Near where yonder evening star Makes a glory in the air, Lies a land dream--found and far Where it is light always. There those lovely ghosts repair Who in sleep's enchantment are, In Cockayne dwell all things fair-- (But it is far away). Cockayne Country, Agnes Duclaux.
The first stage in Cousinenry's introduction took place, as has been seen, at a railway station; but further stages were accomplished later. For real introductions are not completed by merely repeating names and shaking hands, still less by a hurried kiss. The ceremony had many branches too--departments, as it were. It spread itself, with various degrees, over many days as opportunity offered, and included Gygi, the gendarme, as well as the little troop of retired governesses who came to the Pension for their mid-day dinner. Before two days were passed he could not go down the village street without lifting his cap at least a dozen times. Bourcelles was so very friendly; no room for strangers there; a new-comer might remain a mystery, but he could not be unknown. Rogers found his halting French becoming rapidly fluent again. And every one knew so much about him--more almost than he knew himself.
At the Den next day, on the occasion of their first tea together, he realised fully that introduction--to the children at any rate-- involved a kind of initiation.
It seemed to him that the room was full of children, crowds of them, an intricate and ever shifting maze. For years he had known no dealings with the breed, and their movements now were so light and rapid that it rather bewildered him. They were in and out between the kitchen, corridor, and bedroom like bits of a fluid puzzle. One moment a child was beside him, and the next, just as he had a suitable sentence ready to discharge at it, the place was vacant. A minute later 'it' appeared through another door, carrying the samovar, or was on the roof outside struggling with Riquette.
'Oh, there you are!' he exclaimed. 'How you do dart about, to be sure!'
And the answer, if any, was invariably of the cheeky order--
'One can't keep still here; there's not room enough.'
Or, worse still--
'I must get past you somehow!' This, needless to say, from Monkey, who first made sure her parents were out of earshot.
But he liked it, for he recognised this proof that he was accepted and made one of the circle. These were tentative invitations to play. It made him feel quite larky, though at first he found his machinery of larking rather stiff. The wheels required oiling. And his first attempt to chase Miss Impudence resulted in a collision with Jane Anne carrying a great brown pot of home-made jam for the table. There was a dreadful sound. He had stepped on the cat at the same time.
His introduction to the cat was the immediate result, performed solemnly by Jimbo, and watched by Jinny, still balancing the jar of jam, with an expression of countenance that was half amazement and half shock. Collisions with creatures of his size and splendour were a new event to her.
'I must advertise for help if it occurs again!' she exclaimed.
'That's Mere Riquette, you know,' announced Jimbo formally to his cousin, standing between them in his village school blouse, hands tucked into his belt.
'I heard her, yes.' From a distance the cat favoured him with a single comprehensive glance, then turned away and disappeared beneath the sofa. She, of course, reserved her opinion.
'It didn't REALLY hurt her. She always squeals like that.'
'Perhaps she likes it,' suggested Rogers.
'She likes better tickling behind the ear,' Jimbo thought, anxious to make him feel all right, and then plunged into a description of her general habits--how she jumped at the door handles when she wanted to come in, slept on his bed at night, and looked for a saucer in a particular corner of the kitchen floor. This last detail was a compliment. He meant to imply that Cousin Henry might like to see to it himself sometimes, although it had always been his own special prerogative hitherto.
'I shall know in future, then,' said Rogers earnestly, showing, by taking the information seriously, that he possessed the correct instinct.
'Oh yes, it's quite easy. You'll soon learn it,' spoken with feet wide apart and an expression of careless importance, as who should say, 'What a sensible man you are! Still, these are little things one has to be careful about, you know.'
Mother poured out tea, somewhat laboriously, as though the exact proportions of milk, hot water, and sugar each child took were difficult to remember. Each had a special cup, moreover. Her mind, ever crammed with a thousand domestic details which she seemed to carry all at once upon the surface, ready for any sudden question, found it difficult to concentrate upon the teapot. Her mind was ever worrying over these. Her husband was too vague to be of practical help. When any one spoke to her, she would pause in the middle of the operation, balancing a cup in one hand and a milk jug in the other, until the question was properly answered, every t crossed and every i dotted. There was no mistaking what Mother meant--provided you had the time to listen. She had that careful thoroughness which was no friend of speed. The result was that hands were stretched out for second cups long before she had completed the first round. Her own tea began usually when everybody else had finished--and lasted--well, some time.
