"Uncle," he began with a rush lest his courage should forsake him, "where does everything come from? Everything in the world, I mean?"-- then waited for an answer that did not come.
Uncle Felix neither moved nor spoke, and the question, like a bomb that fails to explode, produced no result after considerable effort and expense. The boy looked down again at the alarum clock he had been trying to mend, and turned the handle. It was too tightly wound to go. A stopped clock has the sulkiest face in the world. He stared at it; the handle clicked beneath the pressure of his hand. "It must come from somewhere," he added with decision, half to himself.
"From the East, of course," advanced Judy, and tried to draw her Uncle by putting some buttercups against his cheek and mentioning loudly that he liked butter.
Then, since neither sound nor movement issued from the man in the wicker-chair, the children continued the discussion among themselves, but at the man, knowing that sooner or later he must become involved in it. Judy's answer, moreover, so far as it went, was excellent. The sun rose in the East, and the wind most frequently mentioned came also from that quarter. Easter, when everything rose again, was connected with the same point of the compass. The East was enormously far away with a kind of fairyland remoteness. The dragon-rugs in Daddy's study and the twisted weapons in the hall were "Easty" too. According to Tim, it was a "golden, yellow, crimson-sort-of, mysterious, blazing hole of a place" of which no adequate picture had ever been shown to them. China and Japan were too much photographed, but the East was vague and marvellous, the beginning of all things, "Camel-distant," as they phrased it, with Great Asia upon its magical frontiers. For Asia, being equally unphotographed, still shimmered with uncommon qualities.
But, chiefly, it was a vast hole where travellers disappeared and left no trace; and to leave no trace was simply horrible.
"The easier you go the less chance there is," maintained Judy. She said this straight into the paper that screened her uncle's face-- without the smallest result of any kind whatsoever. Then Tim recalled something that Colonel Stumper had said once, and let fly with it, aiming his voice beneath the paper's edge.
"East is east," he announced with considerable violence, but might as well have declared that it was south for all the response obtained. It was very odd, he thought; his Uncle's mind must be awfully full of something. For he remembered Come-Back Stumper saying the same thing once to Daddy at the end of a frightful argument about missionaries and idols, and Daddy had been unable to find any reply at all. Yet Uncle Felix did not stir a finger even. Accordingly, he made one more effort. He recited in a loud voice the song that Stumper had made up about it. If that had no effect, they must try other means altogether:
The East is just an endless place That lies beyond discovery, Where travellers who leave no trace Are lost without recovery. Both North and South have got a pole-- Men stand on the equator; But the East is just an awful hole-- You're never heard of later!
It had no effect. Goodness! he thought, the man must be ill. Or, perhaps, like the alarum clock, he was too tightly wound to go, and the burden of the secret he contained so wonderfully up his sleeve half choked him. The boy grew impatient; he nudged Judy and made an odd grimace, and Judy, belonging to the sex that took risks and thought little of personal safety when a big end was to be obtained, stood up and put the buttercups against her own cheek.
"But I like it ever so much more than you do," she said in a loud voice.
The move was not a bad one; the paper wobbled, sank a quarter of an inch, revealed the bridge of the reader's nose, then held severely steady again. Whereupon Tim, noticing this sign of weakening, followed his sister's lead, rose, kicked the tired clock like a ball across the lawn, and exclaimed in a tone of challenge to the universe: "But where did everything come from before that--before the East, I mean?" And he glared at his immobile Uncle through the paper with an air of fearful accusation, as though he distinctly held he was to blame. If that didn't let the cat out of the bag, nothing would!
The big man, however, rested heavily with his legs crossed, as though still he had not heard. Doubtless he felt as heavy as he looked, for the afternoon was warm, and luncheon--well, at any rate, he remained neutral and inactive. Something might happen to divert philosophical inquiry into other channels; a rat might poke its nose above the pond; a big fish might jump; an awfully rare butterfly come dancing; or Maria, as on rare occasions she had been known to do, might stop discussion with a word of power. The chances were in his favour on the whole. He waited.
