Adventure means saying Yes, and being careless; children say Yes to everything and are very careless indeed: even their No is usually a Yes, inverted or deferred. "I won't play," parsed by a psychologist, means "I'll play when I'm ready." The adventurous spirit accepts what offers regardless of consequences; he who hesitates and thinks is but a Policeman who prevents adventure. Now everything offers itself to children, because they rightly think that everything belongs to them. Life is conditionless, if only people would let them accept it as it is. "Don't think; accept!" expresses the law of their swift and fluid being. They act on it. They take everything they can--get. But it is the Policeman who adds the "get," changing the whole significance of life with one ugly syllable.
Each of the children treasured an adventure of its very own; an adventure-in-chief, that could not possibly have happened to anybody else in the world. These three survivals in an age when education considers childhood a disease to be cured as hurriedly as possible-- took their adventure the instant that it came, and each with a complete assurance that it was unique. To no one else in the world could such a thing have happened, least of all to the other two. Each took it characteristically, according to his or her individual nature --Judy, with a sense of Romance called deathless; Tim, with a taste for Poetic Drama, a dash of the supernatural in it; and Maria, with a magnificent inactivity that ruled the world by waiting for things to happen, then claiming them as her own. Her masterly instinct for repose ran no risk of failure from misdirected energy. And to all three secrecy, of course, was essential: "Don't never tell the others, Uncle! Promise faithfully!"
For to every adventure Uncle Felix acted as audience, atmosphere, and chorus. He watched whatever happened--audience; believed in its reality--atmosphere; and explained without explaining away--chorus. He had the unusual faculty of being ten years young as well as forty years old, and a real adventure was not possible without him.
The secrecy, of course, was not preserved for long; sooner or later the glory must be shared so that "the others" knew and envied. For only then was the joy complete, the splendour properly fulfilled. And so the old tired world went round, and life grew more and more wonderful every day. For children are an epitome of life--a self- creating universe.
That week was a memorable one for several reasons. Daddy, overworked among his sealing-wax, went for a change to Switzerland, taking Mother with him; Aunt Emily, in her black silk dress that crackled with disapproval, went to Tunbridge Wells--an awful place in another century somewhere; and Uncle Felix was left behind to "take charge of em'"--"'em" being the children and himself. It was evidence of monumental trust and power, placing him in their imaginations even above the recognised Authorities. His sway was never for a moment questioned.
"No lessons, then!" he had insisted as a condition of acceptance, and after much confabulation the point was yielded with reluctance. It was to be a fortnight's holiday all round. They had the house and grounds entirely to themselves, and with the departure of the elders a sheet was pulled by some one off the world, a curtain rolled away, another drop-scene fell, the word No disappeared. They saw invisible things.
Another reason, however, made the week memorable--the daisies. It was extraordinary. The very day after the grown-ups left the daisies came. Like thousands of small white birds, with bright and steady eyes, they arrived and settled, thick and plentiful. They appeared in sheets and crowds upon the grass, all of their own accord and unexplained. In a night the lawns turned white. It seemed a prearranged invasion. Judy, first awake that morning, looked out of her window to watch a squirrel playing, and noticed them. Then she told the others, and Maria, one eye above the blankets, ejaculated "Ah!" She claimed the daisies too.
Now, whereas a single daisy has no smell and seems a common, unimportant thing, a bunch of several hundred holds all the perfume of the spring. No flowers lie closer to the soil or bring the smell of earth more sweetly to the mind; upon the lips and cheeks they are as soft as a kitten's fur, and lie against the skin closer than tired eyelids. They are the common people of the flower world, yet have, in virtue of that fact, the beauty and simplicity of the common people. They own a subdued and unostentatious strength, are humble and ignored, are walked upon, unnoticed, rarely thought about and never praised; they are cut off in early youth by mowing machines; yet their pain in fading is unreported, their little sufferings unsung. They cling to earth, and never aspire to climb, but they hold the sweetest dew and nurse the tiniest little winds imaginable. Their patience is divine. They are proud to be the carpet for all walking, running things, and in their universal service is their strength. The rain stays longer with them than with grander flowers, and the best sunlight goes to sleep among them in great pools of fragrant and delicious heat. The daisies are a stalwart little people altogether.