'Here's a letter I got,' announced Jimbo, pulling a very dirty scrap of paper from a pocket hidden beneath many folds of blouse. 'You'd like to see it.' He handed it across the round table, and Rogers took it politely. 'Thank you very much; it came by this morning's post, did it?'
'Oh, no,' was the reply, as though a big correspondence made the date of little importance. 'Not by that post.' But Monkey blurted out with the jolly laughter that was her characteristic sound, 'It came ages ago. He's had it in his pocket for weeks.'
Jimbo, ignoring the foolish interruption, watched his cousin's face, while Jinny gave her sister a secret nudge that every one could see.
'Darling Jimbo,' was what Rogers read, 'I have been to school, and did strokes and prickings and marched round. I am like you now. A fat kiss and a hug, your loving---' The signature was illegible, lost amid several scratchy lines in a blot that looked as if a beetle had expired after violent efforts in a pool of ink.
'Very nice indeed, very well put,' said Rogers, handing it gravely back again, while some one explained that the writer, aged five, had just gone to a kindergarten school in Geneva. 'And have you answered it?'
'Oh, yes. I answered it the same day, you see.' It was, perhaps, a foolish letter for a man to have in his pocket. Still--it was a letter.
'Good! What a capital secretary you'll make me.' And the boy's flush of pleasure almost made the dish of butter rosy.
'Oh, take another; take a lot, please,' Jimbo said, handing the cakes that Rogers divined were a special purchase in his honour; and while he did so, managed to slip one later on to the plates of Monkey and her sister, who sat on either side of him. The former gobbled it up at once, barely keeping back her laughter, but Jinny, with a little bow, put hers carefully aside on the edge of her plate, not knowing quite the 'nice' thing to do with it. Something in the transaction seemed a trifle too familiar perhaps. She stole a glance at mother, but mother was filling the cups and did not notice. Daddy could have helped her, only he would say 'What?' in a loud voice, and she would have to repeat her question for all to hear. Later, she ate the cake in very small morsels, a little uncomfortably.
It was a jolly, merry, cosy tea, as teas in the Den always were. Daddy wumbled a number of things in his beard to which no one need reply unless they felt like it. The usual sentences were not heard to-day: 'Monkey, what a mouthful! You must not shovel in your food like that!' or, 'Don't gurgle your tea down; swallow it quietly, like a little lady'; or, 'How often have you been told not to drink with your mouth full; this is not the servants' hall, remember!' There were no signs of contretemps of any kind, nothing was upset or broken, and the cakes went easily round, though not a crumb was left over.
But the entire time Mr. Rogers was subjected to the keenest scrutiny imaginable. Nothing he did escaped two pairs of eyes at least. Signals were flashed below as well as above the table. These signals were of the kind birds know perhaps--others might be aware of their existence if they listened very attentively, yet might not interpret them. No Comanche ever sent more deft communications unobserved to his brother across a camp fire.
Yet nothing was done visibly; no crumb was flicked; and the table hid the pressure of the toe which, fortunately, no one intercepted. Monkey, at any rate, had eyes in both her feet, and Jimbo knew how to keep his counsel without betrayal. But inflections of the voice did most of the work--this, with flashes of brown and blue lights, conveyed the swift despatches.
'My underneath goes out to him,' Monkey telegraphed to her brother while she asked innocently for 'jam, please, Jimbo'; and he replied, 'Oh, he's all right, I think, but better not go too fast,' as he wiped the same article from his chin and caught her big brown eye upon him. 'He'll be our Leader,' she conveyed later by the way she stirred her cup of tea-hot-water-milk, 'when once we've got him "out" and taught him'; and Jimbo offered and accepted his own resignation of the coveted, long-held post by the way he let his eyelid twiddle in answer to her well-directed toe-nudge out of sight.
