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- A Prisoner in Fairyland - 10/79 -

'How not to do most things,' laughed the other, glad of the darkness.

'How to do the big and simple things,' was the rejoinder; 'and do them well, without applause. You have Belief.'

'Too much, perhaps. I simply can't get rid of it.'

'Don't try to. It's belief that moves the world; people want teachers --that's my experience in the pulpit and the parish; a world in miniature, after all--but they won't listen to a teacher who hasn't got it. There are no great poets to-day, only great discoverers. The poets, the interpreters of discovery, are gone--starved out of life by ridicule, and by questions to which exact answers are impossible. With your imagination and belief you might help a world far larger than this parish of mine at any rate. I envy you.'

Goodness! how the kind eyes searched his own in this darkness. Though little susceptible to flattery, he was aware of something huge the words stirred in the depths of him, something far bigger than he yet had dreamed of even in his boyhood, something that made his cherished Scheme seem a little pale and faded.

'Take the whole world with you into fairyland,' he heard the low voice come murmuring in his ear across the lilacs. And there was starlight in it--that gentle, steady brilliance that steals into people while they sleep and dream, tracing patterns of glory they may recognise when they wake, yet marvelling whence it came. 'The world wants its fairyland back again, and won't be happy till it gets it.'

A bird listening to them in the stillness sang a little burst of song, then paused again to listen.

'Once give them of your magic, and each may shape his fairyland as he chooses...' the musical voice ran on.

The flowers seemed alive and walking. This was a voice of beauty. Some lilac bud was singing in its sleep. Sirius had dropped a ray across its lips of blue and coaxed it out to dance. There was a murmur and a stir among the fruit-trees too. The apple blossoms painted the darkness with their tiny fluttering dresses, while old Aldebaran trimmed them silently with gold, and partners from the Milky Way swept rustling down to lead the violets out. Oh, there was revelry to-night, and the fairy spell of the blue-eyed Spring was irresistible....

'But the world will never dance,' he whispered sadly, half to himself perhaps; 'it's far too weary.'

'It will follow a leader,' came the soft reply, 'who dances well and pipes the true old music so that it can hear. Belief inspires it always. And that Belief you have.' There was a curious vibration in his voice; he spoke from his heart, and his heart was evidently moved.

'I wonder when it came to me, then, and how?'

The Vicar turned and faced him where they stood beneath the lime trees. Their scent was pouring out as from phials uncorked by the stars.

'It came,' he caught the answer that thrilled with earnestness, 'when you saw the lame boy on the village hill and cried. As long ago as that it came.'

His mind, as he listened, became a plot of fresh-turned earth the Head Gardener filled with flowers. A mass of covering stuff the years had laid ever thicker and thicker was being shovelled away. The flowers he saw being planted there were very tiny ones. But they would grow. A leaf from some far-off rocky mount of olive trees dropped fluttering through the air and marvellously took root and grew. He felt for a moment the breath of night air that has been tamed by an eastern sun. He saw a group of men, bare-headed, standing on the slopes, and in front of them a figure of glory teaching little, simple things they found it hard to understand....

'You have the big and simple things alive in you,' the voice carried on his pictured thought among the flowers. 'In your heart they lie all waiting to be used. Nothing can smother them. Only-you must give them out.'

'If only I knew how--!'

'Keep close to the children,' sifted the strange answer through the fruit-trees; 'the world is a big child. And catch it when it lies asleep--not thinking of itself,' he whispered.

'The time is so short--'

'At forty you stand upon the threshold of life, with values learned and rubbish cleared away. So many by that time are already dead--in heart. I envy your opportunities ahead. You have learned already one foundation truth--the grandeur of toil and the insignificance of acquisition. The other foundation thing is even simpler--you have a neighbour. Now, with your money to give as flowers, and your Belief to steer you straight, you have the world before you. And--keep close to the children.'

'Before there are none left,' added Rogers under his breath. But the other heard the words and instantly corrected him--

'Children of any age, and wherever you may find them.'

And they turned slowly and made their way in silence across the soaking lawn, entering the house by the drawing-room window.

'Good-night,' the old man said, as he lit his candle and led him to his room; 'and pleasant, happy, inspiring dreams.'

He seemed to say it with some curious, heartfelt meaning in the common words. He disappeared slowly down the passage, shading the candle with one hand to pick his way, and Rogers watched him out of sight, then turned and entered his own room, closing the door as softly as possible behind him.

