A Prisoner in Fairyland

by Algernon Blackwood

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Chapter 23

     Even as a luminous haze links star to star,
     I would supply all chasms with music, breathing
     Mysterious motions of the soul, no way
     To be defined save in strange melodies.
                  ''Paracelsus'', R. BROWNING.

Daddy's story, meanwhile, continued to develop itself with wonder and enthusiasm. It was unlike anything he had ever written. His other studies had the brilliance of dead precious stones, perhaps, but this thing moved along with a rushing life of its own. It grew, fed by sources he was not aware of. It developed of itself--changed and lived and flashed. Some creative fairy hand had touched him while he slept perhaps. The starry sympathy poured through him, and he thought with his feelings as well as with his mind.

At first he was half ashamed of it; the process was so new and strange; he even attempted to conceal his method, because he could not explain or understand it. 'This is emotional, not intellectual,' he sighed to himself; 'it must be second childhood. I'm old. They'll call it decadent!' Presently, however, he resigned himself to the delicious flow of inspiration, and let it pour out till it flowed over into his daily life as well. Through his heart it welled up and bubbled forth, a thing of children, starlight, woods, and fairies.

Yet he was shy about it. He would talk about the story, but would not read it out. 'It's a new genre for me,' he explained shyly, 'an attempt merely. We'll see what comes of it. My original idea, you see, has grown out of hand rather. I wake every morning with something fresh, as though'--he hesitated a moment, glancing towards his wife-- 'as if it came to me in sleep,' he concluded. He felt her common sense might rather despise him for it.

'Perhaps it does,' said Rogers.

'Why not?' said Mother, knitting on the sofa that was her bed at night.

She had put her needles down and was staring at her husband; he stared at Rogers; all three stared at each other. Something each wished to conceal moved towards utterance and revelation. Yet no one of them wished to be the first to mention it. A great change had come of late upon Bourcelles. It no longer seemed isolated from the big world outside as before; something had linked it up with the whole surrounding universe, and bigger, deeper currents of life flowed through it. And with the individual life of each it was the same. All dreamed the same enormous, splendid dream, yet dared not tell it--yet.

Both parents realised vaguely that it was something their visitor had brought, but what could it be exactly? It was in his atmosphere, he himself least of all aware of it; it was in his thought, his attitude to life, yet he himself so utterly unconscious of it. It brought out all the best in everybody, made them feel hopeful, brighter, more courageous. Yes, certainly, he, brought it. He believed in them, in the best of them--they lived up to it or tried to. Was that it? Was it belief and vision that he brought into their lives, though unconsciously, because these qualities lay so strongly in himself? Belief is constructive. It is what people are rather than what they preach that affects others. Two strangers meet and bow and separate without a word, yet each has changed; neither leaves the other quite as he was before. In the society of children, moreover, one believes everything in the world--for the moment. Belief is constructive and creative; it is doubt and cynicism that destroy. In the presence of a child these latter are impossible. Was this the explanation of the effect he produced upon their little circle--the belief and wonder and joy of Fairyland?

For a moment something of this flashed through Daddy's mind. Mother, in her way, was aware of something similar. But neither of them spoke it. The triangular staring was its only evidence. Mother resumed her knitting. She was not given to impulsive utterance. Her husband once described her as a solid piece of furniture. She was.

'You see,' said Daddy bravely, as the moment's tension passed, 'my original idea was simply to treat Bourcelles as an epitome, a miniature, so to speak, of the big world, while showing how Nature sweetened and kept it pure as by a kind of alchemy. But that idea has grown. I have the feeling now that the Bourcelles we know is a mere shadowy projection cast by a more real Bourcelles behind. It is only the dream village we know in our waking life. The real one--er--we know only in sleep.' There!--it was partly out!

Mother turned with a little start. 'You mean when we sleep?' she asked. She knitted vigorously again at once, as though ashamed of this sudden betrayal into fantasy. 'Why not?' she added, falling back upon her customary non-committal phrase. Yet this was not the superior attitude he had dreaded; she was interested. There was something she wanted to confess, if she only dared. Mother, too, had grown softer in some corner of her being. Something shone through her with a tiny golden radiance.

