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- A Prisoner in Fairyland - 60/79 -


'Look! It's full moon,' she observed gravely, as though suggesting that she could, if she liked, go out and enjoy the air. 'Isn't it lovely?'

'No, yesterday was full moon,' Rogers corrected her, joining her and looking out. 'Two nights ago, to be exact, I think.'

'Oh,' she replied, as solemnly as though politics or finance were under discussion, 'then it's bigger than full moon now. It goes on, does it, getting fuller and fuller, till--'

'Now, Jinny dear, it's very late, and you'd better full-moon off to bed,' Mother interrupted gently.

'Yes, Mother; I'm just saying good-night.' She held her hand out, as though she was afraid he might kiss her, yet feared he would not. 'Good-bye, Mr. Cousin Henry, and I hope you'll have an exceedingly happy time in the train and soon come back and visit us again.'

'Thank you,' he said, 'I'm sure I shall.' He gave her a bit of solid starlight as he said it, then suddenly leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. Making a violent movement like an experienced boxer who dodges an upper cut, Jinny turned and fled precipitately from the room, forgetting her parents altogether. That kiss, she felt, consumed her childhood in a flash of fiery flame. In bed she decided that she must lengthen her skirts the very next day, and put her hair up too. She must do something that should give her protection and yet freedom. For a long time she did not sleep. She lay thinking it over. She felt supremely happy--wild, excited, naughty. 'A man has kissed me; it was a man; it was Mr. Rogers, Daddy's cousin.... He's not _my_ cousin exactly, but just "a man."' And she fell asleep, wondering how she ought to begin her letter to him when she wrote, but, more perplexing still, how she ought to--end it! That little backward brain sought the solution of the problem all night long in dreams. She felt a criminal, a dare-devil caught in the act, awaiting execution. Light had been flashed cruelly upon her dark, careful secret--the greatest and finest secret in the world. The child lay under sentence indeed, only it was a sentence of life, and not of death.

CHAPTER XXVII

_Asia_. ... I feel, I see Those eyes which burn through smiles that fade in tears, Like stars half quenched in mists of silver dew. Prometheus Unbound, SHELLEY.

It was only ten o'clock, really, and the curfew was ringing from every village on the mountain-side. The sound of the bells, half musical, half ominous, was borne by the bise across the vineyards, for the easterly wind that brings fine weather was blowing over lake and forest, and seemed to drive before it thin sheets of moonlight that turned the whole world soft. The village lay cosily dreaming beneath the sky. Once the curfew died away there was only the rustling of the plane trees in the old courtyard. The great Citadelle loomed above the smaller houses, half in shadow half in silver, nodding heavily to the spire of the Church, and well within sight of the sentinelle poplar that guarded the village from the forest and the mountains. Far away, these mountains now lowered their enormous shoulders to let night flow down upon the sleeping world. The Scaffolding that brought it had long since sailed over France towards the sea....

Mother, still panting from the ritual of fastening the younger children into bed, had gone a moment down the passage to say good- night to Mlle. Lemaire, and when she returned, the three of them-- herself, her husband, and Cousin Henry--dropped into chairs beside the window and watched the silvery world in silence for a time. None felt inclined to speak. There was drama somehow in that interval of silence--that drama which lurks everywhere and always behind life's commonest, most ordinary moments. Actions reveal it--sometimes--but it mostly lies concealed, and especially in deep silences like this, when the ticking of a cuckoo clock upon the wall may be the sole hint of its presence.

It was not the good-byes that made all three realise it so near, though good-byes are always solemn and momentous things; it was something that stirred and rose upon them from a far deeper strata of emotion than that caused by apparent separation. For no pain lay in it, but a power much more difficult to express in the sounds and syllables of speech--Joy. A great joy, creative and of big significance, had known accomplishment. Each felt it, knew it, realised it. The moonlit night was aware of it. The entire universe knew it, too. The drama lay in that. There had been creation--of more light.... The world was richer than it had been. Some one had caught Beauty in a net, and to catch Beauty is to transform and recreate all common things. It is revelation.

Through the mind of each of these three flowed the stream of casual thinking--images, reflections, and the shadowy scaffoldings of many new emotions--sweeping along between the banks of speech and silence. And this stream, though in flood, did not overflow into words for a long time. With eyes turned inwards, each watched the current pass. Clear and deep, it quietly reflected--stars. Each watched the same stream, the same calm depths, the same delicate reflections. They were in harmony with themselves, and therefore with the universe....

