A Prisoner in Fairyland

by Algernon Blackwood

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Chapter 22

    And those who were good shall be happy.
      They shall sit in a golden chair;
    They shall splash at a ten-league canvas
      With brushes of comets' hair.
    They shall have real saints to paint from--
      Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
    They shall work for an age at a sitting
      And never get tired at all.

    And only the Master shall praise them,
      And only the Master shall blame;
    And no one shall work for money,
      And no one shall work for fame;
    But each for the joy of the working,
      And each in his separate star,
    Shall draw the thing as he sees it
      For the God of things as they are,
                             R. KIPLING.

And meanwhile, as May ran laughing to meet June, an air of coloured wonder spread itself about the entire village. Rogers had brought it with him from that old Kentish garden somehow. His journey there had opened doors into a region of imagination and belief whence fairyland poured back upon his inner world, transfiguring common things. And this transfiguration he unwittingly put into others too. Through this very ordinary man swept powers that usually are left behind with childhood. The childhood aspect of the world invaded all who came in contact with him, enormous, radiant, sparkling, charged with questions of wonder and enchantment. And every one felt it according to their ability of reconstruction. Yet he himself had not the least idea that he did it all. It was a reformation, very tender, soft, and true.

For wonder, of course, is the basis of all inquiry. Interpretation varies, facts remain the same; and to interpret is to recreate. Wonder leads to worship. It insists upon recreation, prerogative of all young life. The Starlight Express ran regularly every night, Jimbo having constructed a perfect time-table that answered all requirements, and was sufficiently elastic to fit instantly any scale that time and space demanded. Rogers and the children talked of little else, and their adventures in the daytime seemed curiously fed by details of information gleaned elsewhere.

But where? The details welled up in one and all, though whence they came remained a mystery. 'I believe we dream a lot of it,' said Jimbo. 'It's a lot of dreams we have at night, comme fa.' He had made a complete map of railway lines, with stations everywhere, in forests, sky, and mountains. He carried stations in his pocket, and just dropped one out of the carriage window whenever a passenger shouted, 'Let's stop here.' But Monkey, more intellectual, declared it was 'all Cousinenry's invention and make-up,' although she asked more questions than all the others put together. Jinny, her sister, stared and listened with her puzzled, moth-like expression, while Mother watched and marvelled cautiously from a distance. In one and all, however, the famished sense of wonder interpreted life anew. It named the world afresh--the world of common things. It subdued the earth unto itself. What a mind creates it understands. Through the familiar these adventurers trace lines of discovery into the unfamiliar. They understood. They were up to their waists in wonder. There was still disorder, of course, in their great reconstruction, but that was where the exciting fun came in; for disorder involves surprise. Any moment out might pop the unexpected--event or person.

Cousin Henry was easily leader now. While Daddy remained absorbed with his marvellous new story, enthusiastic and invisible, they ran about the world at the heels of this 'busy engineer,' as Jane Ann entitled him. He had long ago told them, with infinite and exaccurate detail, of his journey to the garden and his rediscovery of the sprites, forgotten during his twenty years of business life. And these sprites were as familiar to them now as those of their own childhood. They little knew that at night they met and talked with them. Daddy had put them all into the Wumble Book, achieving mediocre success with the rhymes, but amply atoning with the illustrations. The Woman of the Haystack was evidently a monster pure and simple, till Jinny announced that she merely had 'elephantitis,' and thus explained her satisfactorily. The Lamplighter, with shining feet, taking enormous strides from Neuchatel to a London slum, putting fire into eyes and hearts en route, thrilled them by his radiant speed and ubiquitous activity, while his doggerel left them coldly questioning. For the rhymes did not commend themselves to their sense of what was proper in the use of words. His natural history left them unconvinced, though the anatomy of the drawing fascinated them.

     He walked upon his toes
     As softly as a saying does,
     For so the saying goes.

That he 'walked upon his toes' was all right, but that he 'walked softly as a saying' meant nothing, even when explained that 'thus the saying goes.'

'Poor old Daddy,' was Jinny's judgment; 'he's got to write something. You see, he is an author. Some day he'll get his testimonial.'