But they have another quality as well--something elfin, wayward, mischievous. They peep and whisper. It is said they can cast spells. To sleep upon a daisied lawn is to run a certain risk. There is this hint of impudence in their attitude, half audacity, half knavery, that shows itself a little in the way they stare unwinkingly all day at everything above them--at the stately things that tower proudly in the air--then just shut up at sunset without a word of explanation or apology. They see everything, but keep their opinions to themselves. Because people notice them so little, and even tread upon their tiny and inquiring faces, they are up to things all the time--undiscovered things. They know, it is said, the thoughts of Painted Ladies and Clouded Brimstones, as well as the intentions of the disappearing golden flies; why wind often runs close to the ground when the tree- tops are without a single breath; but, also, they know what is going on below the surface. They live, moreover, in every country of the globe, and their system of intercommunication is so perfect that even birds and flying things can learn from it. They prove their breeding by their perfect taste in dress, the well-bred ever being inconspicuous; and their simplicity conceals enormous, undecipherable wonder. One daisy out of doors is worth a hundred shelves of text- books in the house. Their mischief, moreover, is not revenge, though some might think it so--but a natural desire to be recognised and thought and talked about a little. Daisies, in a word, are--daisies.
And it was by way of the daisies that Judy's great adventure came to her, the particular adventure that was her very own. For she had deep sympathy with flowers, a sympathy lacking in her brother and sister, and it was natural that her adventure in chief should come that way. She could play with flowers for long periods at a time; she knew their names and habits; she picked them gently, without cruelty, and never merely for the "fun" of picking them; while the way she arranged them about the house proved that she understood their silent, inner natures, their likes and dislikes--in a word, their souls. For Judy connected them in her mind with birds. Born in the air, they seemed to her.
As has been seen, she was the first to notice the arrival of the daisies. From the bedroom window she waved her arm to them, and showed plainly the pleasure that she felt. They arrived in troops and armies. Risen to the surface of the lawn like cream, she saw them staring with suspicious innocence at the sky. They stared at her.
"Just when the others have gone away!" was her instant thought, though unexpressed in words. There was meaning somewhere in this calculated arrival.
"They are alive," she asked that afternoon, "aren't they? But why do they all shut up at night? Who--" she changed the word--"what closes them?"
She was alone with Uncle Felix, and they had chosen with great difficulty a spot where they could lie down without crushing a single flower with their enormous bodies. After considerable difficulty they had found it. Having done a great many things since lunch--a feast involving several second helpings--they were feeling heavy and exhausted. So Judy chose this moment for her simple question. The world required explanation.
"There's life in everything," he mumbled, with his face against the grass, "everything that grows, especially." And having said it, he settled down comfortably again to doze. His pipe was out. He felt rather like a log.
"But stopping growing isn't dying," she informed him sharply.
"Oh, no," he agreed lazily, "you're alive for a long time after that."
"You stopped growing before I was born."
"And I'm not quite dead yet."
"Exactly," she said, "so daisies are alive."
It was absurd to think of dozing at such a time. He rolled round heavily and gazed at her through half-closed eyelids. "A daisy breathes," he murmured, "and drinks and eats; sap circulates in its little body. Probably it feels as well. Delicate threads like nerves run through it everywhere. It knows when it is being picked or walked on. Oh, yes, a daisy is alive all right enough." He sighed like a big dog that has just shaken a fly off its nose and lies waiting for the next attack. It came at once.
"But who knows it?" she asked. "I mean--there's no good in being alive unless some one else knows it too!"
Then he sat up and stared at her. Judy, he remembered, knew a lot of things she could tell to no one, not even to herself--and this seemed one of them. The question was a startling one.
"An intellectual mystic at twelve!" he gasped. "How on earth did you manage it?"
"I may be a mystillectual insect," she replied, proud of the compliment. "But what's the good of being alive, even like a daisy, unless others know it--us, for instance?"
He still stared at her, sitting up stiffly, and propped by his hands upon the grass behind him. After prolonged reflection, during which he closed his eyes and opened them several times in succession, sighing laboriously while he did so, low mumbled words became audible.
"Forgive my apparent slowness," he said, "but I feel like a mowing- machine this afternoon. I want oiling and pushing. The answer to your inquiry, however, is as follows: We could--if we took the trouble."
"Could know that daisies are alive?" she cried.
His great head nodded.