'But this idea is not my own,' continued Daddy, dangerously near to wumbling. 'It comes through me only. It develops, apparently, when I'm asleep,' he repeated. He sat up and leaned forward. 'And, I believe,' he added, as on sudden reckless impulse, 'it comes from you, Henry. Your mind, I feel, has brought this cargo of new suggestion and discharged it into me--into every one--into the whole blessed village. Man, I think you've bewitched us all!'

Mother dropped a stitch, so keenly was she listening. A moment later she dropped a needle too, and the two men picked it up, and handed it back together as though it weighed several pounds.

'Well,' said Rogers slowly, 'I suppose all minds pour into one another somewhere--in and out of one another, rather--and that there's a common stock or pool all draw upon according to their needs and power to assimilate. But I'm not conscious, old man, of driving anything deliberately into you--'

'Only you think and feel these things vividly enough for me to get them too,' said Daddy. Luckily 'thought transference' was not actually mentioned, or Mother might have left the room, or at least have betrayed an uneasiness that must have chilled them.

'As a boy I imagined pretty strongly,' in a tone of apology, 'but never since. I was in the City, remember, twenty years--'

'It's the childhood things, then,' Daddy interrupted eagerly. 'You've brought the great childhood imagination with you--the sort of gorgeous, huge, and endless power that goes on fashioning of its own accord just as dreams do--'

'I did, indulge in that sort of thing as a boy, yes,' was the half- guilty reply; 'but that was years and years ago, wasn't it?'

'They have survived, then,' said Daddy with decision. 'The sweetness of this place has stimulated them afresh. The children'--he glanced suspiciously at his wife for a moment--'have appropriated them too. It's a powerful combination. After a pause he added, 'I might develop that idea in my story--that you've brought back the sweet creations of childhood with you and captured us all--a sort of starry army.'

'Why not?' interpolated Mother, as who should say there was no harm in that. 'They certainly have been full of mischief lately.'

'Creation is mischievous,' murmured her husband. 'But since you have come,' he continued aloud,--'how can I express it exactly?--the days have seemed larger, fuller, deeper, the forest richer and more mysterious, the sky much closer, and the stars more soft and intimate. I dream of them, and they all bring me messages that help my story. Do you know what I mean? There were days formerly, when life seemed empty, thin, peaked, impoverished, its scale of values horribly reduced, whereas now--since you've been up to your nonsense with the children--some tide stands at the full, and things are always happening.'

'Well, really, Daddy!' said the expression on Mother's face and hands and knitting-needles, 'you are splendid to-day'; but aloud she only repeated her little hold-all phrase, 'Why not?'

Yet somehow he recognised that she understood him better than usual. Her language had not changed--things in Mother worked slowly, from within outwards as became her solid personality--but it held new meaning. He felt for the first time that he could make her understand, and more--that she was ready to understand. That is, he felt new sympathy with her. It was very delightful, stimulating; he instantly loved her more, and felt himself increased at the same time.

'I believe a story like that might even sell,' he observed, with a hint of reckless optimism. 'People might recognise a touch of their own childhood in it, eh?'

He longed for her to encourage him and pat him on the back.

'True,' said Mother, smiling at him, 'for every one likes to keep in touch with their childhood--if they can. It makes one feel young and hopeful--jolly; doesn't it? Why not?'

Their eyes met. Something, long put aside and buried under a burden of exaggerated care, flashed deliciously between them. Rogers caught it flying and felt happy. Bridges were being repaired, if not newly built.

'Nature, you see, is always young really,' he said; 'it's full of children. The very meaning of the word, eh, John?' turning to his cousin as who should say, 'We knew our grammar once.'

'Natura, yes--something about to produce.' They laughed in their superior knowledge of a Latin word, but Mother, stirred deeply though she hardly knew why, was not to be left out. Would the bridge bear her, was perhaps her thought.

'And of the feminine gender,' she added slyly, with a touch of pride. The bridge creaked, but did not give way. She said it very quickly. She had suddenly an air of bouncing on her sofa.