It was Cousin Henry who led them with a surer, truer touch. He always had an adventure up his sleeve--something their imaginations could accept and recreate. Each in their own way, they supplied interpretations as they were able.

Every walk they took together furnished the germ of an adventure.

'But I'm not exciting to-day,' he would object thirsting for a convincing compliment that should persuade him to take them out. Only the compliment never came quite as he hoped.

'Everybody's exciting somewhere,' said Monkey, leading the way and knowing he would follow. 'We'll go to the Wind Wood.'

Jimbo took his hand then, and they went. Corners of the forest had names now, born of stories and adventures he had placed there--the Wind Wood, the Cuckoo Wood, where Daddy could not sleep because 'the beastly cuckoo made such a noise'; the Wood where Mother Fell, and so on. No walk was wholly unproductive.

And so, one evening after supper, they escaped by the garden, crossed the field where the standing hay came to their waists, and climbed by forest paths towards the Wind Wood. It was a spot where giant pines stood thinly, allowing a view across the lake towards the Alps. The moss was thick and deep. Great boulders, covered with lichen, lay about, and there were fallen trees to rest the back against. Here he had told them once his vision of seeing the wind, and the name had stuck; for the story had been very vivid, and every time they felt the wind or heard it stirring in the tree-tops, they expected to see it too. There were blue winds, black winds, and winds--violent these--of purple and flaming scarlet.

They lay down, and Cousinenry made a fire. The smoke went up in thin straight lines of blue, melting into the sky. The sun had set half an hour before, and the flush of gold and pink was fading into twilight. The glamour of Bourcelles dropped down upon all three. They ought to have been in bed--hence the particular enjoyment.

'Are you getting excited now?' asked Monkey, nestling in against him.

'Hush!' he said, 'can't you hear it coming?'

'The excitement?' she inquired under her breath.

'No, the Night. Keep soft and silent--if you can.'

'Tell us, please, at once,' both children begged him instantly, for the beauty of the place and hour demanded explanation, and explanation, of course, must be in story or adventure form. The fire crackled faintly; the smell crept out like incense; the lines of smoke coiled upwards, and seemed to draw the tree-stems with them. Indeed they formed a pattern together, big thick trunks marking the uprights at the corners, and wavy smoke lines weaving a delicate structure in between them. It was a kind of growing, moving scaffolding. Saying nothing, Cousin Henry pointed to it with his finger. He traced its general pattern for them in the air.

'That's the Scaffolding of the Night beginning,' he whispered presently, feeling adventure press upon him.

'Oh, I say,' said Jimbo, sitting up, and pretending as usual more comprehension than he actually possessed. But his sister instantly asked, 'What is it--the Scaffolding of the Night? A sort of cathedral, you mean?'

How she divined his thought, and snatched it from his mind always, this nimble-witted child! His germ developed with a bound at once.

'More a palace than a cathedral,' he whispered. 'Night is a palace, and has to be built afresh each time. Twilight rears the scaffolding first, then hangs the Night upon it. Otherwise the darkness would simply fall in lumps, and lie about in pools and blocks, unfinished--a ruin instead of a building. Everything must have a scaffolding first. Look how beautifully it's coming now,' he added, pointing, 'each shadow in its place, and all the lines of grey and black fitting exaccurately together like a skeleton. Have you never noticed it before?'

Jimbo, of course, had noticed it, his manner gave them to understand, but had not thought it worth while mentioning until his leader drew attention to it.

'Just as trains must have rails to run on,' he explained across Cousinenry's intervening body to Monkey, 'or else there'd be accidents and things all the time.'

'And night would be a horrid darkness like a plague in Egypt,' she supposed, adroitly defending herself and helping her cousin at the same time. 'Wouldn't it?' she added, as the shadows drew magically nearer from the forest and made the fire gradually grow brighter. The children snuggled closer to their cousin's comforting bulk, shivering a little. The woods went whispering together. Night shook her velvet skirts out.

'Yes, everything has its pattern,' he answered, 'from the skeleton of a child or a universe to the outline of a thought. Even a dream must have its scaffolding,' he added, feeling their shudder and leading it towards fun and beauty. 'Insects, birds, and animals all make little scaffoldings with their wee emotions, especially kittens and butterflies. Engine-drivers too,' for he felt Jimbo's hand steal into his own and go to sleep there, 'but particularly little beasties that live in holes under stones and in fields.