This, in a brief resume, was the purport of the give and take of numerous despatches between them during tea, while outwardly Mother-- and Father, too, when he thought about it--were delighted with their perfect company manners.
Jane Anne, outside all this flummery, went her own way upon an even keel. She watched him closely too, but not covertly. She stared him in the face, and imitated his delicate way of eating. Once or twice she called him 'Mr. Rogers,' for this had a grown-up flavour about it that appealed to her, and 'Cousin Henry' did not come easily to her at first. She could not forget that she had left the ecole secondaire and was on her way to a Geneva Pension where she would attend an ecole menagere. And the bursts of laughter that greeted her polite 'Mr. Rogers, did you have a nice journey, and do you like Bourcelles?'--in a sudden pause that caught Mother balancing cup and teapot in mid-air--puzzled her a good deal. She liked his quiet answer though--'Thank you, Miss Campden, I think both quite charming.' He did not laugh. He understood, whatever the others might think. She had wished to correct the levity of the younger brother and sister, and he evidently appreciated her intentions. He seemed a nice man, a very nice man.
Tea once over, she carried off the loaded tray to the kitchen to do the washing-up. Jimbo and Monkey had disappeared. They always vanished about this time, but once the unenvied operation was safely under way, they emerged from their hiding-places again. No one ever saw them go. They were gone before the order, 'Now, children, help your sister take the things away,' was even issued. By the time they re-appeared Jinny was halfway through it and did not want to be disturbed.
'Never mind, Mother,' she said, 'they're chronic. They're only little busy Highlanders!' For 'chronic' was another catch-word at the moment, and sometimes by chance she used it appropriately. The source of 'busy Highlanders' was a mystery known only to herself. And resentment, like jealousy, was a human passion she never felt and did not understand. Jane Anne was the spirit of unselfishness incarnate. It was to her honour, but made her ineffective as a personality.
Daddy lit his big old meerschaum--the 'squelcher' Jinny called it, because of its noise--and mooned about the room, making remarks on literature or politics, while Mother picked a work-basket cleverly from a dangerously overloaded shelf, and prepared to mend and sew. The windows were wide open, and framed the picture of snowy Alps, now turning many-tinted in the slanting sunshine. (Riquette, gorged with milk, appeared from the scullery and inspected knees and chairs and cushions that seemed available, selecting finally the best arm-chair and curling up to sleep. Rogers smoked a cigarette, pleased and satisfied like the cat.) A hush fell on the room. It was the hour of peace between tea and the noisy Pension supper that later broke the spell. So quiet was it that the mouse began to nibble in the bedroom walls, and even peeped through the cracks it knew between the boards. It came out, flicked its whiskers, and then darted in again like lightning. Jane Anne, rinsing out the big teapot in the scullery, frightened it. Presently she came in softly, put the lamp ready for her mother's needle, in case of need later, gave a shy queer look at 'Mr. Rogers' and her father, both of whom nodded absent-mindedly to her, and then went on tip-toe out of the room. She was bound for the village shop to buy methylated spirits, sugar, blotting-paper, and--a 'plaque' of Suchard chocolate for her Cousinenry. The forty centimes for this latter was a large item in her savings; but she gave no thought to that. What sorely perplexed her as she hurried down the street was whether he would like it 'milk' or 'plain.' In the end she bought both.
Down the dark corridor of the Citadelle, before she left, she did not hear the muffled laughter among the shadows, nor see the movement of two figures that emerged together from the farther end.
'He'll be on the sofa by now. Shall we go for him?' It was the voice of Monkey.
'Leave it to me.' Jimbo still meant to be leader so far as these two were concerned at any rate. Let come later what might.
'Better get Mother out of the way first, though.'
'Mother's nothing. She's sewing and things,' was the reply. He understood the conditions thoroughly. He needed no foolish advice.
'He's awfully easy. You saw the two gold teeth. It's him, I'm sure.'
'Of course he's easy, only a person doesn't want to be pulled about after tea,' in the tone of a man who meant to feel his way a bit.
Clearly they had talked together more than once since the arrival at the station. Jimbo made up for ignorance by decision and sublime self- confidence. He answered no silly questions, but listened, made up his mind, and acted. He was primed to the brim--a born leader.