'Bravo, Mother,' said her husband, looking at her, and there was a fondness in his voice that warmed and blessed and melted down into her. She had missed it so long that it almost startled her. 'There's the eternal old magic, Mother; you're right. And if I had more of you in me--more of the creative feminine--I should do better work, I'm sure. You must give it to me.'

She kept her eyes upon her needles. The others, being unobservant 'mere men,' did not notice that the stitches she made must have produced queer kind of stockings if continued. 'We'll be collaborators,' Daddy added, in the tone of a boy building on the sands at Margate.

'I will,' she said in a low voice, 'if only I know how.'

'Well,' he answered enthusiastically, looking from one to the other, delighted to find an audience to whom he could talk of his new dream, 'you see, this is really a great jolly fairy-tale I'm trying to write. I'm blessed if I know where the ideas come from, or how they pour into me like this, but--anyhow it's a new experience, and I want to make the most of it. I've never done imaginative work before, and--though it is a bit fantastical, mean to keep in touch with reality and show great truths that emerge from the commonest facts of life. The critics, of course, will blame me for not giving 'em the banal thing they expect from me, but what of that?' He was dreadfully reckless.

'I see,' said Mother, gazing open-mindedly into his face; 'but where does my help come in, please?'

She leaned back, half-sighing, half-smiling. 'Here's my life'--she held up her needles--'and that's the soul of prosaic dulness, isn't it?'

'On the contrary,' he answered eagerly, 'it's reality. It's courage, patience, heroism. You're a spring-board for my fairy-tale, though I'd never realised it before. I shall put you in, just as you are. You'll be one of the earlier chapters.'

'Every one'll skip me, then, I'm afraid.'

'Not a bit,' he laughed gaily; 'they'll feel you all through the book. Their minds will rest on you. You'll be a foundation. "Mother's there," they'll say, "so it's all right. This isn't nonsense. We'll read on." And they will read on.'

'I'm all through it, then?'

'Like the binding that mothers the whole book, you see,' put in Rogers, delighted to see them getting on so well, yet amazed to hear his cousin talk so openly with her of his idea.

Daddy continued, unabashed and radiant. Hitherto, he knew, his wife's attitude, though never spoken, had been very different. She almost resented his intense preoccupation with stories that brought in so little cash. It would have been better if he taught English or gave lessons in literature for a small but regular income. He gave too much attention to these unremunerative studies of types she never met in actual life. She was proud of the reviews, and pasted them neatly in a big book, but his help and advice on the practical details of the children's clothing and education were so scanty. Hers seemed ever the main burden.

Now, for the first time, though she distrusted fantasy and deemed it destructive of action, she felt something real. She listened with a kind of believing sympathy. She noticed, moreover, with keen pleasure, that her attitude fed him. He talked so freely, happily about it all. Already her sympathy, crudely enough expressed, brought fuel to his fires. Some one had put starlight into her.

'He's been hungry for this all along,' she reflected; 'I never realised it. I've thought only of myself without knowing it.'

'Yes, I'll put you in, old Mother,' he went on, 'and Rogers and the children too. In fact, you're in it already,' he chuckled, 'if you want to know. Each of you plays his part all day long without knowing it.' He changed his seat, going over to the window-sill, and staring down upon them as he talked on eagerly. 'Don't you feel,' he said, enthusiasm growing and streaming from him, 'how all this village life is a kind of dream we act out against the background of the sunshine, while our truer, deeper life is hidden somewhere far below in half unconsciousness? Our daily doings are but the little bits that emerge, tips of acts and speech that poke up and out, masquerading as complete? In that vaster sea of life we lead below the surface lies my big story, my fairy-tale--when we sleep.' He paused and looked down questioningly upon them. 'When we sleep,' he repeated impressively, struggling with his own thought. 'You, Mother, while you knit and sew, slip down into that enormous under-sea and get a glimpse of the coloured pictures that pass eternally behind the veil. I do the same when I watch the twilight from my window in reverie. Sunshine obliterates them, but they go just the same. You call it day- dreaming. Our waking hours are the clothes we dress the spirit in after its nightly journeys and activities. Imagination does not create so much as remember. Then, by transforming, it reveals.'