"If we thought about them very hard indeed," he went on, "and for a very, very long time we could feel as they feel, and so understand them, and know exactly how they are alive."
And the way he said it, the grave, thoughtful, solemn way, convinced her, who already was convinced beforehand.
"I do believe we could," she answered simply.
"I'm sure of it," he said.
"Let's try," she whispered breathlessly.
For a minute and a half they stared into each other's eyes, knowing themselves balanced upon the verge of an immense discovery. She did not doubt or question; she did not tell him he was only humbugging. Her heart thrilled with the right conditions--expectation and delight. Her dark-brown eyes were burning.
He murmured something that she did not properly understand:
Expect and delight Is the way to invite; Delight and expect, And you'll know things direct!
"Let's try!" she repeated, and her face proved that she fulfilled his conditions without knowing it; she was delighted, and she expected-- everything.
He scratched his head, wrinkling up his nose and pursing his lips for a moment. "There's a dodge about it," he explained. "To know a flower yourself you must feel exactly like it. Its life, you see, is different to ours. It doesn't move and hurry, it just lives. It feels sun and wind and dew; it feels the insects' tread; it lifts its skin to meet the rain-drops and the whispering butterflies. It doesn't run away. It has no fear of anything, because it has the whole green earth behind it, and it feels safe because millions of other daisies feel the same"--
"And smells because it's happy," put in Judy. "Then what is a daisy? What is it really?"
She was "expecting" vividly. Her mind was hungry for essentials. This mere description told her nothing real. She wanted to feel "direct."
What is a daisy? The little word already had a wonderful and living sound--soft, sweet, and beautiful. But to tell the truth about this ordinary masterpiece was no easy matter. An ostentatious lily, a blazing rose, a wayward hyacinth, a mass of showy wisteria-- advertised, notorious flowers--presented fewer difficulties. A daisy seemed too simple to be told, its mystery and honour too humble for proud human minds to understand. So he answered gently, while a Marble White sailed past between their very faces: "Let's think about it hard; perhaps we'll get it that way."
The butterfly sailed off across the lawn; another joined it, and then a third. They danced and flitted like winged marionettes on wires that the swallows tweaked; and, as they vanished, a breath of scented air stole round the trunk of the big lime tree and stirred the daisies' heads. A thousand small white faces turned towards them; a thousand steady eyes observed them; a thousand slender necks were bent. A wave of movement passed across the lawn as though the flowers pressed nearer, aware at last that they were being noticed. And both humans, the big one and the little one, felt a sudden thrill of happiness and beauty in their hearts. The rapture of the Spring slipped into them. They concentrated all their thoughts on daisies....
"I'm beginning to feel it already," whispered the Little Human, turning to gaze at him as though that breath of air impelled her too.
The wind blew her voice across his face like perfume; he looked, but could not see her clearly; she swayed a little; her eyes melted together into a single lovely circle, bright and steady within their fringe of feathery lashes. He tried to speak--"Delight and expect, and we'll know it direct"--but his voice spread across whole yards of lawn. It became a single word that rolled and floated everywhere about him, rising and falling like a wave upon a sea of green: "Daisy, daisy, daisy." On all sides, beneath, above his head as well, it passed with the music of the wandering wind, and he kept repeating it --"Daisy, daisy!" She kept repeating it, too, till the sound multiplied, yet never grew louder than a murmur of air and grass and tiny leaves--"Daisy, daisy, daisy." It broke like a sea upon the coast-line of another world. It seemed to contain an entire language in itself, nothing more to be said but those two soft syllables. It was everywhere.
But another vaster sound lay underneath. As the crest of a breaking wave utters its separate note of foam above the general booming of the sea that bears it, so the flying wave of daisy-tones rose out of this deeper sound beneath. Both humans became aware that it was but a surface-voice they imitated. They heard this other foundation-sound that bore it--deep, booming, thunderous, half lost and very far away. It was prodigious; yet there was safety and delight in it that brought no hint of fear. They swam upon the pulse of some enormous, gentle life that rose about and through them in a swelling tide. They felt the heave of something that was strong enough to draw the moon, yet soft enough to close a daisy's eyes. They heard the deep, lost roar of it, rising and coming nearer.
"The Earth!" he whispered. "And the Spring is rising through it. Listen!"