But nothing happened. No rat, nor fish, nor butterfly did the things expected of them; they were on the children's side. Maria sat blocked and motionless against the landscape; and the round world dozed. Yes-- but the music of the world was humming. The bees droned by, there was a whisper among the unruffled leaves.
Tim tapped him sharply on the knee. The man shuffled, then looked over the top of his illustrated paper with an air of shocked surprise.
"Eh, Tim," he asked. "Where we all come from, did you say?"
"Everything, not only us," was the clean reply.
"That's it," Judy supported him.
"Now, then," Maria added quietly, as if she had done all the work.
Uncle Felix laid down his entertaining pictures of public men in misfit-clothing furiously hitting tiny balls over as much uncultivated land as possible--and sighed. Their violent attitudes had given him a delightful sensation of repose. They were the men who governed England, and this savage hitting was proof of their surplus energy. He resigned himself, but with an air.
"Well," he said vaguely, "I suppose--it all just--began somehow--of itself." And he stole a sideways glance at a picture of a stage Beauty attired like a female Guy Fawkes.
"It was created in six days, of course, us last," said Tim, regarding him with patient dignity. "We remember all that. But where it came from is what we thought you'd know." He closed the illustrated paper and moved it out of reach, while the man brushed from his beard the grass and stuff that Judy had arranged there cleverly in a decorative pattern.
"From?" repeated Uncle Felix, as though the word were unfamiliar.
"Your body and mind," the boy resumed, ignoring the pretence that laziness offered in place of information, "and all that kind of thing; trees and mountains, and birds and caterpillars and people like Aunt Emily, and clergymen and volcanoes and elephants--oh, everything in the world everywhere?"
There was another sigh. And another pause dropped down upon creation, while they watched a looper caterpillar that clung to the edge of the illustrated paper and made futile circles in the air with the knob it called its head. Some one had forgotten to let down the ladder it expected, or perhaps it, too, was asking unanswerable questions of the sun.
"I believe," announced Judy, still smarting under a sense of recent neglect, "it just came from nowhere. It's all in a great huge circle. And we go round and round and rounder," she went on, as no one met her challenge, "till we're finished!"
She avoided her brother's eye, but glanced winningly at Uncle Felix, remembering that she had gained support from him before by a similar device. At Maria she looked down. "You know nothing anyhow," her expression said, "so you must agree."
"I don't finish," said Maria quietly, whereupon Tim, feeling that the original question was being shelved, made preparation to obliterate her--when Uncle Felix intervened with a longer observation of his own.
"It's not such a bad idea," he said, glancing sideways at Maria with approval, "that circle business. Everything certainly goes round. The earth is round, and the sun is round, and, as Maria says, a circle never finishes." He paused, reflecting deeply.
"But who made the circle," demanded Tim.
"That is the point," agreed Uncle Felix, nodding his head. "Some one must have made it--some day--mustn't they?"
They stared at him, as probably the animals stared at Adam, wondering what their splendid names were going to be. The yearning in their eyes was enough to make a rock produce sweet-scented thyme. Even the looper steadied its pin-point head to listen. But nothing happened. Uncle Felix looked dumber than the clock. He looked hot, confused, and muddled too. He kept his eyes upon the grass. He fumbled in his pockets for a match. He spoke no word.
"What?" asked Tim abruptly, by way of a hint that something further was expected of him.
Uncle Felix looked up with a start. Like Proteus who changed his shape to save himself the trouble of prophesying, he swiftly changed the key to save himself providing accurate information that he didn't possess.
"It wasn't a circle, exactly," he said slowly; "it was a thought, a great, white, wonderful, shining thought. That's what started the whole business first," and he looked round hopefully at the eager faces. "Somebody thought it all," he went on, recklessly, "and it all came true that way. See?"
They waited in silence for particulars.
"Somebody thought it all out first," he elaborated, "and so it simply had to happen."
There was an interval of some thirty seconds, and then Tim asked:
"But who thought him?" He said it with much emphasis.
Uncle Felix sat up with energy and lit his pipe. His listeners drew closer, with the exception of Maria, whose life seemed concentrated in her fixed and steady eyes.
"It's like this, you see," the man explained between the puffs; "if you go into the schoolroom, you find a lot of things lying about everywhere--blocks, toys, engines, and all sorts of things--don't you?"
