A Prisoner in Fairyland

by Algernon Blackwood

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Chapter 34

   How many times do I love thee, dear?
     Tell me how many thoughts there be
       In the atmosphere
       Of a new fall'n year,
   Whose white and sable hours appear
     The latest flake of Eternity:--
   So many times do I love thee, dear.

   How many times do I love again?
     Tell me how many beads there are
       In a silver chain
       Of evening rain,
   Unravelled from the tumbling main,
     And threading the eye of a yellow star:--
   So many times do I love again.

A curious deep shyness settled upon Henry Rogers as they all trooped over to the Den. The others gabbled noisily, but to him words came with difficulty. He felt like a boy going up for some great test, examination, almost for judgment. There was an idea in him that he must run and hide somewhere. He saw the huge outline of Orion tilting up above the Alps, slanting with the speed of his eternal hunt to seize the Pleiades who sailed ever calmly just beyond his giant arms. Yet what that old Hunter sought was at last within his reach. He knew it, and felt the awe of capture rise upon him.

'You've eaten so much supper you can't speak,' said Monkey, whose hand was in his coat-pocket for loose chicken-feed, as she called centimes. 'The Little Countess will regler ton affaire all right. Just wait till she gets at you.'

'You love her?' he asked gently, feeling little disposed to play.

The child's reply was cryptic, yet uncommonly revealing:--

'She's just like a relation. It's so funny she didn't know us long, long ago--find us out, I mean.'

'Mother likes her awfully,' added Jimbo, as though that established the matter of her charm for ever. 'It's a pity she's not a man'--just to show that Cousinenry's position was not endangered.

They chattered on. Rogers hardly remembers how he climbed the long stone steps. He found himself in the Den. It came about with a sudden jump as in dreams. She was among them before the courtyard was crossed; she had gone up the steps immediately in front of him.... Jinny was bringing in the lamp, while Daddy struggled with a load of peat for the fire, getting in everybody's way. Riquette stood silhouetted against the sky upon the window sill. Jimbo used the bellows. A glow spread softly through the room. He caught sight of Minks standing rather helplessly beside the sofa talking to Jane Anne, and picking at his ear as he always did when nervous or slightly ill at ease. He wondered vaguely what she was saying to him. He looked everywhere but at the one person for whose comfort the others were so energetic.

His eyes did not once turn in her direction, yet he knew exactly how she was dressed, what movements she made, where she stood, the very words, indeed, she used, and in particular the expression of her face to each in turn. For he was guilty of a searching inner scrutiny he could not control. And, above all, he was aware, with a divine, tumultuous thrill, that she, for her part, also neither looked at him nor uttered one sentence that he could take as intended for himself.

Because, of course, all she said and did and looked were meant for him, and her scrutiny was even closer and more searching than his own.

In the Den that evening there was one world within another, though only these two, and probably the intuitive and diabolically observant Minks, perceived it. The deep furnaces of this man's inner being, banked now so long that mere little flames had forgotten their way out, lay open at last to that mighty draught before whose fusing power the molten, fluid state becomes inevitable.

'You must come up to me' rang on in his head like a chime of bells. 'O think Beauty: it's your duty....'

The chairs were already round the open fireplace, when Monkey pushed him into the big one with the broken springs he always used, and established herself upon his knee. Jimbo was on the other in a twinkling. Jane Anne plumped down upon the floor against him. Her hair was up, and grown-ups might sit as they pleased. Minks in a hard, straight-backed chair, firmly assured everybody that he was exceedingly comfortable and really preferred stiff chairs. He found safety next to Mother who, pleased and contented, filled one corner of the sofa and looked as though she occupied a pedestal. Beyond her perched Daddy, on the music stool, leaning his back against the unlighted fourneau. The Wumble Book was balanced on his knees, and beside him sat the little figure of the visitor who, though at the end, was yet somehow the true centre of the circle. Rogers saw her slip into her unimportant place. She took her seat, he thought, as softly as a mouse. For no one seemed to notice her. She was so perfectly at home among them. In her little folded hands the Den and all its occupants seemed cared for beyond the need of words or definite action. And, although her place was the furthest possible remove from his own, he felt her closer to him than the very children who nestled upon his knees.