'Better tell him that we'll come for him to-night,' the girl insisted. 'He'll be less astonished then. You can tell he dreams a lot by his manner. Even now he's only half awake.'
The conversation was in French--school and village French. Her brother ignored the question with 'va te cacher!' He had no doubts himself.
'Just wait a moment while I tighten my belt,' he observed. 'You can tell it by his eyes,' he added, as Monkey urged him forward to the door. 'I know a good dreamer when I see one.'
Then fate helped them. The door against their noses opened and Daddy came out, followed by his cousin. All four collided.
'Oh, is the washing-up finished?' asked Monkey innocently, quick as a flash.
'How you startled me!' exclaimed Daddy. 'You really must try to be less impetuous. You'd better ask Mother about the washing,' he repeated, 'she's in there sewing.' His thoughts, it seemed, were just a trifle confused. Plates and linen both meant washing, and sometimes hair and other stuff as well.
'There's no light, you see, yet,' whispered Jimbo. A small lamp usually hung upon the wall. Jane Anne at that moment came out carrying it and asking for a match.
'No starlight, either,' added Monkey quickly, giving her cousin a little nudge. 'It's all upwumbled, or whatever Daddy calls it.'
The look he gave her might well have suppressed a grown-up person-- 'grande personne,' as Jimbo termed it, translating literally--but on Monkey it had only slight effect. Her irrepressible little spirit concealed springs few could regulate. Even avoir-dupois increased their resiliency the moment it was removed. But Jimbo checked her better than most. She did look a trifle ashamed--for a second.
'Can't you wait?' he whispered. 'Daddy'll spoil it if you begin it here. How you do fidget!'
They passed all together out into the yard, the men in front, the two children just behind, walking warily.
Then came the separation, yet none could say exactly how it was accomplished. For separations are curious things at the best of times, the forces that effect them as mysterious as wind that blows a pair of butterflies across a field. Something equally delicate was at work. One minute all four stood together by the fountain, and the next Daddy was walking downhill towards the carpenter's house alone, while the other three were already twenty metres up the street that led to the belt of forest.
Jimbo, perhaps, was responsible for the deft manoeuvring. At any rate, he walked beside his big cousin with the air of a successful aide-de- camp. But Monkey, too, seemed flushed with victory, rolling along--her rotundity ever suggested rolling rather than the taking of actual steps--as if she led a prisoner.
'Don't bother your cousin, children,' their father's voice was heard again faintly in the distance. Then the big shoulder of La Citadelle hid him from view and hearing.
And so the sight was seen of these three, arm in arm, passing along the village street in the twilight. Gygi saw them go and raised his blue, peaked cap; and so did Henri Favre, standing in the doorway of his little shop, as he weighed the possible value of the new customer for matches, chocolate, and string--the articles English chiefly bought; and likewise Alfred Sandoz, looking a moment through the window of his cabaret, the Guillaume Tell, saw them go past like shadows towards the woods, and observed to his carter friend across the table, 'They choose queer times for expeditions, these English, ouah!'
'It's their climate makes them like that,' put in his wife, a touch of pity in her voice. Her daughter swept the Den and lit the fourneau for la famille anglaise in the mornings, and the mother, knowing a little English, spelt out the weather reports in the Daily Surprise she sometimes brought.
Meanwhile the three travellers had crossed the railway line, where Jimbo detained them for a moment's general explanation, and passed the shadow of the sentinel poplar. The cluster of spring leaves rustled faintly on its crest. The village lay behind them now. They turned a moment to look back upon the stretch of vines and fields that spread towards the lake. From the pool of shadow where the houses nestled rose the spire of the church, a strong dark line against the fading sunset. Thin columns of smoke tried to draw it after them. Lights already twinkled on the farther shore, five miles across, and beyond these rose dim white forms of the tremendous ghostly Alps. Dusk slowly brought on darkness.
Jimbo began to hum the song of the village he had learned in school--
P'tit Bourcelles sur sa colline De partout a gentille mine; On y pratique avec success L'exploitation du francais,
and the moment it was over, his sister burst out with the question that had been buzzing inside her head the whole time--
'How long are you going to stay?' she said, as they climbed higher along the dusty road.
