A Prisoner in Fairyland

by Algernon Blackwood

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Chapter 30

    Lo, every yearning thought that holds a tear,
    Yet finds no mission
    And lies untold,
    Waits, guarded in that labyrinth of gold,--
    To reappear
    Upon some perfect night,
    Deathless--not old--
    But sweet with time and distance,
    And clothed as in a vision
    Of starry brilliance
    For the world's delight.
                        JOHN HENRY CAMPDEN.

Then, as the days passed, practical life again caught Henry Rogers in its wholesome grip. Fairyland did not fade exactly, but it dipped a little below the horizon. Like hell and heaven, it was a state of mind, open potentially to all, but not to be enjoyed merely for the asking. Like other desirable things, it was to be 'attained.' Its remoteness and difficulty of access lent to it a haunting charm; for though its glory dimmed a little, there was a soft afterglow that shed its radiance even down Piccadilly and St. James's Street. He was always conscious of this land beyond the sunset; the stars shone brightly, though clouds or sunlight interfered to blur their message.

London life, however, by the sheer weight of its grinding daily machinery, worked its slow effect upon him. He became less sensitive to impressions. These duller periods were interrupted sometimes by states of brilliant receptiveness, as at Bourcelles; but there was a fence between the two--a rather prickly frontier, and the secret of combining them lay just beyond his reach. For his London mind, guided by reason, acted in a logical plane of two dimensions, while imagination, captained by childhood's fairy longings, cantered loose in all directions at once--impossibly. The first was the world; the second was the universe. As yet, he was unable to co-ordinate them. Minks, he was certain, could--and did, sailing therefore upon an even keel. There was this big harmony in little Minks that he envied. Minks had an outlet. Sydenham, and even the City, for him were fairyland; a motor-bus fed his inspiration as surely as a starlit sky; moon always rhymed with June, and forget with regret. But the inner world of Henry Rogers was not yet properly connected with the outer. Passage from one to the other was due to chance, it seemed, not to be effected at will. Moods determined the sudden journey. He rocked. But for his talks with little Minks, he might have wrecked.

And the talks with Minks were about--well, he hardly knew what, but they all played round this map of fairyland he sought to reduce to the scale of everyday life. They discussed thought, dreams, the possibility of leaving the body in sleep, the artist temperament, the source of inspiration as well as the process of the imaginative faculty that created. They talked even of astronomy. Minks held that the life of practical, daily work was the bed-rock of all sane production, yet while preaching this he bubbled over with all the wild, entrancing theories that were in the air to-day. They were comical, but never dangerous--did not upset him. They were almost a form of play.

And his master, listening, found these conversations an outlet somehow for emotions in himself he could not manage--a scaffolding that provided outlines for his awakening dreams to build upon. He found relief. For Minks, with his delightful tact, asked no awkward questions. He referred neither to the defunct Scheme, nor mentioned the new one that held 'a beauty of the stars.' He waited. Rogers also waited.

And, while he waited, he grew conscious more and more of an enormous thing that passed, driving behind, below, his daily external life. He could never quite get at it. In there, down out of sight somewhere, he knew everything. His waking existence was fed invisibly from below. In the daytime he now frequently caught himself attempting to recover the memory of things that went on elsewhere, things he was personally involved in, vital things. This daylight effort to recover them was as irksome as the attempt to draw a loose hair that has wound about the tongue. He spoke at length to Minks about it.

'Some part of you,' replied the imperturbable secretary, after listening carefully to his master's vague description of the symptoms, 'is being engaged elsewhere--very actively engaged---'

'Eh?' asked Rogers, puzzled.

'Probably at night, sir, while your brain and body sleep,' Minks elaborated, 'your energetic spirit is out--on the plane of causes---'

The other gasped slightly, 'While my body lies unconscious?'

'Your spirit may be busy at all kinds of things. That can never be unconscious,' was the respectful answer. 'They say---'

'Yes, what do they say?' He recognised a fairy theory, and jumped at it.

'That in sleep,' continued the other, encouraged, 'the spirit knows a far more concentrated life--dips down into the deep sea of being--our waking life merely the froth upon the shore.'

Rogers stared at him. 'Yes, yes,' he answered slowly, 'that's very pretty, very charming; it's quite delightful. What ideas you have, my dear Minks! What jolly, helpful ideas!'

Minks beamed with pleasure.