Riquette then finally, when all were settled, stole in to complete the circle. She planted herself in the middle of the hearth before them all, looked up into their faces, decided that all was well, and began placidly to wash her face and back. A leg shot up, from the middle of her back apparently, as a signal that they might talk. A moment later she composed herself into that attitude of dignified security possible only to the feline species. She made the fourth that inhabited this world within a world. Rogers, glancing up suddenly from observing her, caught---for the merest fraction of an instant--a flash of starfire in the air. It darted across to him from the opposite end of the horse- shoe. Behind it flickered the tiniest smile a human countenance could possibly produce.

    'Little mouse who, lost in wonder,
     Flicks its whiskers at the thunder.'

It was Jane Anne repeating the rhyme for Minks's benefit. How appropriately it came in, he thought. And voices were set instantly in motion; it seemed that every one began to speak at once.

Who finally led the conversation, or what was actually said at first, he has no more recollection than the man in the moon, for he only heard the silvery music of a single voice. And that came rarely. He felt washed in glory from head to foot. In a dream of happy starlight he swam and floated. He hid his face behind the chair of Monkey, and his eyes were screened below the welcome shelter of Jimbo's shoulder.

The talk meanwhile flowed round the horse-shoe like a river that curves downhill. Life ran past him, while he stood on the banks and watched. He reconstructed all that happened, all that was said and done, each little movement, every little glance of the eye. These common things he recreated. For, while his body sat in the Den before a fire of peat, with children, a cat, a private secretary, three very ordinary people and a little foreign visitor, his spirit floated high above the world among the immensities of suns and starfields. He was in the Den, but the Den was in the universe, and to the scale of the universe he set the little homely, commonplace picture. Life, he realised, is thought and feeling; and just then he thought and felt like a god. He was Orion, and Orion had at last overtaken the Pleiades. The fairest of the cluster lay caught within his giant arms. The Enormous Thing that so long had haunted him with hints of its approach, rose up from his under-self, and possessed him utterly. And, oh, the glory of it, the splendour, the intoxication!

In the dim corner where she sat, the firelight scarcely showed her face, yet every shade of expression that flitted across her features he saw unobscured. The sparkling, silvery sentences she spoke from time to time were volumes that interpreted life anew. For years he had pored over these thick tomes, but heavily and without understanding. The little things she said now supplied the key. Mind and brain played no part in this. It was simply that he heard--and knew. He re- discovered her from their fragments, piece by piece....

The general talk flowed past him in a stream of sound, cut up into lengths by interrupting consonants, and half ruined by this arbitrary division; but what she said always seemed the living idea that lay behind the sound. He could not explain it otherwise. With herself, and with Riquette, and possibly with little, dreaming Minks, he sat firmly at the centre of this inner world. The others, even the children, hovered about its edges, trying to get in. That tiny smile had flashed its secret, ineffable explanation into him. Starlight was in his blood....

Mother, for instance, he vaguely knew, was speaking of the years they all had lived in Bourcelles, of the exquisite springs, of the fairy, gorgeous summers. It was the most ordinary talk imaginable, though it came sincerely from her heart.

'If only you had come here earlier,' she said, 'when the forest was so thick with flowers.' She enumerated them one by one. 'Now, in the autumn, there are so few!'

The little sparkling answer lit the forest glades afresh with colour, perfume, wonder:--

'But the autumn flowers, I think, are the sweetest; for they have the beauty of all the summer in them.'

A slight pause followed, and then all fell to explaining the shining little sentence until its lustre dimmed and disappeared beneath the smother of their words. In himself, however, who heard them not, a new constellation swam above the horizon of his inner world. Riquette looked slyly up and blinked. She purred more deeply, but she made no stupid sign....