Mother sat staring blankly before her, utterly lost, while her husband flung these lumps of the raw material of his story at her--of its atmosphere, rather. Even Rogers felt puzzled, and hardly followed what he heard. The intricacies of an artistic mind were indeed bewildering. How in the world would these wild fragments weave together into any intelligible pattern?

'You mean that we travel when we sleep,' he ventured, remembering a phrase that Minks had somewhere used, 'and that our real life is out of the body?' His cousin was taking his thought---or was it originally Minks's?--wholesale.

Mother looked up gratefully. 'I often dream I'm flying,' she put in solemnly. 'Lately, in particular, I've dreamed of stars and funny things like that a lot.'

Daddy beamed his pleasure. 'In my fairy-tale we shall all see stars,' he laughed, 'and we shall all get "out." For our thoughts will determine the kind of experience and adventure we have when the spirit is free and unhampered. And contrariwise, the kind of things we do at night--in sleep, in dream--will determine our behaviour during the day. There's the importance of thinking rightly, you see. Out of the body is eternal, and thinking is more than doing--it's more complete. The waking days are brief intervals of test that betray the character of our hidden deeper life. We are judged in sleep. We last for ever and ever. In the day, awake, we stand before the easel on which our adventures of the night have painted those patterns which are the very structure of our outer life's behaviour. When we sleep again we re- enter the main stream of our spirit's activity. In the day we forget, of course--as a rule, and most of us--but we follow the pattern just the same, unwittingly, because we can't help it. It's the mould we've made.'

'Then your story,' Rogers interrupted, 'will show the effect in the daytime of what we do at night? Is that it?' It amazed him to hear his cousin borrowing thus the entire content of his own mind, sucking it out whole like a ripe plum from its skin.

'Of course,' he answered; 'and won't it be a lark? We'll all get out in sleep and go about the village together in a bunch, helping, soothing, cleaning up, and putting everybody straight, so that when they wake up they'll wonder why in the world they feel so hopeful, strong, and happy all of a sudden. We'll put thoughts of beauty into them--beauty, you remember, which "is a promise of happiness."'

'Ah!' said Mother, seizing at his comprehensible scrap with energy. 'That is a story.'

'If I don't get it wumbled in the writing down,' her husband continued, fairly bubbling over. 'You must keep me straight, remember, with your needles--your practical aspirations, that is. I'll read it out to you bit by bit, and you'll tell me where I've dropped a stitch or used the wrong wool, eh?'

'Mood?' she asked.

'No, wool,' he said, louder.

There was a pause.

'But you see my main idea, don't you--that the sources of our life lie hid with beauty very very far away, and that our real, big, continuous life is spiritual--out of the body, as I shall call it. The waking-day life uses what it can bring over from this enormous under-running sea of universal consciousness where we're all together, splendid, free, untamed, and where thinking is creation and we feel and know each other face to face? See? Sympathy the great solvent? All linked together by thought as stars are by their rays. Ah! You get my idea-- the great Network?'

He looked straight into his wife's eyes. They were opened very wide. Her mouth had opened a little, too. She understood vaguely that he was using a kind of shorthand really. These cryptic sentences expressed in emotional stenography mere odds and ends that later would drop into their proper places, translated into the sequence of acts that are the scaffolding of a definite story. This she firmly grasped--but no more.

'It's grand-a wonderful job,' she answered, sitting back upon the sofa with a sigh of relief, and again bouncing a little in the process, so that Rogers had a horrible temptation to giggle. The tension of listening had been considerable. 'People, you mean, will realise how important thinking is, and that sympathy---er---' and she hesitated, floundering.

'Is the great way to grow,' Rogers quickly helped her, 'because by feeling with another person you add his mind to yours and so get bigger. And '--turning to his cousin--' you're taking starlight as the symbol of sympathy? You told me that the other day, I remember.' But the author did not hear or did not answer; his thought was far away in his dream again.

