Meanwhile the coveted fortnight drew towards a close. It had begun on a Friday, and that left two full, clear weeks ahead. It had seemed an inexhaustible period--when it started. There was the feeling that it would draw out slowly, like an ordinary lesson-week; instead of which it shot downhill to Saturday with hardly a single stop. On looking back, the children almost felt unfairness; somebody had pushed it; they had been cheated.
And, of course, they had been cheated. Time had played his usual trick upon them. The beginning was so prodigal of reckless promises that they had really believed a week would last for ever. Childhood expects, quite rightly, to have its cake and eat it, for there is no true reason why anything should ever end at all. The devices are various: a titbit is set aside to enjoy later, thus deceiving Time and checking its ridiculous hurry. But in the long run Time invariably wins. After Thursday the week had shot into Saturday without a single pause. It whistled past. And the titbit, Saturday, had come.
Yet without the usual titbit flavour; for Saturday, as a rule, wore splashes of gold and yellow upon its latter end, being a half-holiday associated with open air and sunshine, but now, Monday already in sight, with lessons and early bed and other prohibitions by the dozen, hearts sank a little, a shadow crept upon the sun. They had a grievance; some one had cheated them of a final joy. The collapse was unexpected, therefore wrong. And the arch-deceiver who had humbugged them, they knew quite well, was Time. He was in their thoughts. He mocked them all day long. Clocks grinned; Saturday, June 3, flaunted itself insolently in their faces.
"The day after to-morrow," remarked some one, noticing a calendar staring on the wall; and from the moment that phrase could be used it meant the day was within measurable distance.
"Aunt Emily leaves Tunbridge Wells" was mentioned too, sounding less unpleasant than "Aunt Emily comes back." But the climax was reached when somebody stated bluntly without fear of contradiction:
For Sunday had no particular colour. Monday was black, and Saturday was gold, but Sunday never had been painted anything. Though a buffer-day between a vanished week and a week of labour coming, it was of uncertain character. Queer, grave people came back to lunch. There were collects and a vague uneasiness about the heathen being unfed and naked. There was a collection, too--pennies emerged from stained leather purses and dropped clicking into a polished box with a slit in the top. Greenland's icy mountains also helped to put a chill into the sunshine. A pause came. Time went slower than usual--God rested, they remembered, on the seventh day--yet nothing happened much, and with their Sunday clothes they put on a sort of dreadful carefulness that made play seem stiff, unnatural, and out of place.
Daddy, too, before the day was over, invariably looked worried, the servants bored, Mother drowsy, and Aunt Emily "like a clergyman's wife." Time sighed audibly on Sunday.
"It's our last day, anyhow," they agreed, determined to live in the present and enjoy Saturday to the full.
It was then Uncle Felix, having overheard their comments upon Time, looked round abruptly and made one of his startling remarks. "To-morrow," he said, "is one of the most wonderful days that was ever invented. You'll see."
And the way he said it provided the very thrill that was needed to chase the shadow from the sun. For there was a hint of promise in his voice that almost meant he had some way of delaying the arrival of Black Monday.
"You'll see," he repeated significantly, shading his eyes with both hands and peering up at the sun.
Tim and Judy watched him with keen faces. They noticed that he said "to-morrow" instead of "Sunday." But before they could squeeze out a single question, there came a remarkable interruption from below. From somewhere near the ground it came. Maria, seated on a flower-pot whose flower didn't want to grow, opened her mouth and spoke. As is already known, this did not often happen. It was her characteristic to keep it closed. Even at the dentist's she never could be got to open her mouth, because he had once hurt her; she flatly refused to do so, and no amount of "Now open, please," ever had the least effect on her firm decision. She was taken in vain to see the dentist.
This last Saturday of the week, however, she opened.
"I've not had my partickler adventure," was what she said.
At the centre of that circle where she lived in a state of unalterable bliss, the fact had struck her, and she mentioned it accordingly.
Tim and Judy turned upon her hungrily, but before they could relieve their feelings by a single word their Uncle had turned upon her too. Lowering his eyes from the great circular sun that moved in a circle through the sky, he let them fall upon the circular Maria who reposed calmly upon the circle of the earth, which itself swung in another circle round the sun.
"Exactly," he said, "but it's coming. Your father told you a day would come. It is!"