And Daddy mentioned then the forest spell that captured the entire village with its peace and softness--'all so rough and big and tumbled, and yet every detail so exquisitely finished and thought out, you know.'

Out slipped the softest little fairy phrase imaginable from her dim corner then:--

'Yes, like hand-made things--you can almost see the hand that made them.'

And Rogers started so perceptibly that Jimbo shifted his weight a little, thinking he must be uncomfortable. He had surely used that very phrase himself! It was familiar. Even when using it he remembered wondering whence its sweetness had dropped into his clumsier mind. Minks uncrossed his legs, glanced up at him a moment, then crossed them again. He made this sign, but, like Riquette, he said nothing....

The stream flowed on and on. Some one told a story. There was hushed attentive listening, followed suddenly by bursts of laughter and delight. Who told it, or what it was about, Rogers had no notion. Monkey dug him in the ribs once because apparently he grunted at the wrong moment, and Jimbo chided her beneath his breath--'Let him have a nap if he wants to; a man's always tired after a long journey like that...!' Some one followed with another story--Minks, was it, this time?--for Rogers caught his face, as through a mist, turning constantly to Mother for approval. It had to do with a vision of great things that had come to a little insignificant woman on a bed of sickness. He recognised the teller because he knew the tale of old. The woman, he remembered, was Albinia's grandmother, and Minks was very proud of it.

'That's a very nice story,' rippled from the dim corner when it was over. 'For I like everything so tiny that you can find it inside a shell. That's the way to understand big things and to do them.'

And again the phrase was as familiar to him as though he had said it himself--heard it, read it, dreamed it, even. Whatever its fairy source, he knew it. His bewilderment increased absurdly. The things she said were so ordinary, yet so illuminating, though never quite betraying their secret source. Where had he heard them? Where had he met this little foreign visitor? Whence came the singular certainty that she shared this knowledge with him, and might presently explain it, all clear as daylight and as simple? He had the odd impression that she played with him, delayed purposely the moment of revelation, even expected that he would be the first to make it known. The disclosure was to come from himself! She provided him with opportunities--these little sparkling sentences! But he hid in his corner, silent and magically excited, afraid to take the lead. These sentences were addressed to him. There was conversation thus between the two of them; but his replies remained inaudible. Thought makes no sound; its complete delivery is ever wordless.... He felt very big, and absurdly shy.

It was gesture, however, that infallible shorthand of the mind, which seemed the surest medium of this mute delightful intercourse. For each little gesture that she made--unconsciously, of course--expressed more than the swiftest language could have compassed in an hour. And he noted every one: the occasional flourish of the little hands, the bending of the graceful neck, the shadowy head turned sideways, the lift of one shoulder, almost imperceptible, and sometimes the attitude of the entire body. To him they were, one and all, eloquently revealing. Behind each little gesture loomed a yet larger one, the scale increasing strangely, till his thoughts climbed up them as up a ladder into the region where her ideas lay naked before casual interpretation clothed them. Those, he reflected, who are rich in ideas, but find words difficult, may reveal themselves prodigally in gesture. Expression of one kind or another there must be; yet lavish action, the language of big souls, seems a man's expression rather than a woman's.... He built up swiftly, surely, solidly his interpretation of this little foreign visitor who came to him thus suddenly from the stars, whispering to his inmost thought, 'You must come up to me.' The whole experience dazed him. He sat in utter dumbness, shyer than a boy, but happier than a singing star!... The Joy in his heart was marvellous.

Yet how could he know all this?

In the intervals that came to him like breathing spaces he asked himself this childish question. How could he tell that this little soft being with the quiet unobtrusive manners had noble and great beauty of action in her anywhere? A few pretty phrases, a few significant gestures, these were surely a slight foundation to build so much upon! Was there, then, some absolute communion of thought between the two of them such as his cousin's story tried to show? And had their intercourse been running on for years, neither of them aware of it in the daytime? Was this intimate knowledge due to long acquaintance? Had her thought been feeding him perhaps since childhood even?