The situation was saved. All the bridges had borne well. Daddy, having relieved his overcharged mind, seemed to have come to a full stop. The Den was full of sunlight. A delightful feeling of intimacy wove the three humans together. Mother caught herself thinking of the far-off courtship days when their love ran strong and clear. She felt at one with her husband, and remembered him as lover. She felt in touch with him all over. And Rogers was such a comfortable sort of person. Tact was indeed well named--sympathy so delicately adjusted that it involved feeling-with to the point of actual touch.

Daddy came down from his perch upon the window-sill, stretched his arms, and drew a great happy sigh.

'Mother,' he added, rising to go out, 'you shall help me, dearie. We'll write this great fairy-tale of mine together, eh?' He stooped and kissed her, feeling love and tenderness and sympathy in his heart.

'You brave old Mother!' he laughed; 'we'll send Eddie to Oxford yet, see if we don't. A book like that might earn 100 pounds or even 200 pounds.'

Another time she would have answered, though not bitterly, 'Meanwhile I'll go on knitting stockings,' or 'Why not? we shall see what we shall see'--something, at any rate, corrective and rather sober, quenching. But this time she said nothing. She returned the kiss instead, without looking up from her needles, and a great big thing like an unborn child moved near her heart. He had not called her 'dearie' for so long a time, it took her back to their earliest days together at a single, disconcerting bound. She merely stroked his shoulder as he straightened up and left the room. Her eyes then followed him out, and he turned at the door and waved his hand. Rogers, to her relief, saw him to the end of the passage, and her handkerchief was out of sight again before he returned. As he came in she realised even more clearly than before that he somehow was the cause of the changing relationship. He it was who brought this something that bridged the years--made old bridges safe to use again. And her love went out to him. He was a man she could open her heart to even.

Patterns of starry beauty had found their way in and were working out in all of them. But Mother, of course, knew nothing of this. There was a tenderness in him that won her confidence. That was all she felt. 'Oh, dear,' she thought in her odd way, 'what a grand thing a man is to be sure, when he's got that!' It was like one of Jane Anne's remarks.

As he came in she had laid the stocking aside and was threading a needle for darning and buttons, and the like.

'"Threading the eye of a yellow star," eh?' he laughed, 'and always at it. You've stirred old Daddy up this time. He's gone off to his story, simply crammed full. What a help and stimulus you must be to him!'

'I,' she said, quite flabbergasted; 'I only wish it were true--again.' The last word slipped out by accident; she had not meant it.

But Rogers ignored it, even if he noticed it.

'I never can help him in his work. I don't understand it enough. I don't understand it at all.' She was ashamed to hedge with this man. She looked him straight in the eye.

'But he feels your sympathy,' was his reply. 'It's not always necessary to understand. That might only muddle him. You help by wishing, feeling, sympathising--believing.'

'You really think so?' she asked simply. 'What wonderful thoughts you have I One has read, of course, of wives who inspired their husbands' work; but it seemed to belong to books rather than to actual life.'

Rogers looked at her thoughtful, passionate face a moment before he answered. He realised that his words would count with her. They approached delicate ground. She had an absurd idea of his importance in their lives; she exaggerated his influence; if he said a wrong thing its effect upon her would be difficult to correct.

'Well,' he said, feeling mischief in him, 'I don't mind telling you that I should never have understood that confused idea of his story but for one thing.'

'What was that?' she asked, relieved to feel more solid ground at last.

'That I saw the thing from his own point of view,' he replied; 'because I have had similar thoughts all my life. I mean that he's bagged it all unconsciously out of my own mind; though, of course,' he hastened to add, 'I could never, never have made use of it as he will. I could never give it shape and form.'

Mother began to laugh too. He caught the twinkle in her eyes. She bounced again a little on the springy sofa as she turned towards him, confession on her lips at last.

'And I do believe you've felt it too, haven't you?' he asked quickly, before she could change her mind.

'I've felt something--yes,' she assented; 'odd, unsettled; new things rushing everywhere about us; the children mysterious and up to all sorts of games and wickedness; and bright light over everything, like- like a scene in a theatre, somehow. It's exhilarating, but I can't quite make it out. It can't be right to feel so frivolous and jumpy- about at my age, can it?'

'You feel lighter, eh?