'Oh, about a week,' he told her, giving the answer already used a dozen times. 'I've just come out for a holiday--first holiday I've had for twenty years. Fancy that! Pretty long time, eh?'
They simply didn't believe that; they let it pass--politely.
'London's stuffy, you know, just now,' he added, aware that he was convicted of exaggeration. 'Besides, it's spring.'
'There are millions of flowers here,' Jimbo covered his mistake kindly, 'millions and millions. Aren't there, Monkey?'
'Of course,' he agreed.
'And more than anywhere else in the whole world.'
'It looks like that,' said Cousin Henry, as proudly as they said it themselves. And they told him how they picked clothes-baskets full of the wild lily of the valley that grew upon the Boudry slopes, hepaticas, periwinkles, jonquils, blue and white violets, as well as countless anemones, and later, the big yellow marguerites.
'Then how long are you going to stay--really?' inquired Monkey once again, as though the polite interlude were over. It was a delicate way of suggesting that he had told an untruth. She looked up straight into his face. And, meeting her big brown eyes, he wondered a little--for the first time--how he should reply.
'Daddy came here meaning to stay only six months--first.'
'When I was littler,' Jimbo put in.
'---and stayed here all this time--four years.'
'I hope to stay a week or so--just a little holiday, you know,' he said at length, giving the answer purposely. But he said it without conviction, haltingly. He felt that they divined the doubt in him. They guessed his thought along the hands upon his arm, as a horse finds out its rider from the touch upon the reins. On either side big eyes watched and judged him; but the brown ones put a positive enchantment in his blood. They shone so wonderfully in the dusk.
'Longer than that, I think,' she told him, her own mind quite made up. 'It's not so easy to get away from.'
'You mean it?' he asked seriously. 'It makes one quite nervous.'
'There's such a lot to do here,' she said, still keeping her eyes fixed upon his face till he felt the wonder in him become a little unmanageable. 'You'll never get finished in a week.'
'My secretary,' he stammered, 'will help me,' and Jimbo nodded, fastening both hands upon his arm, while Monkey indulged in a little gust of curious laughter, as who should say 'He who laughs last, laughs best.'
They entered the edge of the forest. Hepaticas watched them with their eyes of blue. Violets marked their tread. The frontiers of the daylight softly closed behind them. A thousand trees opened a way to let them pass, and moss twelve inches thick took their footsteps silently as birds. They came presently to a little clearing where the pines stood in a circle and let in a space of sky. Looking up, all three saw the first small stars in it. A wild faint scent of coming rain was in the air--those warm spring rains that wash the way for summer. And a signal flashed unseen from the blue eyes to the brown.
'This way,' said Jimbo firmly. 'There's an armchair rock where you can rest and get your wind a bit,' and, though Rogers had not lost his wind, he let himself be led, and took the great grey boulder for his chair. Instantly, before he had arranged his weight among the points and angles, both his knees were occupied.
'By Jove,' flashed through his mind. 'They've brought me here on purpose. I'm caught!'
A tiny pause followed.
'Now, look here, you little Schemers, I want to know what----'
But the sentence was never finished. The hand of Monkey was already pointing upwards to the space of sky. He saw the fringe of pine tops fencing it about with their feathery, crested ring, and in the centre shone faint, scattered stars. Over the fence of mystery that surrounds common objects wonder peeped with one eye like a star.
'Cousinenry,' he heard close to his ear, so soft it almost might have been those tree-tops whispering to the night, 'do you know anything about a Star Cave--a place where the starlight goes when there are no eyes or puddles about to catch it?'
A Star Cave! How odd! His own boyhood's idea. He must have mentioned it to his cousin perhaps, and he had told the children. And all that was in him of nonsense, poetry, love rose at a bound as he heard it. He felt them settle themselves more comfortably upon his knees. He forgot to think about the points and angles. Here surely a gateway was opening before his very feet, a gateway into that world of fairyland the old clergyman had spoken about. A great wave of tenderness swept him--a flood strong and deep, as he had felt it long ago upon the hill of that Kentish village. The golden boyhood's mood rushed over him once more with all its original splendour. It took a slightly different form, however. He knew better how to direct it for one thing. He pressed the children closer to his side.