It had been an astonishing conversation. All his old enthusiasm was stirred. Embers leaped to flame. No woman ever had done as much. This old fellow, once merely respected tutor, had given him back his first original fire and zeal, yet somehow cleansed and purified. And it humbled him at the same time. Dead leaves, dropped year by year in his City life, were cleared away as though a mighty wind had swept him. The Gardener was burning up dead leaves; the Sweep was cleaning out the flues; the Lamplighter waving his golden signal in the sky--far ahead, it is true, but gleaming like a torch and beacon. The Starlight Express was travelling at top speed among the constellations. He stood at the beginning of the important part of life....

And now, as he lay in bed and heard the owls hooting in the woods, and smelt the flowers through the open window, his thoughts followed strongly after that old Star Train that he used to drive about the sky. He was both engine-driver and passenger. He fell asleep to dream of it.

And all the vital and enchanting thoughts of his boyhood flowed back upon him with a rush, as though they had never been laid aside. He remembered particularly one singular thing about them--that they had never seemed quite his own, but that he had either read or heard them somewhere else. As a child the feeling was always strong that these 'jolly thoughts,' as he called them, were put into him by some one else--some one who whispered to him--some one who lived close behind his ears. He had to listen very hard to catch them. It was _not_ dreams, yet all night long, especially when he slept tightly, as he phrased it, this fairy whispering continued, and in the daytime he remembered what he could and made up his stories accordingly. He stole these ideas about a Star Net and a Starlight Express. One day he would be caught and punished for it. It was trespassing upon the preserves of some one else.

Yet he could never discover who this some one else was, except that it was a 'she' and lived among the stars, only coming out at night. He imagined she hid behind that little dusty constellation called the Pleiades, and that was why the Pleiades wore a veil and were so dim-- lest he should find her out. And once, behind the blue gaze of the guard-girl, who was out of his heart by this time, he had known a moment of thrilling wonder that was close to awe. He saw another pair of eyes gazing out at him They were ambery eyes, as he called them-- just what was to be expected from a star. And, so great was the shock, that at first he stood dead still and gasped, then dashed up suddenly close to her and stared into her face, frightening her so much that she fell backwards, and the amber eyes vanished instantly. It was the 'some one else' who whispered fairy stories to him and lived behind his ear. For a second she had been marvellously close. And he had lost her!

From that moment, however, his belief in her increased enormously, and he never saw a pair of brown-ambery eyes without feeling sure that she was somewhere close about him. The lame boy, for instance, had the same delicate tint in his sad, long, questioning gaze. His own collie had it too! For years it was an obsession with him, haunting and wonderful--the knowledge that some one who watched close beside him, filling his mind with fairy thoughts, might any moment gaze into his face through a pair of ordinary familiar eyes. And he was certain that all his star-imagination about the Net, the Starlight Express, and the Cave of Lost Starlight came first into him from this hidden 'some one else' who brought the Milky Way down into his boy's world of fantasy.

'If ever I meet her in real life,' he used to say, 'I'm done for. She is my Star Princess!'

And now, as he fell asleep, the old atmosphere of that Kentish garden drew thickly over him, shaking out clusters of stars about his bed. Dreams usually are determined by something more remote than the talk that has just preceded going to bed, but to-night it was otherwise. And two things the old Vicar had let fall--two things sufficiently singular, it seemed, when he came to think about them--influenced his night adventures. 'Catch the world when it's asleep,' and 'Keep close to the children'--these somehow indicated the route his dream should follow. For he headed the great engine straight for the village in the Jura pine woods where his cousin's children lived. He did not know these children, and had seen his cousin but rarely in recent years; yet, it seemed, they came to meet the train up among the mountain forests somewhere. For in this village, where he had gone to study French, the moods of his own childhood had somehow known continuation and development. The place had once been very dear to him, and he had known delightful adventures there, many of them with this cousin. Now he took all his own childhood's sprites out in this Starlight Express and introduced them to these transplanted children who had never made acquaintance with the English breed. They had surprising, wild adventures all together, yet in the morning he could remember very little of it all. The interfering sun melted them all down in dew. The adventures had some object, however; that was clear; though what the object was, except that it did good somewhere to. some one, was gone,

A Prisoner in Fairyland - 10/79

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