She burst out laughing. Mother was a prosaic person; that is, she had strong common-sense; yet through her sober personality there ran like a streak of light some hint of fairy lightness, derived probably from her Celtic origin. Now, as Rogers watched her, he caught a flash of that raciness and swift mobility, that fluid, protean elasticity of temperament which belonged to the fairy kingdom. The humour and pathos in her had been smothered by too much care. She accepted old age before her time. He saw her, under other conditions, dancing, singing, full of Ariel tricks and mischief--instead of eternally mending stockings and saving centimes for peat and oil and washerwomen. He even saw her feeding fantasy--poetry--to Daddy like a baby with a spoon. The contrast made him laugh out loud.

'You've lived here five years,' he went on, 'but lived too heavily. Care has swamped imagination. I did the same-in the City-for twenty years. It's all wrong. One has to learn to live carelessly as well as carefully. When I came here I felt all astray at first, but now I see more clearly. The peace and beauty have soaked into me.' He hesitated an instant, then continued. Even if she didn't grasp his meaning now with her brains, it would sink down into her and come through later.

'The important things of life are very few really. They stand out vividly here. You've both vegetated, fossilised, atrophied a bit. I discovered it in my own case when I went back to Crayfield and--'

He told her about his sentimental journey, and how he found all the creations of his childhood's imagination still so alive and kicking in a forgotten backwater of his mind that they all hopped out and took objective form--the sprites, the starlight express, the boundless world of laughter, fun and beauty.

'And, without exactly knowing it, I suppose I've brought them all out here,' he continued, seeing that she drank it in thirstily, 'and-- somehow or other--you all have felt it and responded. It's not my doing, of course,' he added; 'it's simply that I'm the channel as it were, and Daddy, with his somewhat starved artist's hunger of mind, was the first to fill up. It's pouring through him now in a story, don't you see; but we're all in it--'

'In a way, yes, that's what I've felt,' Mother interrupted. 'It's all a kind of dream here, and I've just waked up. The unchanging village, the forests, the Pension with its queer people, the Magic Box--'

'Like a play in a theatre,' he interrupted, 'isn't it?'

'Exactly,' she laughed, yet half-seriously.

'While your husband is the dramatist that writes it down in acts and scenes. You see, his idea is, perhaps, that life as we know it is never a genuine story, complete and leading to a climax. It's all in disconnected fragments apparently. It goes backwards and forwards, up and down, in and out in a wumbled muddle, just anyhow, as it were. The fragments seem out of their proper place, the first ones often last, and vice versa. It seems inconsequential, because we only see the scraps that break through from below, from the true inner, deeper life that flows on steadily and dramatically out of sight. That's what he means by "out of the body" and "sleep" and "dreaming." The great pattern is too big and hidden for us to see it whole, just as when you knit I only see the stitches as you make them, although the entire pattern is in your mind complete. Our daily, external acts are the stitches we show to others and that everybody sees. A spiritual person sees the whole.'

'Ah!' Mother interrupted, 'I understand now. To know the whole pattern in my mind you'd have to get in sympathy with my thought below. Is that it?'

'Sometimes we look over the fence of mystery, yes, and see inside--see the entire stage as it were.'

'It is like a great play, isn't it?' she repeated, grasping again at the analogy with relief. 'We give one another cues, and so on---'

'While each must know the whole play complete in order to act his part properly--be in sympathy, that is, with all the others. The tiniest details so important, too,' he added, glancing significantly at the needles on her lap. 'To act your own part faithfully you must carry all the others in your mind, or else--er--get your own part out of proportion.'

'It will be a wonderful story, won't it?' she said, after a pause in which her eyes travelled across the sunshine towards the carpenter's house where her husband, seen now in a high new light, laboured steadily.

There was a clatter in the corridor before he could reply, and Jimbo and Monkey flew in with a rush of wings and voices from school. They were upon him in an instant, smelling of childhood, copy-books, ink, and rampagious with hunger. Their skins and hair were warm with sunlight. 'After tea we'll go out,' they cried, 'and show you something in the forest---oh, an enormous and wonderful thing that nobody knows of but me and Jimbo, and comes over every night from France and hides inside a cave, and goes back just before sunrise with a sack full of thinkings---'

'Thoughts,' corrected Jimbo.