He said no more than that, but it was enough to fill the remainder of the day with the recurrent thrill of a tremendous promise. Each hour seemed pregnant with a hint of exceptional delivery. There were signs and whispers everywhere, and everybody was aware of it. Uncle Felix looked "bursting with it," as though he could hardly keep it in, and even the Lesser Authorities had as much as they could do to prevent it flying out of them in sudden sentences. Jackman wore a curious smile, which Judy declared was "just the face she made the day Maria was born"; Mrs. Horton left her kitchen and was seen upon the lawn actually picking daisies; and even Thompson--well, when Tim and his sister came upon him basking with a pipe against the laundry window, wearing a discarded tweed coat of their father's, and looking "exactly like the Pope asleep," he explained his position to Tim with the extraordinary remark that "even the Servants' Hall 'as dreams," and went on puffing his pipe precisely as before. But Weeden betrayed it most. They knew by the smell--"per fumigated," as they called it--that he was in the passages, watering the flowers or arranging new ones on the window-sills, and when Tim said, "Seen any more water-rats to pot at, Weeden?" the man just smiled and replied, "Good mornin', Master Tim; it's Saturday."
The inflection of his tone was instantly noticed. "Oh, I say, Weeden, how do you know? Do tell me. I won't say a word, I promise." But the Head Gardener kept his one eye--the other was of glass--upon the spout of his watering-can, and answered in a voice that issued from his boots--"Because to-morrow's Sunday, Master Tim, unless something 'appens to prevent it." He then went quickly from the room, as though he feared more questions; he took the secret with him; he was nervous about betraying what he knew. But Judy agreed with Tim that "his answer proved it, because why should he have said it unless he knew!"
Meanwhile, that fine morning in early June slipped along its sunny way; a heavy treacle-pudding luncheon was treated properly; Uncle Felix lit his great meerschaum pipe, and they all went out on the lawn beneath the lime trees. The undercurrent of excitement filled the air. Something was going to happen, something so wonderful that they could not speak about it. They did not dare to ask questions lest they should somehow stop it. It was a most delicately poised affair. The least mistake might send it racing in the opposite direction. But their imaginations were so actively at work inside that they could not help whispering among themselves about it. The silence of their Uncle piled up the coming wonder in an enormous heap.
"Something is coming," affirmed Judy in an undertone for the twentieth time, "but I think it will be after tea, don't you?"
"Prob'ly," assented her brother, very full of treacle pudding. He sighed.
"Or p'r'aps it's somebody, d'you think?"
Tim shrugged his shoulders carefully, conscious of insecurity within.
"I shouldn't be surprised, would you?" Judy insisted. Of course she knew as much as he did, but she wanted to make him say something definite.
"It's both," he said grandly. "Things like this always come together."
"Yes, but it's quite new. It's never happened before."
He looked sideways at her with the pity of superior knowledge.
"How could it?" So great was his private information that he almost added "stupid." But he kept back the word for later. He repeated instead: "However could it?"
"Well, but--" she began.
"Don't you see, it's what Daddy always told us," he reminded her with an air. And instantly, with overwhelming certainty, those Wonder Sentences of their father's, first spoken years ago, crashed in upon their minds: Some day; a day is coming; a day will come.
Tim's assurance hurt her vanity a little, for it was only fair that she should know something too, however little. But the force of the discovery at once obliterated all lesser personal emotions.
"Tim!" she gasped, overcome with admiration. "Is it really that?"
Tim never forgot that moment of proud ascendancy. He felt like a king or something.
"Look out," he whispered quickly. "You'll spoil it all if he knows we've guessed." And he nodded his head towards Uncle Felix in his wicker-chair. "It's Maria's adventure, too, remember."
Judy smiled and flushed a little.
"He's not listening," she whispered back, ignoring Maria's claim. She was not quite so stupid as her brother thought her. "But how on earth did you know? It's too wonderful!" She flung the hair out of her eyes and wriggled away some of her suppressed excitement on the grass. Tim held his breath in agony while he watched her. But the smoke from his Uncle's pipe rose steadily into the sunny air, and his face was hidden by a paper that he held. The moment of danger passed. The boy leaned over towards his sister's ear.
"Where it comes from," he whispered, "is what I want to know," and straightened up again with the air of having delivered an ultimatum that no girl could ever possibly reply to.
"From?" she repeated. She seemed a little disappointed. "D'you mean that may stop it coming?"
"Of course not," he said contemptuously. "But everything must come from somewhere, mustn't it?"
Judy stared at him speechless, while he surveyed her with an air of calm omnipotence. To ask a thing no one could answer was the same as knowing the answer oneself.
"Mustn't it?" he repeated with triumph.
And, in the inevitable pause that followed, they both instinctively glanced up at Uncle Felix. The same idea had occurred to both of them. Although direct questions about what was coming were obviously impermissible, an indirect question seemed fairly within the rules. The fact was, neither of them could keep quiet about it any longer. The strain was more than human nature could stand. They simply must find out. They would get at it that way.
"Try him," whispered Judy. And Tim turned recklessly towards his Uncle and drew a long, deep breath.