'A what?' he asked, speaking low as they did. 'Do I know a what?'
'A cave where lost starlight collects,' Monkey repeated, 'a Star Cave.'
And Jimbo said aloud the verses he had already learned by heart. While his small voice gave the words, more than a little mixed, a bird high up among the boughs woke from its beauty sleep and sang. The two sounds mingled. But the singing of the bird brought back the scenery of the Vicarage garden, and with it the strange, passionate things the old clergyman had said. The two scenes met in his mind, passed in and out of one another like rings of smoke, interchanged, and finally formed a new picture all their own, where flowers danced upon a carpet of star-dust that glittered in mid-air.
He knew some sudden, deep enchantment of the spirit. The Fairyland the world had lost spread all about him, and--he had the children close. The imaginative faculty that for years had invented ingenious patents, woke in force, and ran headlong down far sweeter channels--channels that fastened mind, heart, and soul together in a single intricate network of soft belief. He remembered the dusk upon the Crayfield lawns.
'Of course I know a Star Cave,' he said at length, when Jimbo had finished his recitation, and Monkey had added the details their father had told them. 'I know the very one your Daddy spoke about. It's not far from where we're sitting. It's over there.' He pointed up to the mountain heights behind them, but Jimbo guided his hand in the right direction--towards the Boudry slopes where the forests dip upon the precipices of the Areuse.
'Yes, that's it--exactly,' he said, accepting the correction instantly; 'only I go to the top of the mountains first so as to slide down with the river of starlight.'
'We go straight,' they told him in one breath.
'Because you've got more star-stuff in your eyes than I have, and find the way better,' he explained.
That touched their sense of pity. 'But you can have ours,' they cried, 'we'll share it.'
'No,' he answered softly, 'better keep your own. I can get plenty now. Indeed, to tell the truth--though it's a secret between ourselves, remember--that's the real reason I've come out here. I want to get a fresh supply to take back to London with me. One needs a fearful lot in London----'
'But there's no sun in London to melt it,' objected Monkey instantly.
'There's fog though, and it gets lost in fog like ink in blotting- paper. There's never enough to go round. I've got to collect an awful lot before I go back.'
'That'll take more than a week,' she said triumphantly.
They fastened themselves closer against him, like limpets on a rock.
'I told you there was lots to do here,' whispered Monkey again. 'You'll never get it done in a week.'
'And how will you take it back?' asked Jimbo in the same breath. The answer went straight to the boy's heart.
'In a train, of course. I've got an express train here on purpose----'
'The "Rapide"?' he interrupted, his blue eyes starting like flowers from the earth.
'Quicker far than that. I've got----'
They stared so hard and so expectantly, it was almost like an interruption. The bird paused in its rushing song to listen too.
'----a Starlight Express,' he finished, caught now in the full tide of fairyland. 'It came here several nights ago. It's being loaded up as full as ever it can carry. I'm to drive it back again when once it's ready.'
'Where is it now?'
'Who's loading it?'
'How fast does it go? Are there accidents and collisions?'
'How do you find the way?'
'May I drive it with you?'
'Tell us exactly everything in the world about it--at once!'
Questions poured in a flood about him, and his imagination leaped to their answering. Above them the curtain of the Night shook out her million stars while they lay there talking with bated breath together. On every single point he satisfied them, and himself as well. He told them all--his visit to the Manor House, the sprites he found there still alive and waiting as he had made them in his boyhood, their songs and characters, the Dustman, Sweep, and Lamplighter, the Laugher, and the Woman of the Haystack, the blue-eyed Guard----
'But now her eyes are brown, aren't they?' Monkey asked, peering very close into his face. At the same moment she took his heart and hid it deep away among her tumbling hair.
'I was coming to that. They're brown now, of course, because in this different atmosphere brown eyes see better than blue in the dark. The colours of signals vary in different countries.
'And I'm the mecanicien,' cried Jimbo. 'I drive the engine.'