'Not my own, Mr. Rogers, not my own,' he said, with as much pride as if they were his own, 'but some of the oldest in the world, just coming into fashion again with the turn of the tide, it seems. Our daily life--even the most ordinary--is immensely haunted, girdled about with a wonder of incredible things. There are hints everywhere to-day, though few can read the enormous script complete. Here and there one reads a letter or a word, that's all. Yet the best minds refuse to know the language, not even the ABC of it; they read another language altogether---'

'The best minds!' repeated Rogers. 'What d'you mean by that!' It sounded, as Minks said it, so absurdly like best families.

'The scientific and philosophical minds, sir. They think it's not worth learning, this language. That's the pity of it--ah, the great pity of it!' And he looked both eager and resentful--his expression almost pathetic. He turned half beseechingly to his employer, as though he might alter the sad state of things. 'As with an iceberg, Mr. Rogers,' he added, 'the greater part of everything--of ourselves especially--is invisible; we merely know the detail banked against an important grand Unseen.'

The long sentence had been suffered to its close because the audience was busy with thoughts of his own instead of listening carefully. Behind the wild language stirred some hint of meaning that, he felt, held truth. For a moment, it seemed, his daylight searching was explained--almost.

'Well and good, my dear fellow, and very picturesque,' he said presently, gazing with admiration at his secretary's neat blue tie and immaculate linen; 'but thinking, you know, is not possible without matter.' This in a tone of 'Do talk a little sense.' 'Even if the spirit does go out, it couldn't think apart from the brain, could it now, eh?'

Minks took a deep breath and relieved himself of the following:

'Ah, Mr. Rogers'--as much as to say 'Fancy you believing that!'-- 'but it can experience and know direct, since it passes into the region whence the material that feeds thought issues in the first instance--causes, Mr. Rogers, causes.'

'Oho!' said his master, 'oho!'

'There is no true memory afterwards,' continued the little dreamer, 'because memory depends upon how much the spirit can bring back into the brain, you see. We have vague feelings, rather than actual recollection--feelings such as you were kind enough to confess to me you had been haunted by yourself---'

'All-overish feelings,' Rogers helped him, seeing that he was losing confidence a little, 'vague sensations of joy and wonder and--well--in a word, strength.'

'Faith,' said Minks, with a decision of renewed conviction, 'which is really nothing but unconscious knowledge--knowledge unremembered. And it's the half-memory of what you do at night that causes

this sense of anticipation you now experience; for what is

anticipation, after all, but memory thrown forward?'

There was a pause then, during which Rogers lit a cigarette, while Minks straightened his tie several times in succession.

'You are a greater reader than I, of course,' resumed his employer presently; 'still, I have come across one or two stories which deal with this kind of thing. Only, in the books, the people always remember what they've done at night, out of the body, in the spirit, or whatever you like to call it. Now, I remember nothing whatever. How d'you account for that, pray?'

Minks smiled a little sadly. 'The books,' he answered very softly, 'are wrong there--mere inventions--not written from personal experience. There can be no detailed memory unless the brain has been 'out' too--which it hasn't. That's where inaccuracy and looseness of thought come in. If only the best minds would take the matter up, you see, we might---'

Rogers interrupted him. 'We shall miss the post, Minks, if we go on dreaming and talking like this,' he exclaimed, looking at his watch and then at the pile of letters waiting to be finished. 'It is very delightful indeed, very--but we mustn't forget to be practical, too.'

And the secretary, not sorry perhaps to be rescued in time from the depths he had floundered in, switched his mind in concentration upon the work in hand again. The conversation had arisen from a chance coincidence in this very correspondence--two letters that had crossed after weeks of silence.

Work was instantly resumed. It went on as though it had never been interrupted. Pride and admiration stirred the heart of Minks as he noticed how keenly and accurately his master's brain took up the lost threads again. 'A grand fellow!' he thought to himself, 'a splendid man! He lives in both worlds at once, yet never gets confused, nor lets one usurp his powers to the detriment of the other. If only I were equally balanced and effective. Oh dear!' And he sighed.

And there were many similar conversations of this kind. London seemed different, almost transfigured sometimes. Was this the beginning of that glory which should prove it a suburb of Bourcelles?

Rogers found his thoughts were much in that cosy mountain village: the children capered by his side all day; he smelt the woods and flowers; he heard the leaves rustle on the poplar's crest; and had merely to think of a certain room in the tumble-down old Citadelle for a wave of courage and high anticipation to sweep over him like a sea. A new feeling of harmony was taking him in hand. It was very delightful; and though he felt explanation beyond his reach still, his talks with Minks provided peep-holes through which he peered at the enormous thing that brushed him day and night.