Then, suddenly, one of the reflections--it was the Pleiades--rose to the surface to clasp its lovely original. It was the woman who netted the golden thought and drew it forth for all to see.

'Couldn't you read it to us, Daddy?' she whispered softly across the silence.

'If it's not too long for you.' He was so eager, so willing to comply.

'We will listen till the Morning Spiders take us home,' his cousin said.

'It's only the shorter version,' Daddy agreed shiningly, 'a sketch for the book which, of course, will take a year to write. I might read _that_, perhaps.'

'Do,' urged Mother. 'We are all in it, aren't we? It's our story as well as yours.'

He rose to get the portfolio from the shelf where he had laid it, and while Rogers lit the lamp, Riquette stole in at the window, picking her way daintily across the wet tiles. She stood a moment, silhouetted against the sky; then shaking her feet rapidly each in turn like bits of quivering wire, she stepped precisely into the room. 'I am in it too,' she plainly said, curling herself up on the chair Daddy had just vacated, but resigning herself placidly enough to his scanty lap when he came back again and began to read. Her deep purring, while he stroked her absent-mindedly, became an undercurrent in the sound of his voice, then presently ceased altogether....

On and on he read, while the moon sailed over La Citadelle, bidding the stars hush to listen too. She put her silvery soft hands across their eyes that they might hear the better. The blue wind of night gathered up the meaning and spread it everywhere. The forest caught the tale from the low laughter in the crest of the poplar, and passed it on to the leagues of forest that bore it in turn across the frontiers into France. Thence snowy Altels and the giant Blumlisalp flashed it south along the crowding peaks and down among the Italian chestnut woods, who next sent it coursing over the rustling waves of the Adriatic and mixed it everywhere with the Mediterranean foam. In the morning the shadows upon bare Grecian hills would whisper it among the ancient islands, and the East catch echoes of it in the winds of dawn. The forests of the North would open their great gloomy eyes with wonder, as though strange new wild-flowers had come among them in the night. All across the world, indeed, wherever there were gardened minds tender enough to grow fairy seed, these flakes of thought would settle down in sleep, and blossom in due season into a crop of magic beauty.

He read on and on.... The village listened too, the little shadowy street, the familiar pine woods, the troubled Pension, each, as its image was evoked in the story, knew its soul discovered, and stirred in its sleep towards the little room to hear. And the desolate ridges of La Tourne and Boudry, the clefts where the wild lily of the valley grew unknown, high nooks and corners where the buzzards nested, these also knew and answered to the trumpet summons of the Thought that made them live. A fire of creation ran pulsing from this centre. All were in the Pattern of the Story.

To the two human listeners it seemed as familiar as a tale read, in childhood long ago, and only half forgotten. They always knew a little of what was coming next. Yet it spread so much further than mere childhood memories, for its golden atmosphere included all countries and all times. It rose and sang and sparkled, lighting up strange deep recesses of their unconscious and half-realised life, and almost revealing the tiny silver links that joined them on to the universe at large. The golden ladders from the Milky Way were all let down. They climbed up silvery ropes into the Moon....

'It's not my own idea,' he said; 'I'm convinced of that. It's all flocked into me from some other mind that thought it long ago, but could not write it, perhaps. No thought is lost, you see--never can be lost. Like this, somehow, I feel it:--

Now sinks to sleep the clamour of the day, And, million-footed, from the Milky Way, Falls shyly on my heart the world's lost Thought-- Shower of primrose dust the stars have taught To haunt each sleeping mind, Till it may find

A garden in some eager, passionate brain That, rich in loving-kindness as in pain, Shall harvest it, then scatter forth again It's garnered loveliness from heaven caught.

Oh, every yearning thought that holds a tear, Yet finds no mission, And lies untold,

Waits, guarded in that labyrinth of gold,-- To reappear Upon some perfect night, Deathless--not old-- But sweet with time and distance, And clothed as in a vision Of starry brilliance For the world's delight.'

In the pauses, from time to time, they heard the distant thunder of the Areuse as it churned and tumbled over the Val de Travers boulders. The Colombier bells, as the hours passed, strung the sentences


A Prisoner in Fairyland - 60/79

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