"We're growing together," replied the Little Human. "We're rising with the Spring!"
Ah, it was exquisite. They were in the Daisy World.... He tried to move and reach her, but found that he could not take a step in any direction, and that his feet were imbedded in the soft, damp soil. The movement which he tried to make spread wide among a hundred others like himself. They rose on every side. All shared his movements as they had shared his voice. He heard his whole body murmuring "Daisy, daisy, daisy...." And she leaned over, bending towards him a slim form in a graceful line of green that formed the segment of a circle. A little shining face came close for a moment against his own, rimmed with delicate spears of pink and white. It sang as it shone. The Spring was in it. There were hundreds like it everywhere, yet he recognised it as one he knew. There were thousands, tens of thousands, yet this one he distinguished because he loved it.
Their faces touched like the fringes of two clouds, and then withdrew. They remained very close together, side by side among thousands like themselves, slowly rising on the same great tide. The Earth's round body was beneath them. They felt quite safe--but different. Already they were otherwise than they had been. They felt the big world flying.
"We're changing," he murmured, seizing some fragments of half- remembered speech. "We're marvellously changed!"
"Daisies," he heard her vanishing reply, "we're two daisies on the lawn!"
And then their voices went. That was the end of speech, the end of thinking too. They only felt....
Long periods passed above their heads and then the air about them turned gorgeous as a sunset sky. It was a Clouded Yellow that sailed lazily past their faces with spreading wings as large as clouds. They shared that saffron glory. The draught of cool air fanned them. The splendid butterfly left its beauty in them before it sailed away. But that sunset sky had lasted for hours; that cool wind fanning them was a breeze that blew steadily from the hills, making "weather" for half an afternoon. Time and duration as humans measure them had passed away; there was existence without hurry; end and beginning had not been invented yet. They did not know things in the stupid sense of having names for them; all that there was they shared; that was enough. They knew by feeling.
For everything was plentiful and inexhaustible--the heavens emptied light and warmth upon them without stint or measure; space poured about them freely, for they had no wish to move; they felt themselves everywhere, for all they needed came to them without the painful effort of busy things that hunt and search outside themselves; both food and drink slipped into them unawares from an abundant source below that equally supplied whole forests without a trace of lessening or loss. All life was theirs, full, free, and generous beyond conception. They owned the world, without even the trouble of knowing that they owned it. They lived, simply staring at the universe with eyes of exquisitely fashioned beauty. They knew joy and peace, and were content with that.
They did communicate. Oh, yes, they shared each other's special happiness. There was, it is true, no sound of broken syllables, no speech which humans use to veil the very thing they would express; but there was that simpler language which all Nature knows, which cannot lie because it is unconscious, and by which constellations converse with buttercups, and cedars with the flying drops of rain--there was gesture. For gesture and attitude can convey all the important and necessary things, while speech in the human sense is but an invention of some sprite who wanted people to wonder what they really meant. In sublimest moments it is never used even in the best circles of intelligence; it drops away quite naturally; souls know one another face to face in dumb but eloquent--gesture.
"The sun is out; I feel warm and happy; there is nothing in the world I need!"
"You are beside me," he replied. "I love you, and we cannot go far apart. I smell you even when no wind stirs. You are sweetest when the dew has gone and left you moist and shiny."
A little shiver of enjoyment quivered through her curving stem. His petals brushed her own. She answered:
"Wet or fine, we stand together, and never stop staring at each other till we close our faces--"
"In the long darkness. But even then we whisper as we grow--"
"And open our eyes together at the same moment when the light comes back--"
"And feel warm and soft, and smell more delicious than ever in the dawn."
These two brave daisies, growing on the lawn, had lives of concentrated happiness, asking no pity for their humble station in the universe. All treated them with unadulterated respect, and everything made love to them because they were so tender and so easily pleased. They knew, for instance, that their splendid Earth was turning with them, for they felt the swerve of her, sharing from their roots upwards her gigantic curve through space; they knew the sun was part of them, because they felt it drawing their sweet-flavoured food up all their dainty length till it glowed in health upon their small, flushed faces; also they knew that streams of water made a tumbling fuss and sent them messages of laughter, because they caught the little rumble of it through miles of trembling ground. And some among them--though these were prophets and poets but half believed, and looked upon as partly mad and partly wonderful--affirmed that they felt the sea itself far leagues away, bending their heads this way and that for hours at a stretch, according to the thundering vibrations that the tide sent through the soil from distant shores.