'---that haven't reached the people they were meant for, and then---'

'Go into the next room, wash yourselves and tidy up,' said Mother sternly, 'and then lay the table for tea. Jinny isn't in yet. Put the charcoal in the samovar. I'll come and light it in a moment.'

They disappeared obediently, though once behind the door there were sounds that resembled a pillow-fight rather than tidying-up; and when Mother presently went after them to superintend, Rogers sat by the window and stared across the vineyards and blue expanse of lake at the distant Alps. It was curious. This vague, disconnected, rambling talk with Mother had helped to clear his own mind as well. In trying to explain to her something he hardly understood himself, his own thinking had clarified. All these trivial scenes were little bits of rehearsal. The Company was still waiting for the arrival of the Star Player who should announce the beginning of the real performance. It was a woman's role, yet Mother certainly could not play it. To get the family really straight was equally beyond his powers. 'I really must have more common-sense,' he reflected uneasily; 'I am getting out of touch with reality somewhere. I'll write to Minks again.'

Minks, at the moment, was the only definite, positive object in the outer world he could recall. 'I'll write to him about---' His thought went wumbling. He quite forgot what it was he had to say to him--'Oh, about lots of things,' he concluded, 'his wife and children and--and his own future and so on.'

The Scheme had melted into air, it seemed. People lost in Fairyland, they say, always forget the outer world of unimportant happenings. They live too close to the source of things to recognise their clownish reflections in the distorted mirrors of the week-day level.

Yes, it was curious, very curious. Did Thought, then, issue primarily from some single source and pass thence along the channels of men's minds, each receiving and interpreting according to his needs and powers? Was the Message--the Prophet's Vision---merely the more receipt of it than most? Had, perhaps, this whole wonderful story his cousin wrote originated, not in his, Rogers's mind, nor in that of Minks, but in another's altogether--the mind of her who was destined for the principal role? Thrills of absurd, electric anticipation rushed through him--very boyish, wildly impossible, yet utterly delicious.

Two doors opened suddenly--one from the kitchen, admitting Monkey with a tray of cups and saucers, steam from the hissing samovar wrapping her in a cloud, the other from the corridor, letting in Jane Anne, her arms full of packages. She had been shopping for the family in Neuchatel, and was arrayed in garments from the latest Magic Box. She was eager and excited.

'Cousinenry,' she cried, dropping half the parcels in her fluster, 'I've had a letter!' It was in her hand, whereas the parcels had been merely under her arms. 'The postman gave it me himself as I came up the steps. I'm a great correspondencer, you know.' And she darted through the steam to tell her mother. Jimbo passed her, carrying the tea-pot, the sugar-basin dangerously balanced upon spoons and knives and butter-dish. He said nothing, but glanced at his younger sister significantly. Rogers saw the entire picture through the cloud of steam, shot through with sunlight from the window. It was like a picture in the clouds. But he intercepted that glance and knew then the writer of the letter.

'But did you get the mauve ribbon, child?' asked Mother.

Instead of answer, the letter was torn noisily open. Jinny never had letters. It was far more important than ribbons.

'And how much change have you left out of the five francs? Daddy will want to know.'

Jimbo and Monkey were listening carefully, while pretending to lay the table. Mother's silence betrayed that she was reading the letter with interest and curiosity equal to those of its recipient. 'Who wrote it? Who's it from? I must answer it at once,' Jinny was saying with great importance. 'What time does the post go, I wonder? I mustn't miss it.'

'The post-mark,' announced Mother, 'is Bourcelles. It's very mysterious.' She tapped the letter with one hand, like the villain in the theatre. Rogers heard her and easily imagined the accompanying stage gesture. 'The handwriting on the envelope is like Tante Anna,' he heard, 'but the letter itself is different. It's all capitals, and wrongly spelt.' Mlle. Lemaire was certainly not the writer.