     When a little mouse in wonder
     Flicks its whiskers at the thunder,

it makes a tiny scaffolding behind which it hides in safety, shuddering. Same with Daddy's stories. Thinking and feeling does the trick. Then imagination comes and builds it up solidly with bricks and wall-papers....'

He told them a great deal more, but it cannot be certain that they heard it all, for there were other Excitements about besides their cousin--the fire, the time, the place, and above all, this marvellous coming of the darkness. They caught words here and there, but Thought went its own independent way with each little eager mind. He had started the machinery going, that was all. Interpretation varied; facts remained the same. And meanwhile twilight brought the Scaffolding of Night before their eyes.

'You can see the lines already,' he murmured sleepily, 'like veins against the sunset.... Look!'

All saw the shadowy slim rafters slip across the paling sky, mapping its emptiness with intricate design. Like an enormous spider's web of fine dark silk it bulged before the wind. The trellis-work, slung from the sky, hung loose. It moved slowly, steadily, from east to west, trailing grey sheets of dusk that hung from every filament. The maze of lines bewildered sight. In all directions shot the threads of coming darkness, spun from the huge body of Night that still hid invisible below the horizon.

'They're fastening on to everything ... look!' whispered Cousin Henry, kicking up a shower of sparks with his foot. 'The Pattern's being made before your eyes! Don't you see the guy ropes?'

And they saw it actually happen. From the summits of the distant Alps ran filmy lines of ebony that knotted themselves on to the crests of the pines beside them. There were so many no eye could follow them. They flew and darted everywhere, dropping like needles from the sky itself, sewing the tent of darkness on to the main supports, and threading the starlight as they came. Night slowly brought her beauty and her mystery upon the world. The filmy pattern opened. There was a tautness in the lines that made one feel they would twang with delicate music if the wind swept its hand more rapidly across them. And now and again all vibrated, each line making an ellipse between its fastened ends, then gradually settling back to its thin, almost invisible bed. Cables of thick, elastic darkness steadied them.

How much of it all the children realised themselves, or how much flashed into them from their cousin's mind, is of course a thing not even a bat can tell.

'Is that why bats fly in such a muddle? Like a puzzle?'

'Of course,' he said. The bats were at last explained.

They built their little pictures for themselves. No living being can lie on the edge of a big pine forest when twilight brings the darkness without the feeling that everything becomes too wonderful for words. The children as ever fed his fantasy, while he thought he did it all himself. Dusk wore a shroud to entangle the too eager stars, and make them stay.

'I never noticed it before,' murmured Monkey against his coat sleeve. 'Does it happen every night like this?'

'You only see it if you look very closely,' was the low reply. 'You must think hard, very hard. The more you think, the more you'll see.'

'But really,' asked Jimbo, 'it's only--crepuscule, comme ca, isn't it?' And his fingers tightened on his leader's hand.

'Dusk, yes,' answered Cousin Henry softly, 'only dusk. But people everywhere are watching it like ourselves, and thinking feather thoughts. You can see the froth of stars flung up over the crest of Night. People are watching it from windows and fields and country roads everywhere, wondering what makes it so beautiful. It brings yearnings and long, long desires. Only a few like ourselves can see the lines of scaffolding, but everybody who thinks about it, and loves it, makes it more real for others to see, too. Daddy's probably watching it too from his window.'

'I wonder if Jinny ever sees it,' Monkey asked herself.

But Jimbo knew. 'She's in it,' he decided. 'She's always in places like that; that's where she lives.'

The children went on talking to each other under their breath, and while they did so Cousin Henry entered their little wondering minds. Or, perhaps, they entered his. It is difficult to say. Not even an owl, who is awfully wise about everything to do with night and darkness, could have told for certain. But, anyhow, they all three saw more or less the same thing. The way they talked about it afterwards proves that. Their minds apparently merged, or else there was one big mirror and two minor side-reflections of it. It was their cousin's interpretation, at any rate, that they remembered later. They brought the material for his fashioning.