But all, from the tallest spread-head to the smallest button-face--all knew the pleasure of the uncertain winds; all knew the game of holding flying things just a moment longer, by fascinating them, by drowsing them into sleepiness, by nipping their probosces, or by puffing perfume into their nostrils while they caught their feet with the pressure of a hundred yellow rods....
Enormous periods passed away. A cloud that for a man's "ten minutes" hid the sun, wearied them so that they simply closed their eyes and went to sleep. Showers of rain they loved, because it washed and cooled them, and they felt the huge satisfaction of the earth beneath them as it drank: the sweet sensation of wet soil that sponged their roots, the pleasant gush that sluiced their bodies and carried off the irritating dust. They also felt the heavier tumbling of the swollen streams in all directions. The drops from overhanging trees came down and played with them, bringing another set of perfumes altogether. A summer shower was, of course, "a month" to them, a day of rain like weeks of holiday by the sea.... But, most of all, they enjoyed the rough-and-tumble nonsense of the violent weather, when they were tied together by the ropes of running wind; for these were visiting days-- all manner of strangers dropped in upon them from distant walks in life, and they never knew whether the next would be a fir-cone or one of those careless, irresponsible travellers, a bit of thistle-down....
Yet, for all their steadiness, they knew incessant change--the variety of a daisy's existence was proverbial. Nor was the surprise of being walked upon too alarming--it did not come to all--for they knew a way of bending beneath enormous pressure so that nothing broke, while sometimes it brought a queer, delicious pleasure, as when the bare feet of some flying child passed lightly over them, leaving wild laughter upon a group of them. They knew, indeed, a thousand joys, proudest of all, however, that the big Earth loved them so that she carried millions of them everywhere she went.
And all, without exception, communicated their knowledge by the movements, attitudes, and gestures they assumed; and since each stood close to each, the enjoyment spread quickly till the entire lawn felt one undivided sensation by itself. Anything passing across it at such a moment, whether insect, bird, loose leaf or even human being, would be aware of this, and thus, for a fleeting second, share another world. Poets, it is said, have received their sweetest inspirations upon a daisied lawn in the flush of spring. Nor is it always a sight of prey that makes the swallows dart so suddenly sideways and away, but some chance message of joy or warning intercepted from the hosts of flowers in the soil.
And from this region of the flower-life comes, of course, the legend that fairies have emotions that last for ever, with eternal youth, and with loves that do not pass away to die. This, too, they understood. Because the measurement of existence is a mightier business than with over-developed humans-in-a-hurry. For knowledge comes chiefly through the eye, and the eye can perceive only six times in a second--things that happen more quickly or more slowly than six times a second are invisible. No man can see the movement of a growing daisy, just as no man can distinguish the separate beats of a sparrow's wing: one is too slow, and the other is too quick. But the daisy is practically all eye. It is aware of most delightful things. In its short life of months it lives through an eternity of unhurrying perceptions and of big sensations. Its youth, its loves, its pleasures are--to it--quite endless....
"I can see the old sun moving," she murmured, "but you will love me for ever, won't you?"
"Even till it sinks behind the hills," he answered, "I shall not change."
"So long we have been friends already," she went on. "Do you remember when we first met each other, and you looked into my opening eyes?"
He sighed with joy as he thought of the long, long stretch of time.
"That was in our first reckless youth," he answered, catching the gold of passionate remembrance from an amber fly that hovered for an instant and was gone. "I remember well. You were half hidden by a drop of hanging dew, but I discovered you! That lilac bud across the world was just beginning to open." And, helped by the wind, he bent his shining head, taller than hers by the sixtieth part of an inch, towards the lilac trees beside the gravel path.
"So long ago as that!" she murmured, happy with the exquisite belief in him. "But you will never change or leave me--promise, oh, promise that!"
His stalk grew nearer to her own. He leaned protectively towards her eager face.
"Until that bud shall open fully to the light and smell its sweetest," he replied--the gesture of his petals told it plainly--"so long shall you and I enjoy our happy love."
It was an eternity to them.
"And longer still," she pleaded.
"And longer still," he whispered in the wind. "Even until the blossom falls."