In the pause of his temporary lunacy he asked himself a dozen similar questions, but before the sign of any answer came he was off again, sweeping on outstretched wings among the stars. He drank her in. He knew. What was the good of questions? A thirsty man does not stop midway in his draught to ask when his thirst began, its cause, or why the rush of liquid down his throat is satisfying. He knows, and drinks. It seemed to Henry Rogers, ordinary man of business and practical affairs, that some deep river which so long had flowed deep out of sight, hidden below his daily existence, rose now grandly at the flood. He had heard its subterranean murmurs often. Here, in the Den, it had reached his lips at last. And he quenched his thirst.... His thought played round her without ceasing, like flowing water....

This idea of flux grew everywhere about him. There was fluid movement in this world within a world. All life was a flowing past of ceaseless beauty, wonder, splendour; it was doubt and question that dammed the rush, causing that stoppage which is ugly, petty, rigid. His being flowed out to mingle with her own. It was all inevitable, and he never really doubted once. Only before long he would be compelled to act--to speak--to tell her what he felt, and hear her dear, dear answer.... The excitement in him became more and more difficult to control. Already there was strain and tension below his apparent outer calmness. Life in him burst forward to a yet greater life than he had ever known....

The others--it was his cousin's voice this time--were speaking of the Story, and of his proposed treatment of it in its larger version as a book. Daddy was saying, apparently, that it must fail because he saw no climax for it. The public demanded a cumulative interest that worked up to some kind of thrilling denouement that they called a climax, whereas his tale was but a stretch of life, and of very ordinary life. And Life, for the majority, knew no such climax. How could he manage one without inventing something artificial?

'But the climax of life comes every day and every minute,' he heard her answer--and how her little voice rang out above the others like a bell!--'when you deny yourself for another, and that other does not even know it. A day is lost that does not pin at least one sweet thought against each passing hour.'

And his inner construction took a further prodigious leap, as the sentence showed him the grand and simple motive of her being. It had been his own as well, though he had stupidly bungled it in his search to find something big enough to seem worth doing. She, he divined, found neighbours everywhere, losing no time. He had known a few rare, exquisite souls who lived for others, but here, close beside him at last, was one of those still rarer souls who seem born to--die for others.... They give so unsparingly of their best.... To his imaginative interpretation of her he gave full rein.... And it was instantaneous as creation....

The voices of Minks and Mother renewed the stream of sound that swept by him then, though he caught no words that were comparable in value to these little singing phrases that she used from time to time. Jimbo, bored by the grown-up talk that took the place of expected stories, had fallen asleep upon his shoulder; Monkey's hair, as usual, was in his eyes; he sat there listening and waiting with a heart that beat so loudly he thought the children must feel it and ask him what was the matter. Jinny stirred the peat from time to time. The room was full of shadows. But, for him, the air grew brighter every minute, and in this steady brilliance he saw the little figure rise and grow in grandeur till she filled all space.

'You called it "getting out" while the body is asleep,' came floating through the air through the sound of Jimbo's breathing, 'whereas I called it getting away from self while personal desire is asleep. But the idea is the same....'

His cousin's words that called forth this criticism he had not heard. It was only her sentence that seemed to reach him.

From the river of words and actions men call life she detained, it seemed to him, certain that were vital and important in some symbolical sense; she italicised them, made them her own--then let them go to join the main stream again. This selection was a kind of genius. The river did not overwhelm her as it overwhelms most, because the part of it she did not need for present action she ignored, while yet she swam in the whole of it, shirking nothing.