'Look!' cried Monkey, sitting up, 'there are millions and millions now--lines everywhere--pillars and squares and towers. It's like a city. I can see lamps in every street----'

'That's stars,' interrupted Jimbo. The stars indeed were peeping here and there already. 'I feel up there,' he added, 'my inside, I mean--up among the stars and lines and sky-things.'

'That's the mind wandering,' explained the eldest child of the three. 'Always follow a wandering mind. It's quite safe. Mine's going presently too. We'll all go off together.'

Several little winds, released by darkness, passed them just then on their way out of the forest. They gathered half a dozen sparks from the fire to light them on their way, and brought cool odours with them from the deepest recesses of the trees--perfumes no sunlight ever finds. And just behind them came a big white moth, booming and whirring softly. It darted to and fro to find the trail, then vanished, so swiftly that no one saw it go.

'He's pushing it along,' said Jimbo.

'Or fastening the lines,' his sister thought, 'you see he hovers in one place, then darts over to another.'

'That's fastening the knots,' added Jimbo.

'No; he's either an Inspector or a Pathfinder,' whispered Cousin Henry, 'I don't know exactly which. They show the way the scaffolding goes. Moths, bats, and owls divide the work between them somehow.' He sat up suddenly to listen, and the children sat up with him. 'Hark!' he added, 'do you hear that?'

Sighings and flutterings rose everywhere about them, and overhead the fluffy spires of the tree-tops all bent one way as the winds went foraging across the night. Majestically the scaffolding reared up and towered through the air, while sheets of darkness hung from every line, and trailed across the earth like gigantic sails from some invisible vessel. Loose and enormous they gradually unfolded, then suddenly swung free and dropped with a silent dip and rush. Night swooped down upon the leagues of Jura forest. She spread her tent across the entire range.

The threads were fastened everywhere now, and the uprights all in place. Moths were busy in all directions, showing the way, while bats by the dozen darted like black lightning from corner to corner, making sure that every spar and beam was fixed and steady. So exquisitely woven was the structure that it moved past them overhead without the faintest sound, yet so frail and so elastic that the whirring of the moths sent ripples of quivering movement through the entire framework.

'Hush!' murmured Rogers, 'we're properly inside it now. Don't think of anything in particular. Just follow your wandering minds and wait.' The children lay very close against him. He felt their warmth and the breathing of their little bosoms. All three moved sympathetically within the rhythm of the dusk. The 'inside' of each went floating up into the darkening sky.

The general plan of the scaffolding they clearly made out as they passed among its myriad, mile-long rafters, but the completed temple, of course, they never saw. Black darkness hides that ever. Night's secret mystery lies veiled finally in its innermost chamber, whence it steals forth to enchant the mind of men with its strange bewilderment. But the Twilight Scaffolding they saw clearly enough to make a map of it. For Daddy afterwards drew it from their description, and gave it an entire page in the Wumble Book, Monkey ladling on the colour with her camel's-hair brush as well as she could remember.

It was a page to take the breath away, the big conception blundering clumsily behind the crude reconstruction. Great winds formed the base, winds of brown and blue and purple, piled mountainously upon each other in motionless coils, and so soft that the upright columns of the structure plunged easily and deeply into them. Thus the framework could bend and curve and sway, moving with steady glide across the landscape, yet never collapsing nor losing its exquisite proportions. The forests shored it up, its stays and bastions were the Jura precipices; it rested on the shoulders of the hills. From vineyard, field, and lake vast droves of thick grey shadows trooped in to curtain the lower halls of the colossal edifice, as chamber after chamber disappeared from view and Night clothed the structure from the ground-floors upwards. And far overhead a million tiny scarves, half sunset and half dusk, wove into little ropes that lashed the topmost spars together, dovetailing them neatly, and fastening them at last with whole clusters of bright thin stars.

'Ohhhhh!' breathed Jimbo with a delicious shudder of giddiness. 'Let's climb to the very tip and see all the trains and railway stations in the world!'