'And I'm your stoker,' he agreed, 'because here we burn wood instead of coal, and I'm director in a wood-paving company and so know all about it.'
They did not pause to dissect his logic--but just tore about full speed with busy plans and questionings. He began to wonder how in the world he would satisfy them--and satisfy himself as well!--when the time should come to introduce them to Express and Cave and Passengers. For if he failed in that, the reality of the entire business must fall to the ground. Yet the direct question did not come. He wondered more and more. Neither child luckily insisted on immediate tangible acquaintance. They did not even hint about it. So far the whole thing had gone splendidly and easily, like floating a new company with the rosiest prospectus in the world; but the moment must arrive when profits and dividends would have to justify mere talk. Concrete results would be demanded. If not forthcoming, where would his position be?
Yet, still the flood of questions, answers, explanations flowed on without the critical sentence making its appearance. He had led them well--so far. How in the world, though, was he to keep it up, and provide definite result at the end?
Then suddenly the truth dawned upon him. It was not he who led after all; it was they. He was being led. They knew. They understood. The reins of management lay in their small capable hands, and he had never really held them at all. Most cleverly, with utmost delicacy, they had concealed from him his real position. They were Directors, he the merest shareholder, useful only for 'calls.' The awkward question that he feared would never come, but instead he would receive instructions. 'Keep close to the children; they will guide you.' The words flashed back. He was a helpless prisoner; but had only just discovered the fact. He supplied the funds; they did the construction. Their plans and schemes netted his feet in fairyland just as surely as the weight of their little warm, soft bodies fastened him to the boulder where he sat. He could not move. He could not go further without their will and leadership.
But his captivity was utterly delightful to him....
The sound of a deep bell from the Colombier towers floated in to them between the trees. The children sprang from his knees. He rose slowly, a little cramped and stiff.
'Half-past six,' said Jimbo. 'We must go back for supper.'
He stood there a moment, stretching, while the others waited, staring up at him as though he were a tree. And he felt like a big tree; they were two wild-flowers his great roots sheltered down below.
And at that moment, in the little pause before they linked up arms and started home again, the Question of Importance came, though not in the way he had expected it would come.
'Cousinenry, do you sleep very tightly at night, please?' Monkey asked it, but Jimbo stepped up nearer to watch the reply.
'Like a top,' he said, wondering.
Signals he tried vainly to intercept flashed between the pair of them.
'Why do you ask?' as nothing further seemed forthcoming.
'Oh, just to know,' she explained. 'It's all right.'
'Yes, it's quite all right like that,' added Jimbo. And without more ado they took his arms and pulled him out of the forest.
And Henry Rogers heard something deep, deep down within himself echo the verdict.
'I think it is all right.'
On the way home there were no puddles, but there were three pairs of eyes--and the stars were uncommonly thick overhead. The children asked him almost as many questions as there were clusters of them between the summits of Boudry and La Tourne. All three went floundering in that giant Net. It was so different, too, from anything they had been accustomed to. Their father's stories, answers, explanations, and the like, were ineffective because they always felt he did not quite believe them himself even while he gave them. He did not think he believed them, that is. But Cousin Henry talked of stars and star- stuff as though he had some in his pocket at the moment. And, of course, he had. For otherwise they would not have listened. He could not have held their attention.
They especially liked the huge, ridiculous words he used, because such words concealed great mysteries that pulsed with wonder and exquisitely wound them up. Daddy made things too clear. The bones of impossibility were visible. They saw thin nakedness behind the explanations, till the sense of wonder faded. They were not babies to be fed with a string of one-syllable words!
Jimbo kept silence mostly, his instinct ever being to conceal his ignorance; but Monkey talked fifteen to the dozen, filling the pauses with long 'ohs' and bursts of laughter and impudent observations. Yet her cheeky insolence never crossed the frontier where it could be resented. Her audacity stopped short of impertinence.
'There's a point beyond which--' her cousin would say gravely, when she grew more daring than usual; and, while answering 'It'll stick into you, then, not into me,' she yet withdrew from the borders of impertinence at once.