Jimbo and Monkey were busy hanging the towel out of the window, signal to Daddy that tea was ready. But as Daddy was already coming down the street at a great pace, apparently excited too, they waved it instead. Rogers suddenly remembered that Jimbo that morning had asked him for a two-centime stamp. He made no remark, however, merely wondering what was in the letter itself.

'It's a joke, of course,' Mother was heard to say in an odd voice.

'Oh no, Mother, for how could anybody know? It's what I've been dreaming about for nights and nights. It's so aromantic, isn't it?'

The louder hissing of the samovar buried the next words, and at that moment Daddy came into the room. He was smiling and his eyes were bright. He glanced at the table and sat down by his cousin on the sofa.

'I've done a lot of work since you saw me,' he said happily, patting him on the knee, 'although in so short a time. And I want my cup of tea. It came so easily and fluently for a wonder; I don't believe I shall have to change a word--though usually I distrust this sort of rapid composition.'

'Where are you at now?' asked Rogers. 'We're all "out,"' was the reply, 'and the Starlight Express is just about to start and--Mother, let me carry that for you,' he exclaimed, turning round as his wife appeared in the doorway with more tea-things. He got up quickly, but before he could reach her side Jinny flew into his arms and kissed him.

'Did you get my tobacco, Jinny?' he asked. She thrust the letter under his nose. What was tobacco, indeed, compared to an important letter! 'You can keep the change for yourself.'

He read it slowly with a puzzled expression, while Mother and the children watched him. Riquette jumped down from her chair and rubbed herself against his leg while he scratched himself with his boot, thinking it was the rough stocking that tickled him.

'Eh? This is very queer,' he muttered, slapping the open sheet just as his wife had done, and reading it again at arm's-length. 'Somebody'-- he looked suspiciously round the room--'has been reading my notes or picking out my thoughts while I'm asleep, eh?'

'But it's a real letter,' objected Jinny; 'it's correspondence, isn't it, Daddy?'

'It is certainly a correspondence,' he comforted her, and then, reading it aloud, he proceeded to pin it on the wall above the mantelpiece:--

'The Starlight Xpress starts to-night, Be reddy and punctuel. Sleep titely and get out.'

That was all. But everybody exchanged glances.

'Odd,' thought Mother, again remembering her dreams.

Jimbo upset the milk-jug. Usually there would have been a rumpus over this. To-day it seemed like something happening far away--something that had not really happened at all.

'We must all be ready then,' said Rogers, noticing vaguely that Mother's sleeve had smeared the butter as she mopped up the mess.

Daddy was making a note on his shirt sleeve:--

    The Sweep, the Laugher and the Tramp,
    The running man who lights the lamp,
    The Woman of the Haystack, too,
    The Gardener and Man of Dust
    Are passengers because they must
    Follow the Guard with eyes of blue.
    Over the forests and into the Cave
    That is the way we must all behave---

'Please, Daddy, will you move? It's dripping on to your boot.'

They all looked down; the milk had splashed from the cloth and fallen upon the toe of his big mountain boots. It made a pretty, white star. Riquette was daintily lapping it up with her long pink Tongue. Ray by ray the star set in her mysterious interior.

'Riquette must come too,' said Rogers gravely. 'She's full of white starlight now.'

And Jimbo left his chair and went seriously over to the book-shelf above Mother's sofa-bed to arrange the signals. For between the tightly-wedged books he had inserted all the available paper-knives and book-markers he could find to represent railway-signals. They stuck out at different angles. He altered several, putting some up, some down, and some at right angles.

'The line's all clear for to-night,' he announced to Daddy with a covert significance he hardly grasped himself, then coming back to home-made jam and crusty village bread.

Jane Anne caught her father's answering glance-mysterious, full of unguessed meanings. 'Oh, excuse me, Mother,' she said, feeling the same thing in herself and a little frightened; 'but I do believe they're conspiring, aren't they?'

And Mother gave a sudden start, whose cause she equally failed to analyse. 'Hush, dear,' she said. 'Don't criticise your elders, and when you do, don't use long words you cannot possibly understand.'

And everybody understood something none of them understood-while tea went on as usual to the chatter of daily details of external life.

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

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