'Wait till the moon comes up and puts the silver rivets in,' the leader whispered. 'It'll be safer then. My weight, you know--'

'There she is!' interrupted Monkey with a start, 'and there's no such thing as weight--'

For the moon that instant came up, it seemed with a rush, and the line of distant Alps moved forward, blocked vividly against the silvery curtain that she brought. Her sight ran instantly about the world. Between the trees shot balls of yellowish white, unfolding like ribbon as they rolled. They splashed the rocks and put shining pools in the hollows among the moss. Spangles shone on Monkey's hair and eyes; skins and faces all turned faintly radiant. The lake, like a huge reflector, flashed its light up into the heavens. The moon laid a coating of her ancient and transfiguring paint upon the enormous structure, festooning the entire sky. 'She's put the silver rivets in,' said Jimbo.

'Now we can go,' whispered Rogers, 'only, remember, it's a giddy business, rather.'

All three went fluttering after it, floating, rising, falling, like fish that explore a sunken vessel in their own transparent medium. The elastic structure bore them easily as it swung along. Its enormous rhythm lulled their senses with a deep and drowsy peace, and as they climbed from storey to storey it is doubtful if the children caught their leader's words at all. There were no echoes--the spaces were too vast for that--and they swung away from spar to spar, and from rafter to rafter, as easily as acrobats on huge trapezes. Jimbo and Monkey shot upwards into space.

'I shall explore the lower storeys first,' he called after them, his words fluttering in feathers of sound far up the vault. 'Keep the fire in sight to guide you home again ...' and he moved slowly towards the vast ground-floor chambers of the Night. Each went his independent way along the paths of reverie and dream. He found himself alone.

For he could not soar and float as they did; he kept closer to the earth, wandering through the under chambers of the travelling building that swung its way over vineyards, woods, and village roofs. He kept more in touch with earth than they did. The upper sections where the children climbed went faster than those lower halls and galleries, so that the entire framework bent over, breaking ever into a crest of foaming stars. But in these under halls where he stood and watched there was far less movement. From century to century these remained the same. Between the bases of the mighty columns he watched the wave of darkness drown the world, leading it with a rush of silence towards sleep. For the children Night meant play and mischief; for himself it meant graver reverie....

These were the chambers, clearly, of ancestral sleep and dream: they seemed so familiar and well known. Behind him blinked the little friendly fire in the forest, link with the outer world he must not lose. He would find the children there when he went back, lively from their scamper among the stars; and, meanwhile, he was quite content to wander down these corridors in the floor of Night and taste their deep repose. For years he had not visited or known them. The children had led him back, although he did not realise it. He believed, on the contrary, that it was he who led and they who followed. For true leadership is ever inspired, making each follower feel that he goes first and of his own free will....

'Jimbo, you flickery sprite, where are you now?' he called, suddenly noticing how faint the little fire had grown with distance.

A lonely wind flew down upon him with a tiny shout:

'Up here, at the very top, with Daddy. He's making notes in a tower- room all by himself!'

Rogers could not believe his ears. Daddy indeed!

'Is Monkey with you? And is she safe?'

'She's helping Daddy balance. The walls aren't finished, and he's on a fearful ledge. He's after something or other for his story, he says.'

It seemed impossible. Daddy skylarking on the roof of Night, and making notes! Yet with a moment's reflection the impossibility vanished; surprise went after it; it became natural, right, and true. Daddy, of course, sitting by his window in the carpenter's house, had seen the Twilight Scaffolding sweep past and had climbed into it. Its beauty had rapt him out and away. In the darkness his mind wandered, too, gathering notes subconsciously for his wonderful new story.

'Come down here to me,' he cried, as a man cries in his sleep, making no audible sound. 'There's less risk among the foundations.' And down came Daddy with an immediate rush. He arrived in a bundle, then straightened up. The two men stood side by side in these subterraneans of the night.

'You!' whispered Rogers, trying to seize his hand, while the other evaded him, hiding behind a shadow.

'Don't touch me,' he murmured breathlessly. 'You'll scatter my train of thought. Think of something else at once, please....' He moved into thicker shadows, half disappearing. 'I'm after something that suddenly occurred to me for my story.'

'What is it? I'll think it with you,' his cousin called after him. 'You'll see it better if I do. Tell me.'

'A train that carries Thought, as this darkness carries stars--a starlight express,' was the quick reply, 'and a cavern where lost starlight gathers till it's wanted-sort of terminus of the railway. They belong to the story somewhere if only I can find them and fit them in. Starlight binds all together as thought and sympathy bind minds....'