"Yes," they agreed, without enthusiasm.
"Well," he continued, "what's the good of them until you think something about them--think them into something--some game or meaning or other? They're nothing but a lot of useless stuff just lying untidily upon the floor. See what I mean?"
They nodded, but again without enthusiasm.
"With our End of the World place," he went on, seeing that they listened attentively, "it's the same again. It was nothing but a rubbish-heap until we thought it into something wonderful--which, of course, it is," he hastened to add. "But by thinking about it, we discovered--we created it!"
They nodded again. Somebody grunted. Maria watched the caterpillar crawling up his sleeve.
"The things--the place and the toys," he resumed hopefully, "were there all the time, but they meant nothing--they weren't alive--until we thought about them." He blew a cloud of smoke. "So, you see," he continued with an effort, "if we could only think out what everything meant, we could--er--find out what--what everything meant-- and where it came from. Everything would be all right, don't you see?"
Judy's expression was distraught and puzzled. Maria's eyes were closed so tightly that her entire face seemed closed. The pause drew out.
"Yes, but where does everything come from?" inquired Tim calmly.
He valued the lengthy explanation at just exactly--nothing!
"Because there simply must be a beginning somewhere," added Judy.
They were at the starting-point again. They had merely made a circle.
And Uncle Felix found himself in difficulties of his own creating. Where everything came from puzzled him as much as it puzzled the children, or the looper caterpillar that was now crawling from his flannel collar to his neck and contemplating the thicket of his dense back hair. Why ask these terrible questions? he thought, as he looked around at the sunshine and the trees. Life would be no happier if he knew. Since everything was already here, going along quite pleasantly and usefully, it really couldn't help matters much to know precisely where it all came from. Possibly not. But it would have helped him enormously in his relations with the children--his particular world at the moment--if he could have provided them with a satisfactory explanation. And he knew quite well what they expected from him. That dreadful "Some Day" hung in the balance between success and failure.
And it was then that assistance came from a most unlikely quarter-- from Maria. There was no movement in the stolid head. The eyes merely rolled round like small blue moons upon the expanse of the expressionless face. But the lips parted and she spoke. She asked a question. And her question shifted the universe back upon its ultimate foundations. It set a problem deeper far than the mere origin of everything. It touched the cause.
"Why?" she inquired blandly.
It seemed a bomb-shell had fallen among them. Maria had closed her eyes again. Her face was calm as a cabbage, still as a mushroom in a storm. She claimed the entire discussion somehow as her own. Yet she had merely exercised her prerogative of being herself. Having gone into the root of the matter with a monosyllable, she retired again into her eternal centre. She had nothing more to offer--at the moment.
They had never thought of Why there should be anything. It was far more interesting than Where. Why was a deeper question than whence. It made them feel more important, for one thing. Somebody--but Somebody who was not there--owed them a proper explanation about it. The burden of apology or excuse was lifted instantly from Uncle Felix's shoulders, for, obviously, he had nothing to do with the reason for their being in the world.
Without a moment's hesitation he flung his arms out, let the pipe fall from his lips, and--burst into song:
"Why, why, why?" shouted the two elder children. The air was filled with flying "whys." They tried to sing the verse.
"Let's dance it," cried Judy, leaping to her feet. "Give us the words again, please." She picked up the clock and plumped it down into Maria's uncertain lap. "You beat time," she ordered. "It's the tune of 'Onward Christian Soldiers.'"
Maria, disinclined to budge unless obliged to, did nothing.
"It's a beastly tune," Tim supported her. "I hate those Sunday hymn tunes. They're not real a bit."
He watched Judy and his Uncle capering hand in hand among the flower- beds. He didn't feel like dancing himself. He looked at the clock that, like Maria and himself, refused to go. He looked at Maria, fastened immovably upon the lawn. The clock lay glittering in the sunshine. Maria sat like a shining ball beside it. He felt the afternoon was a failure somewhere. Things weren't going quite as he wanted, the clock wasn't going either. And when they did go they went of their own accord, independent of himself, of his direction, guidance, wishes. He was out of it. This was not the time to dance. What was the meaning of it all? It had to do somehow with the clock that wouldn't go. It had to do with Maria, who wouldn't budge. The clock had stopped of its own accord. That lay at the bottom of it all, he felt. Some day things would be different, more satisfactory--more real.... Some day!