A great settling was taking place inside him. Thoughts certainly began to settle. He realised, for one thing, that he had left the theatre where the marvellous Play had been enacted. He stood outside now, able to review and form a judgment. His mind loved order. Undue introspection he disliked, as a form of undesirable familiarity; a balanced man must not be too familiar with himself; it endangered self-respect.

He had been floundering rather. After years of methodical labour the freedom of too long a holiday was disorganising. He tried to steady himself. And the Plan of Life, answering to control, grew smaller instantly, reduced to proportions he could examine reasonably. This was the beginning of success. The bewildering light of fairyland still glimmered, but no longer so diffused. It focused into little definite kernels he could hold steady while he scrutinised them.

And these kernels he examined carefully as might be: in the quiet, starry evenings usually, while walking alone in St. James's Park after his day of board meetings, practical work with Minks, and the like.

Gradually then, out of the close survey, emerged certain things that seemed linked together in an intelligible sequence of cause and effect. There was still mystery, for subconscious investigation ever involves this background of shadow. Question and Wonder watched him. But the facts emerged.

He jotted them down on paper as best he could. The result looked like a Report drawn up by Minks, only less concise and--he was bound to admit it--less intelligible. He smiled as he read them over....

'My thoughts and longings, awakened that night in the little Crayfield garden,' he summed it up to himself, having read the Report so far, 'went forth upon their journey of realisation. I projected them-- according to Minks--vividly enough for that! I thought Beauty--and this glorious result materialised! More--my deepest, oldest craving of all has come to life again--the cry of loneliness that yearns to--that seeks--er---'

At this point, however, his analysis grew wumbled; the transference of thought and emotion seemed comprehensible enough; though magical, it was not more so than wireless telegraphy, or that a jet of steam should drive an express for a hundred miles. It was conceivable that Daddy had drawn thence the inspiration for his wonderful story. What baffled him was the curious feeling that another was mixed up in the whole, delightful business, and that neither he nor his cousin were the true sponsors of the fairy fabric. He never forgot the description his cousin read aloud that night in the Den--how the Pattern of his Story reached its climax and completeness when a little starry figure with twinkling feet and amber eyes had leaped into the centre and made itself at home there. From the Pleiades it came. The lost Pleiad was found. The network of thought and sympathy that contained the universe had trembled to its uttermost fastenings. The principal role was filled at last.

It was here came in the perplexing thing that baffled him. His mind sat down and stared at an enormous, shadowy possibility that he was unable to grasp. It brushed past him overhead, beneath, on all sides. He peered up at it and marvelled, unconvinced, yet knowing himself a prisoner. Something he could not understand was coming, was already close, was watching him, waiting the moment to pounce out, like an invisible cat upon a bewildered mouse. The question he flung out brought no response, and he recalled with a smile the verse that described his absurd position:--

     Like a mouse who, lost in wonder,
     Flicks its whiskers at the thunder!

For, while sprites and yearning were decidedly his own, the interpretation of them, if not their actual origin, seemed another's. This other, like some dear ideal on the way to realisation, had taken him prisoner. The queer sense of anticipation Bourcelles had fostered was now actual expectation, as though some Morning Spider had borne his master-longing, exquisitely fashioned by the Story, across the Universe, and the summons had been answered-from the Pleiades. The indestructible threads of thought and feeling tightened. The more he thought about his cousin's interpretation the more he found in it a loveliness and purity, a crystal spiritual quality, that he could credit neither to the author's mind nor to his own. This soft and starry brilliance was another's. Up to a point the interpretation came through Daddy's brain, just as the raw material came through his own; but there-after this other had appropriated both, as their original creator and proprietor. Some shining, delicate hand reached down from its starry home and gathered in this exquisite form built up from the medley of fairy thought and beauty that were first its own. The owner of that little hand would presently appear to claim it.

'We were but channels after all then--both of us,' was the idea that lay so insistently in him. 'The sea of thought sends waves in all directions. They roll into different harbours. I caught the feeling, he supplied the form, but this other lit the original fire!'

And further than this wumbled conclusion he could not get. He went about his daily work. however, with a secret happiness tugging at his mind all day, and a sense of expectant wonder glancing brightly over everything he thought or did. He was a prisoner in fairyland, and what he called his outer and his inner world were, after all, but different ways of looking at one and the same thing. Life everywhere was one.

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