Rogers thought hard about them. Instantly his cousin vanished.

'Thank you,' ran a faint whisper among the pillars; 'I'm on their trail again now. I must go up again. I can see better from the top,' and the voice grew fainter and higher and further off with each word till it died away completely into silence. Daddy went chasing his inspiration through the scaffolding of reverie and dream.

'We did something for him the other night after all, then,' thought Rogers with delight.

'Of course,' dropped down a wee, faint answer from above, as the author heard him thinking; 'you did a lot. I'm partly out at last. This is where all the Patterns hide. Awake, I only get their dim reflections, broken and distorted. This is reality, not that. Ha, ha! If only I can get it through, my lovely, beautiful pattern--'

'You will, you will,' cried the other, as the voice went fluttering through space. 'Ask the children. Jimbo and Monkey are up there somewhere. They're the safest guides.'

Rogers gave a gulp and found that he was coughing. His feet were cold. A shudder ran across the feathery structure, making it tremble from the foundations to the forest of spires overhead. Jimbo came sliding down a pole of gleaming ebony. In a hammock of beams and rafters, swinging like a network of trapezes, Monkey swooped down after him, head first as usual. For the moon that moment passed behind a cloud, and the silver rivets started from their shadowy sockets. Clusters of star nails followed suit. The palace bent and tottered like a falling wave. Its pillars turned into trunks of pine trees; its corridors were spaces through the clouds; its chambers were great dips between the mountain summits.

'It's going too fast for sight,' thought Rogers; 'I can't keep up with it. Even the children have toppled off.' But he still heard Daddy's laughter echoing down the lanes of darkness as he chased his pattern with yearning and enthusiasm.

The huge structure with its towers and walls and platforms slid softly out of sight. The moonlight sponged its outlines from the sky. The scaffolding melted into darkness, moving further westwards as night advanced. Already it was over France and Italy, sweeping grandly across the sea, bewildering the vessels in its net of glamour, and filling with wonder the eyes of the look-out men at the mast heads.

'The fire's going out,' a voice was saying. Rogers heard it through a moment's wild confusion as he fell swiftly among a forest of rafters, beams, and shifting uprights.

'I'll get more wood.'

The words seemed underground. A mountain wind rose up and brought the solid world about him. He felt chilly, shivered, and opened his eyes. There stood the solemn pine trees, thick and close; moonlight flooded the spaces between them and lit their crests with silver.

'This is the Wind Wood,' he remarked aloud to reassure himself.

Jimbo was bending over the fire, heaping on wood. Flame leaped up with a shower of sparks. He saw Monkey rubbing her eyes beside him.

'I've had a dream of falling,' she was saying, as she snuggled down closer into his side.

'I didn't,' Jimbo said. 'I dreamed of a railway accident, and everybody was killed except one passenger, who was Daddy. It fell off a high bridge. We found Daddy in the fourgon with the baggages, writing a story and laughing--making an awful row.'

'What did you dream, Cousinenry?' asked Monkey, peering into his eyes in the firelight.

'That my feet were cold, because the fire had gone out,' he answered, trying in vain to remember whether he had dreamed anything at all. 'And--that it's time to go home. I hear the curfew ringing.'

Some one whistled softly. They ought to have been in bed an hour ago.

It was ten o'clock, and Gygi was sounding the couvre feu from the old church tower. They put the fire out and walked home arm in arm, separating with hushed good-nights in the courtyard of the Citadelle. But Rogers did not hear the scolding Mother gave them when they appeared at the Den door, for he went on at once to his own room in the carpenter's house, with the feeling that he had lived always in Bourcelles, and would never leave it again. His Scheme had moved bodily from London to the forest.

And on the way upstairs he peeped a moment into his cousin's room, seeing a light beneath the door. The author was sitting beside the open window with the lamp behind him and a note-book on his knees. Moonlight fell upon his face. He was sound asleep.

'I won't wake him,' thought his cousin, going out softly again. 'He's dreaming--dreaming of his wonderful new story probably.'

Return to the A Prisoner in Fairyland Summary Return to the Algernon Blackwood Library

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