A Prisoner in Fairyland

by Algernon Blackwood

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Chapter 21

    La vie est un combat qu'ils ont change en fete.
                    ''Lei Elus'', E. VERHAIREN.

The excitement a few days later spread through the village like a flame. People came out of their way to steal a glance at the Pension that now, for the first time in their--memory, was free of debt. Gygi, tolling the bell at midi, forgot to stop, as he peered through the narrow window in the church tower and watched the Widow Jequier planting and digging recklessly in her garden. Several came running down the street, thinking it was a warning of fire.

But the secret was well kept; no one discovered who had worked the miracle. Pride sealed the lips of the beneficiaries themselves, while the inhabitants of the Citadelle, who alone shared the knowledge, kept the facts secret, as in honour bound. Every one wondered, however, for every one knew the sum ran into several thousand francs; and a thousand francs was a fortune; the rich man in the corner house, who owned so many vineyards, and was reputed to enjoy an income of ten thousand francs a year, was always referred to as 'le million naire.' And so the story spread that Madame Jequier had inherited a fortune, none knew whence. The tradespeople treated her thereafter with a degree of respect that sweetened her days till the end of life.

She had come back from the Bank in a fainting condition, the sudden joy too much for her altogether. A remote and inaccessible air pervaded her, for all the red of her inflamed eyes and tears. She was aloof from the world, freed at last from the ceaseless, gnawing anxiety that for years had eaten her life out. The spirits had justified themselves, and faith and worship had their just reward. But this was only the first, immediate effect: it left her greater than it found her, this unexpected, huge relief--brimming with new sympathy for others. She doubled her gifts. She planned a wonderful new garden. That very night she ordered such a quantity of bulbs and seedlings that to this day they never have been planted.

Her interview with Henry Rogers, when she called at the carpenter's house in all her finery, cannot properly be told, for it lay beyond his powers of description. Her sister accompanied her; the Postmaster, too, snatched fifteen minutes from his duties to attend. The ancient tall hat, worn only at funerals as a rule, was replaced by the black Trilby that had been his portion from the Magic Box, as he followed the excited ladies at a reasonable distance. 'You had better show yourself,' his wife suggested; 'Monsieur Rogairs would like to see you with us--to know that you are there.' Which meant that he was not to interfere with the actual thanksgiving, but to countenance the occasion with his solemn presence. And, indeed, he did not go upstairs. He paced the road beneath the windows during the interview, looking exactly like a professional mourner waiting for the arrival of the hearse.

'My dear old friend--friends, I mean,' said Rogers in his fluent and very dreadful French, 'if you only knew what a pleasure it is to me--It is I who should thank you for giving me the opportunity, not you who should thank me.' The sentence broke loose utterly, wandering among intricacies of grammar and subjunctive moods that took his breath away as he poured it out. 'I was only afraid you would think it unwarrantable interference. I am delighted that you let me do it. It's such a little thing to do.'

Both ladies instantly wept. The Widow came closer with a little rush. Whether Rogers was actually embraced, or no, it is not stated officially.

'It is a loan, of course, it is a loan,' cried the Widow.

'It is a present,' he said firmly, loathing the scene.

'It's a part repayment for all the kindness you showed me here as a boy years and years ago.' Then, remembering that the sister was not known to him in those far-away days, he added clumsily, 'and since--I came back.... And now let's say no more, but just keep the little secret to ourselves. It is nobody's business but our own.'

'A present!' gasped both ladies to one another, utterly overcome; and finding nothing else to embrace, they flung their arms about each other's necks and praised the Lord and wept more copiously than ever.... 'Grand ciel' was heard so frequently, and so loudly, that Madame Michaud, the carpenter's wife, listening on the stairs, made up her mind it was a quarrel, and wondered if she ought to knock at the door and interfere.

'I see your husband in the road,' said Rogers, tapping at the window. 'I think he seems waiting for you. Or perhaps he has a telegram for me, do you think?' He bowed and waved his hand, smiling as the Postmaster looked up in answer to the tapping and gravely raised his Trilby hat.

'There now, he's calling for you. Do not keep him waiting--I'm sure--' he didn't know what to say or how else to get them out. He opened the door. The farewells took some time, though they would meet an hour later at dejeuner as usual.

'At least you shall pay us no more pension,' was the final sentence as they flounced downstairs, so happy and excited that they nearly tumbled over each other, and sharing one handkerchief to dry their tears.

'Then I shall buy my own food and cook it here,' he laughed, and somehow managed to close his door upon the retreating storm. Out of the window he saw the procession go back, the sombre figure of the Postmaster twenty yards behind the other two.

And then, with joy in his heart, though a sigh of relief upon his lips--there may have been traces of a lump somewhere in his throat as well, but if so, he did not acknowledge it--he turned to his letters, and found among them a communication from Herbert Montmorency Minks, announcing that he had found an ideal site, and that it cost so and so much per acre--also that the County Council had made no difficulties. There was a hint, moreover--a general flavour of resentment and neglect at his master's prolonged absence--that it would not be a bad thing for the great Scheme if Mr. Rogers could see his way to return to London 'before very long.'

'Bother the fellow!' thought he; 'what a nuisance he is, to be sure!'

And he answered him at once. 'Do not trouble about a site just yet,' he wrote; 'there is no hurry for the moment.' He made a rapid calculation in his head. He had paid those mortgages out of capital, and the sum represented just about the cost of the site Minks mentioned. But results were immediate. There was no loss, no waste in fees and permits and taxes. Each penny did its work.

'There's the site gone, anyhow,' he laughed to himself. 'The foundation will go next, then the walls. But, at any rate, they needed it. The Commune Charity would have had 'em at the end of the month. They're my neighbours after all. And I must find out from them who else in the village needs a leg up. For these people are worth helping, and I can see exactly where every penny goes.'

Bit by bit, as it would seem, the great Scheme for Disabled Thingumagigs was being undermined.

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