This was the way he saw her--immediately. And, whether it was his own invention, or whether it was the divination of a man in the ecstasy of sudden love, it was vital because he felt it, and it was real because he believed it. Then why seek to explain the amazing sense of intimacy, the certainty that he had known her always? The thing was there; explanation could bring it no nearer. He let the explanations go their way; they floated everywhere within reach; he had only to pocket them and take them home for study at his leisure afterwards-- with her.

'But, we shall come to it in time,' he caught another flying sentence that reached him through the brown tangle of Monkey's hair. It was spoken with eager emphasis. 'Does not every letter you write begin with dear?....'

All that she said added something to life, it seemed, like poetry which, he remembered, 'enriches the blood of the world.' The selections were not idle, due to chance, but belonged to some great Scheme, some fairy edifice she built out of the very stuff of her own life. Oh, how utterly he understood and knew her. The poison of intellectuality, thank heaven, was not in her, yet she created somehow; for all she touched, with word or thought or gesture, turned suddenly alive in a way he had never known before. The world turned beautiful and simple at her touch....

Even the commonest things! It was miraculous, at least in its effect upon himself. Her simplicity escaped all signs of wumbling. She had no favourite and particular Scheme for doing good, but did merely what was next her at the moment to be done. She was good. In her little person glowed a great enthusiasm for life. She created neighbours. And, as the grandeur of her insignificance rose before him, his own great Scheme for Disabled Thingumabobs that once had filled the heavens, shrank down into the size of a mere mouse-trap that would go into his pocket. In its place loomed up another that held the beauty of the Stars. How little, when announcing it to Minks weeks and weeks ago, had he dreamed the form it was to take!

And so, wrapped in this glory of the stars, he dreamed on in his corner, fashioning this marvellous interpretation of a woman he had never seen before, and never spoken with. It was all so different to ordinary falling in love at sight, that the phrase never once occurred to him. It was consummated in a moment--out there, beside the fountain when he saw her first, shadowy, with brilliant, peering eyes. It seemed perfect instantly, a recovery of something he had always known. And who shall challenge the accuracy of his vision, or call its sudden maturity impossible? For where one sees the surface only, another sees the potentialities below. To believe in these is to summon them into activity, just as to think the best of a person ever brings out that best. Are we not all potential splendours?

Swiftly, in a second, he reviewed the shining sentences that revealed her to him: The 'autumn flowers'--she lived, then, in the Present, without that waste of energy which is regret! In 'a little shell' lay the pattern of all life,--she saw the universe in herself and lived, thus, in the Whole! To be 'out' meant forgetting self; and life's climax is at every minute of the day--she understood, that is, the growth of the soul, due to acceptance of what every minute brings, however practical, dull, uninteresting. By recreating the commonest things, she found a star in each. And her world was made up of neighbours--for 'every letter that one writes begins with dear!'

The Pattern matured marvellously before his eyes; and its delicate embroideries, far out of sight, seemed the arabesques that yearnings, hitherto unfulfilled, had traced long long ago with the brush of tender thinking. Together, though at opposite ends of the world, these two had woven the great Net of sympathy, thought, and longing in which at last they both were prisoners ... and with them all the earth.

The figure of Jane Anne loomed before him like an ogress suddenly.

'Cousinenry, will you answer or will you not? Daddy's already asked you twenty times at least!' Then, below her breath, as she bent over him, 'The Little Countess will think you awf'ly rude if you go to sleep and snore like this.'

He looked up. He felt a trifle dazed. For a moment he had forgotten where he was. How dark the room had grown! Only--he was sure he had not snored.

'I beg your pardon,' he stammered, 'but I was only thinking--how wonderful you--how wonderful it all is, isn't it? I was listening. I heard perfectly.'

'You were dozing,' whispered Monkey. 'Daddy wants the Countess to tell you how she knew the story long ago, or something. Ecoute un peu, man vieux!'

'I should love to hear it,' he said, louder, sitting up so abruptly in his chair that Jimbo tilted at a dangerous angle, though still without waking. 'Please, please go on.'