And strange, new ideas, very vague and dim, very far away, very queer, and very wonderful, poured through his searching, questioning little mind.
"Beat time!" shouted Judy to her motionless sister. "I told you to beat time. You're doing nothing. You never do!"
Tim stood watching them, while the words rang on in his head: "You are doing nothing! You never do!" How wonderful it was! Maria never did anything, yet was always there in everything. And the others--how funny they were, too! They looked like an elephant and a bird, he thought, for Judy hopped and fluttered, while his Uncle moved heavily, making holes in the soft lawn with his great feet. "Beat time, beat time!" cried Judy at intervals.
What a queer phrase it was--to beat time. Why beat it? It wasn't there unless it was beaten. Poor Time; and Maria refused to beat it. His eye wandered from Maria to the dancers, and a kind of reverie stole over him. What was the use of dancing unless there was something to dance round? Maria was round; why didn't they dance round her? His thoughts returned to Maria. How funny Maria was! She just sat there doing nothing at all. Maria was dull and unenterprising, yet somehow everything came round to her in the end. It was just because she waited, she never hurried. She was a sort of centre. Only it must be rather stupid just to be a centre. Then, suddenly, two ideas struck him at the same instant, scattering his dreamy state of reverie. The first was--Everything comes from a centre like Maria; that's where everything comes from! The second, bearing no apparent relation to it, found expression in words:
He cried out: "I know what! Let's go to the End of the World and make a fire and burn things!"
And he looked at Maria as though he had discovered America.
"Beat time, oh, do beat time," cried Judy breathlessly.
"We're going to make a fire," he shouted; "there's lots of things to burn." He looked about him as though to choose a place. But he couldn't find one. He pointed vaguely, first at Maria, as though she was the thing to burn, and then at the landscape generally. "Then you can dance round it," he added convincingly to clinch the matter.
But the bird and the elephant continued their gymnastic exercises on the lawn, while Maria turned her eyes without moving her head and watched them too.
Then, while the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers" filled the air, Tim and Maria began an irrelevant argument about things in general. Tim, at least, told her things, while she laid the clock down upon the grass and listened. But the flood of language rolled off her as minutes roll from the face of the sun, producing no effect. There was wonder in her big blue eyes, wonder that never seemed to end. But minutes don't decrease merely because the rising and setting of the sun sends them flying, and there are not fewer words in a boy's vocabulary merely because he uses up a lot in saying things. Both words and minutes seemed a circle without beginning or end. It was most odd and strange--this feeling of endlessness that was everywhere in the air. And, long before Tim had got even to the middle of his enormous speech, he had forgotten all about the fire, forgotten about dancing, about burning things, forgotten about everything everywhere, because his roving eye had fallen again upon the--clock. The clock absorbed his interest. It lay there glittering in the sunshine beside Maria. It wasn't going; Maria wasn't going either. It had stopped. He realised abruptly, realised it without rhyme or reason, that a stopped clock, a clock that isn't going, was a--mystery.
And the tide of words dried up in him; he choked; something was wrong with the universe; for if the clock stopped--his clock--time--time must--he was unable to think it out--but time must surely get muddled and go wrong too.
And he moved over to Maria just as she was about to burst into tears. He sat down beside her. At the same moment Judy and Uncle Felix, thinking a quarrel was threatening, stopped their dancing, and joined the circle too. They stood with arms akimbo, panting, silent, waiting for something to happen so that they could interfere and set it right again.
But nothing did happen. There was deep silence only. The slanting sunshine lay across the lawn, the wind passed sighing through the lime trees, and the clock stared up into their faces, motionless, a blank expression on it--stopped. They formed a circle round it. No one moved or spoke. There was a queer, deep pause. The sun watched them; the sky was listening; the entire afternoon stood still. Something else beside the clock, it seemed, was slowing up.
"To-morrow's Sunday. Time's getting awfully short," was in the air inaudibly.