Ah, it was good to be alive with such an age of happiness before them!
He felt the tears in her voice, however; he knew there was something that she longed to tell.
"What is your sadness?" he asked softly, "and why do you put such questions to me now? What is your little trouble?"
A moment's hesitation, a moment's hanging of the graceful head the width of a petal's top nearer to his shoulder--and then she told him.
"I was in darkness for a time," she faltered, "but it was a long, long time. It seemed that something came between us. I lost your face. I felt afraid."
And his laughter--for just then a puff of wind passed by and shook his sides for him--ran across many feet of lawn.
"It was a Bumble Bee," he comforted her. "It came between us for a bit, its shadow fell upon you, nothing more! Such things will happen; we must be prepared for them. It was nothing in myself that dimmed your world."
"Another time I will be braver, then," she told him, "and even in the darkness I shall know you close, ah, very close to me...."
For a long, long stretch of time, then, they stood joyfully together and watched the lilac growing. They also saw the movement of the sun across the sky. An eternity passed over them.... The vast disc of the sun went slowly gliding....
But all the enormous things that happened in their lives cannot be told. Lives crammed with a succession of such grand and palpitating adventures lie beyond the reach of clumsy words. The sweetness sometimes was intolerable, and then they shared it with the entire lawn and so obtained relief--yet merely in order to begin again. The humming of the rising Spring continued with the thunderous droning of the turning Earth. Never uncared for, part of everything, full of the big, rich life that brims the world in May--ah, almost fuller than they could hold sometimes--they passed with existence along to their appointed end.
"We began so long ago, I simply can't remember it," she sighed.
Yet the sun they watched had not left half a degree behind him since they met.
"There was no beginning," he reproved her, smiling, "and there will never be any end."
And the wind spread their happiness like perfume everywhere until the whole white lawn of daisies lay singing their rapture to the sunshine....
The minute underworld of grass and stalks seemed of a sudden to grow large; yet, till now, they had not realised it as "large"--but simply natural. A beetle, big and broad as a Newfoundland dog, went lumbering past them, brushing its polished back against their trembling necks; yet, till now, they had not thought of it as "big"--but simply normal. Its footsteps made a grating sound like the gardener's nailed boots upon the gravel paths. It was strange and startling. Something was different, something was changing. They realised dimly that there was another world somewhere, a world they had left behind long, long ago, forgotten. Something was slipping from them, as sleep slips from the skin and the eyes in the early morning when the bath comes "pinging" upon the floor. What did it mean?
Big and little, far and near, above, below, inside and outside--all were mixed together in a falling rush.
They themselves were changing.
They looked up. They saw an enormous thing rising behind them with vast caverns of square outline opening in its sides--a house. They saw huge, towering shapes whose tops were in the clouds--the familiar lime trees. Big and tiny were inextricably mixed together.
And that was wrong. For either the forest of grass was as big as themselves--in which case they still were daisies; or else it was tiny and far below them--in which case they were hurrying humans again. There was an odd confusion...while consciousness swung home to its appointed centre and Adventure brought them back towards the old, familiar starting-place again.
There came an ominous and portentous sound that rushed towards them through the air, and through the solid ground as well. They heard it, and grew pale with terror. Across the entire lawn it rumbled nearer, growing in volume awfully. The very earth seemed breaking into bits about them. And then they knew.
It was the End of the World that their prophets had long foretold.
It crashed upon them before they had time to think. The roar was appalling. The whole lawn trembled. The daisies bowed their little faces in a crowd. They had no time even to close their innocent eyes. Before a quarter of their sweet and happy life was known, the End swept them from the world, unsung and unlamented. Two of them who had planned Eternity together fell side by side before one terrible stroke....
"I do believe--" said Judy, brushing her tumbled hair out of her eyes.
"Not possible!" exclaimed Uncle Felix, sitting up and stretching himself like a dog. "It's a thing I never do, never, NEVER! I think my stupid watch has stopped again...."
They stared at each other with suspiciously sleepy eyes.
"Promise," she whispered presently, "promise never to tell the others!"
"I promise faithfully," he answered. "But we'd better get up, or we shall have our heads cut off like--all the other daisies."
He pulled her to her feet--out of the way of the heavy mowing machine which Weeden was pushing with a whirring, droning noise across the lawn.