And he listened then to the quiet, silvery language in which the little visitor described the scenery of her childhood, when, without brothers or sisters, she was forced to play alone, and had amused herself by imagining a Net of Constellations which she nailed by shooting stars to four enormous pine trees that grew across the torrent. She described the great mountains that enclosed her father's estate, her loneliness in this giant garden, due to his morose severity of character, her yearnings to escape and see the big world beyond the ridges. All her thought and longing went to the fashioning of this Net, and every night she flung it far across the peaks and valleys to catch companions with whom she might play. The characters in her fairy books came out of the pages to help her, and sometimes when they drew it in, it was so heavy with the people entangled in its meshes that they could scarcely move it. But the moment all were out, the giant Net, relieved of their weight, flew back into the sky. The Pleiades were its centre, because she loved the Pleiades best of all, and Orion pursued its bright shape with passion, yet could never quite come up with it.

'And these people whom you caught,' whispered Rogers from his corner, listening to a tale he knew as well as she did, 'you kept them prisoners?'

'I first put into them all the things I longed to do myself in the big world, and then flung them back again into their homes and towns and villages---'

'Excepting one,' he murmured.

'Who was so big and clumsy that he broke the meshes and so never got away.' She laughed, while the children stared at their cousin, wondering how he knew as much as she did. 'He stayed with me, and showed me how to make our prisoners useful afterwards by painting them all over with starlight which we collected in a cave. Then they went back and dazzled others everywhere by their strange, alluring brilliance. We made the whole world over in this way---'

'Until you lost him.'

'One cloudy night he disappeared, yes, and I never found him again. There was a big gap between the Pleiades and Orion where he had tumbled through. I named him Orion after that; and I would stand at night beneath the four great pine trees and call and call, but in vain. "You must come up to me! You must come up to me!" I called, but got no answer---'

'Though you knew quite well where he had fallen to, and that he was only hiding---'

'Excuse me, but how did she know?' inquired Jinny abruptly.

The Little Countess laughed. 'I suppose--because the threads of the Net were so sensitive that they went on quivering long after he tumbled out, and so betrayed the direction---'

'And afterwards, when you got older, Grafin,' interrupted Daddy, who wished his cousin to hear the details of the extraordinary coincidence, 'you elaborated your idea---'

'Yes, that thought and yearning always fulfil themselves somewhere, somehow, sooner or later,' she continued. 'But I kept the imagery of my Star Net in which all the world lies caught, and I used starlight as the symbol of that sympathy which binds every heart to every other heart. At my father's death, you see, I inherited his property. I escaped from the garden which had been so long my prison, and I tried to carry out in practical life what I had dreamed there as a child. I got people together, where I could, and formed Thinkers' Guilds-- people, that is, who agreed to think beauty, love, and tolerance at given hours in the day, until the habit, once formed, would run through all their lives, and they should go about as centres of light, sweetening the world. Few have riches, fewer still have talent, but all can think. At least, one would think so, wouldn't one?'--with a smile and a fling of her little hands.

She paused a moment, and then went on to describe her failure. She told it to them with laughter between her sentences, but among her listeners was one at least who caught the undertone of sadness in the voice.

'For, you see, that was where I made my mistake. People would do anything in the world rather than think. They would work, give money, build schools and hospitals, make all manner of sacrifices--only--they would not think; because, they said, there was no visible result.' She burst out laughing, and the children all laughed too.

'I should think not indeed,' ventured Monkey, but so low that no one heard her.

'And so you went on thinking it all alone,' said Rogers in a low voice.

'I tried to write it first as a story,' she answered softly, 'but found that was beyond me; so I went on thinking it all alone, as you say---'

'Until the Pattern of your thought floated across the world to me,' said Daddy proudly. 'I imagined I was inspired; instead I was a common, unoriginal plagiarist!'

'Like all the rest of us,' she laughed.

