It's out of reach."
"Go it!" cried Tim. "You'll have it in a second. Half an inch more! There--you touched it that time!"
For an interval no one could measure they watched her spellbound; in each of them stirred the similar instinct--that they could reach it, but that she could not. A deep, secret desire hid in all of them to pick that gleaming wild rose that swung above them in the air. And, meanwhile, the darkness deepened perceptibly, only Judy and the blossom framed still in shining light.
Then, suddenly, the child's voice broke forth again like a burst of music.
"I've got it! I've got it!"
There was a breathless pause. Her finger did not stretch a fraction of an inch--but the rose was nearer. For the bird that still sang invisibly had fluttered into view and perched itself deliberately upon the prickly branch. It lowered the rose towards the human hands. It hopped upon the twig. Its weight dropped the prize--almost into Judy's fingers. She touched it.
"I've found him!" gasped the child.
She touched it--and sank with the final effort in a heap upon the ground. The bird fluttered an instant, and was gone into the darkness. The twig, released, flew back. But at the end of it, swinging out of reach, still hung the lovely blossom in mid-air--unpicked.
There was confusion then about the four of them, for the light faded very quickly and darkness blotted out the world; the rose was no longer visible, the bush, the wall, the rubbish-heap, all were shrouded. The singing-bird had gone, the Tramp beside his little fire was hidden, they could hardly see one another's faces even. Voices rose on every side. "She missed it!" "It was too lovely to be picked!" "It's still there, growing....I can smell it!"
Yet above them all was heard Judy's voice that sang, rose out of the darkness like a bird that sings at midnight: "I touched it! My airy signs came true! I know the hiding-place! I've--found him!"
The voice had something in it of the Tramp's careless, windy singing as well.
"Look! He's touched me...! Look...!"
For in that instant when the rose swung out of reach again, in that instant when she touched it, and before the fading light hid everything--all saw the petal floating down to earth. It settled slowly, with a zigzag, butterfly course, fluttering close in front of their enchanted eyes. And it was this petal, perhaps, that brought the darkness, for, as it sank, it grew vast and spread until it covered the entire sky. Like a fairy silken sheet of softest coloured velvet it lay on everything, as though the heavens lowered and folded over them. They felt it press softly on their faces. A curtain, it seemed-- some one had let the curtain down.
Beneath it, then, the confusion became extraordinary. There was tumult of various kinds. Every one cried at once "I've found him! Now _I_ know!" At the touch of the petal, grown so vast, upon their eyelids, each knew his "sign" had led him to the supreme discovery. This flower was born of the travail of a universe. Child of the elements, or at least blessed by them, this petal of a small wild-rose made all things clear, for upon its velvet skin still lay the morning dew, air kissed it, its root and origin was earth, and the fire of the sun blazed in its perfect colouring.... Yet in the tumult and confusion such curious behaviour followed. For Come-Back Stumper, crying that he saw a purple beetle pass across the world, proceeded to curl up as though he crawled into a spiral snail-shell and meant to go to sleep in it; Tim shouted in the darkness that he was riding a huge badger down a hole that led to the centre of the earth; and Uncle Felix begged every one to look and see what he saw, darkness or no darkness--"the splash of misty blue upon the body of a dragon-fly!"
They might almost have been telling their dreams at breakfast-time....
But while the clamour of their excited voices stirred the world beneath the marvellous covering, there rose that other sound-- increasing until it overpowered every word they uttered. In the world outside there was a clicking, grating, hard, metallic sound--as though machinery was starting somewhere....
And Judy, managing somehow or other to lift a corner and peer out, saw that the dawn was breaking in the eastern sky, and that a new day was just beginning. The sun was rising.... She went back again to tell the others, but she could not find them. She did not try very hard; she did not look for them. She just closed her eyes.... The swallows were chattering in the eaves, a robin sang a few marvellous bars, then ceased, and an up-and-under bird sent forth its wild, high bugle-call, then dived out of sight below the surface of the pond.
Judy did likewise--dived down and under, drawing the soft covering against her cheek, and although her eyes were already closed she closed them somehow a second time. "Everything's all right," she had a butterfly sort of thought; "there's no hurry. It's not time... yet...!"--and the petal covered her again from head to foot. She had noticed, a little further off, a globular, round object lying motionless beneath another corner of the covering. It gave her a feeling of comfort and security. She slid away to find the others. It seemed she floated, rather. "Everything's free and careless...and so are--so am I...for we shall never...never forget...!" she remembered sweetly--and was gone, fluttering after the up-and-under bird ...into some hidden world she had discovered....
The old Mill House lay dreaming in the dawn. Transparent shades of pink and gold stole slowly up the eastern sky. A stream of amber diffused itself below the paling stars. Rising from a furnace below the horizon it reached across and touched the zenith, painting mid- heaven with a mystery none could understand; then sank downwards and dipped the crests of the trees, the lawn, the moss-grown tiles upon the roof in that sea of everlasting wonder which is light.
Dawn caught the old sleeping world once more in its breathless beauty. The earth turned over in her sleep, gasped with delight--and woke. There was a murmur and a movement everywhere. The spacious, stately life that breathes o'er ancient trees came forth from the wood without a centre; from the lines emanated that gracious, almost tender force they harvest in the spring. There was a little shiver of joy among the rose trees. The daisies blinked and stared. And the earth broke into singing.
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