'What is star-stuff really then?' she asked.
'The primordial substance of the universe,' he answered solemnly, no whit ashamed of his inaccuracy.
'Ah yes!' piped Jimbo, quietly. Ecole primaire he understood. This must be something similar.
'But what does it do, I mean, and why is it good for people to have it in them--on them--whatever it is?' she inquired.
'It gives sympathy and insight; it's so awfully subtle and delicate,' he answered. 'A little of it travels down on every ray and soaks down into you. It makes you feel inclined to stick to other people and understand them. That's sympathy.'
'Sympathie,' said Jimbo for his sister's benefit apparently, but in reality because he himself was barely treading water.
'But sympathy,' the other went on, 'is no good without insight--which means seeing things as others see them--from inside. That's insight--- '
'Inside sight,' she corrected him.
'That's it. You see, the first stuff that existed in the universe was this star-stuff--nebulae. Having nothing else to stick to, it stuck to itself, and so got thicker. It whirled in vortices. It grew together in sympathy, for sympathy brings together. It whirled and twirled round itself till it got at last into solid round bodies--worlds-- stars. It passed, that is, from mere dreaming into action. And when the rays soak into you, they change your dreaming into action. You feel the desire to do things--for others.'
'Ah! yes,' repeated Jimbo, 'like that.'
'You must be full of vorty seas, then, because you're so long,' said Monkey, 'but you'll never grow into a solid round body----'
He took a handful of her hair and smothered the remainder of the sentence.
'The instant a sweet thought is born in your mind,' he continued, 'the heavenly stables send their starry messengers to harness it for use. A ray, perhaps, from mighty Sirius picks it out of your heart at birth.'
'Serious!' exclaimed Jimbo, as though the sun were listening.
'Sirius--another sun, that is, far bigger than our own--a perfect giant, yet so far away you hardly notice him.'
The boy clasped his dirty fingers and stared hard. The sun was listening.
'Then what I think is known--like that--all over the place?' he asked. He held himself very straight indeed.
'Everywhere,' replied Cousinenry gravely. 'The stars flash your thoughts over the whole universe. None are ever lost. Sooner or later they appear in visible shape. Some one, for instance, must have thought this flower long ago'--he stooped and picked a blue hepatica at their feet--'or it couldn't be growing here now.'
Jimbo accepted the statement with his usual gravity.
'Then I shall always think enormous and tremendous things--powerful locomotives, like that and--and----'
'The best is to think kind little sweet things about other people,' suggested the other. 'You see the results quicker then.'
'Mais oui,' was the reply, 'je pourrai faire ca au meme temps, n'est- ce pas?'
'Parfaitemong,' agreed his big cousin.
'There's no room in her for inside sight,' observed Monkey as a portly dame rolled by into the darkness. 'You can't tell her front from her back.' It was one of the governesses.
'We'll get her into the cave and change all that,' her cousin said reprovingly. 'You must never judge by outside alone. Puddings should teach you that.'
But no one could reprove Monkey without running a certain risk.
'We don't have puddings here,' she said, 'we have dessert--sour oranges and apples.'
She flew from his side and vanished down the street and into the Citadelle courtyard before he could think of anything to say. A shooting star flashed at the same moment behind the church tower, vanishing into the gulf of Boudry's shadow. They seemed to go at the same pace together.
'Oh, I say!' said Jimbo sedately, 'you must punish her for that, you know. Shall I come with you to the carpenter's?' he added, as they stood a moment by the fountain. 'There's just ten minutes to wash and brush your hair for supper.'
'I think I can find my way alone,' he answered, 'thank you all the same.'
'It's nothing,' he said, lifting his cap as the village fashion was, and watching his cousin's lengthy figure vanish down the street.
'We'll meet at the Pension later,' the voice came back, 'and in the morning I shall have a lot of correspondence to attend to. Bring your shorthand book and lots of pencils, mind.'
'Oh, half a dozen will do.'
The boy turned in and hurried after his sister. But he was so busy collecting all the pencils and paper he could find that he forgot to brush his hair, and consequently appeared at the supper table with a head like a tangled blackberry bush. His eyes were bright as stars.