'Mummie, what is a plagiarist?' asked Jinny instantly; and as Rogers, her husband, and even Minks came hurriedly to her aid, the spell of the strange recital was broken, and out of the turmoil of voices the only thing distinctly heard was Mother exclaiming with shocked surprise:--

'Why, it's ten o'clock! Jimbo, Monkey, please plagiarise off to bed at once!'--in a tone that admitted of no rejoinder or excuses.

'A most singular thing, isn't it, Henry?' remarked the author, coming across to his side when the lamp was lit and the children had said their good-nights.

'I really think we ought to report it to the Psychical Society as a genuine case of thought-transference. You see, what people never properly realise is---'

But Henry Rogers lost the remainder of the sentence even if he heard the beginning, for his world was in a state of indescribable turmoil, one emotion tumbling wildly upon the heels of another. He was elated to intoxication. The room spun round him. The next second his heart sank down into his boots. He only caught the end of the words she was saying to Mother across the room:--

'... but I must positively go to-morrow, I've already stayed too long. So many things are waiting at home for me to do. I must send a telegram and....'

His cousin's wumbling drowned the rest. He was quite aware that Rogers was not listening to him.

'... your great kindness in writing to him, and then coming yourself,' Mother was saying. 'It's such an encouragement. I can't tell you how much he--we---'

'And you'll let me write to you about the children,' she interrupted, 'the plans we discussed, you know....'

Rogers broke away from his cousin with a leap. It felt at least like a leap. But he knew not where to go or what to say. He saw Minks standing with Jane Anne again by the fourneau, picking at his ear. By the open window with Mother stood the little visitor. She was leaving to-morrow. A torturing pain like twisting knives went through him. The universe was going out!... He saw the starry sky behind her. Daddy went up and joined them, and he was aware that the three of them talked all at once for what seemed an interminable time, though all he heard was his cousin's voice repeating at intervals, 'But you can't send a telegram before eight o'clock to-morrow morning in any case; the post is closed....'

And then, suddenly, the puzzle reeled and danced before his eyes. It dissolved into a new and startling shape that brought him to his senses with a shock. There had been a swift shuffling of the figures.

Minks and his cousin were helping her into her cloak. She was going.

One of them--he knew not which--was offering politely to escort her through the village.

It sounded like his own sentence of exile, almost of death. Was he forty years of age, or only fifteen? He felt awkward, tongue-tied, terrified.

They were already in the passage. Mother had opened the door into the yard.

'But your way home lies down the hill,' he heard the silver voice, 'and to go with me you must come up. I can easily---'

Above the leaves of the plane tree he saw the stars. He saw Orion and the Pleiades. The Fairy Net flung in and caught him. He found his voice.

In a single stride he was beside her. Minks started at his sudden vehemence and stepped aside.

'I will take you home, Countess, if I may,' and his tone was so unnecessarily loud and commanding that Mother turned and stared. 'Our direction lies together. I will come up--with you.'

She did not even look at him. He saw that tiny smile that was like the flicker of a star--no more. But he heard her answer. It seemed to fill the sky.

'Thank you. I might lose my way alone.'

And, before he realised how she managed it, they had crossed the cobbled yard, Daddy was swinging away downhill towards the carpenter's, and Minks behind them, at the top of the stone steps, was saying his last good-night to Mother. With the little visitor beside him, he passed the singing fountain and led her down the deserted village street beneath the autumn stars.

Three minutes later they were out of sight... when Minks came down the steps and picked his way among the shadows after Daddy, who had the latch-key of the carpenter's house. He ran to overtake him.

     And he ran upon his toes
     As softly as a saying does,
     For so the saying goes!

His thoughts were very active, but as clear as day. He was thinking whether German was a difficult language to acquire, and wondering whether a best man at a wedding ought to wear white gloves or not. He decided to ask Albinia. He wrote the letter that very night before he went to sleep.

And, while he slept, Orion pursued the Pleiades across the sky, and numerous shooting stars fastened the great Net of thought and sympathy close over little Bourcelles.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.