"Let's sit down," whispered Tim, already seated himself, but anxious to feel the others close. Judy and Uncle Felix obeyed. They all sat round in a circle, staring at the shining disc of the motionless, stopped clock. It might have been a Lucky Bag by the way they watched it with expectant faces.
But Maria also was in that circle, sitting calmly in its centre.
Then Uncle Felix cautiously lifted the glittering round thing and held it in his hand. He put his ear down to listen. He shook his head.
"It hasn't gone since this time yesterday," said Tim in a low tone. "That's twenty-four hours," he added, calculating it on the fingers of both hands.
"A whole day," murmured Judy, as if taken by surprise somehow; "a day and a night, I mean."
She exchanged a glance of significant expectation with her brother, but it was at their uncle they looked the moment after, because of the strange and sudden sound that issued from his lips. For it was like a cry, and his face wore a flushed and curious expression they could not fathom. The face and the cry were signs of something utterly unusual. He was startled--out of himself. A marvellous idea had evidently struck him. "It's either something," thought Judy, "or else he's got a pain." But Tim's mind was quicker. "He's got it," the boy decided, meaning, "We've got it out of him at last!" Their manoeuvres had taken so long of accomplishment that their original purpose had almost been forgotten.
"A day, a whole day," Uncle Felix was mumbling to himself in a dazed kind of happy way, "an entire day, I do declare!" He looked round solemnly, yet with growing excitement, into the children's faces. "Twenty-four hours! An entire day," he went on, half beneath his breath.
"Some day; of course..." Tim said in a low voice, catching the mood of wonder, while Judy added, equally stirred up, "A day will come..." and then Uncle Felix, breaking out of his queer reverie with an effort, raised his voice and looked as if the end of the world had come.
"But do you realise what it means?" he asked them sharply. "D'you understand what's happened?"
He drew a long, deep breath that quivered with suppressed amazement, and waited several seconds for their answers--in vain. The children gazed at him without uttering a word; they made no movement either. The arresting tone of his voice and a certain huge expression in his eyes made everything in the world seem different. It was a moment of real life; he had discovered something stupendous. But, explanation being beyond them, they attempted no immediate answer to his question. The pressure of interest blocked every means of ordinary expression known to them.
Then Uncle Felix spoke again; his big eyes fixed Tim piercingly like a pin. "When did it stop?" he inquired gravely. He meant to make quite sure of his discovery before revealing it. There must be no escape, no slip, no carelessness. "When did it stop, I ask you, Tim?" he repeated.
Tim was a trifle vague. "I was asleep," he whispered. "When I woke up --it wasn't going."
"You wound it?"
"Oh, yes, I wound it right enough."
"What time was it?"
"The clock--or the day, Uncle?" He was confused a little; he wished to be awfully accurate.
Uncle Felix explained that he desired to know what time the clock had stopped. The importance of the answer could be judged by the intentness of his expression while he waited.
"The finger-hands were at four," said the boy at length.
Uncle Felix gave a jump. "Ha, ha!" he exclaimed triumphantly, "then it stopped of its own accord!" They could have screamed with excitement, though without the least idea what they were excited about. You could have heard a butterfly breathing.
"It stopped at dawn!" he continued, louder.
"Dawn!" piped Tim, unable to think of anything else, but obliged to utter something.
"Dawn, yes," cried Uncle Felix louder still. "It stopped of its own accord at dawn! Just at the beginning of a new day it stopped! It's marvellous! Don't you see? It's marvellous!"
"Goodness!" cried Judy, her mind obfuscated, yet thrilled with a transport of inexplicable delight. "It's marvellous!"
"I say!" Tim shouted, dropping his voice suddenly because he too was at a loss for any more intelligible relief in words.
They sat and stared at their amazing uncle. There was a hush upon the entire universe; there was marvel, mystery, but at first there was also muddle. They waited, holding their breath with difficulty. Some one, it seemed, must either explode or--or something else, they knew not exactly what. It would hardly have surprised them if Judy had suddenly flown through the air, Tim vanished down a hole, or Maria gleamed at them from the inside of a quivering bubble of soap. There was this kind of intoxicating feeling, delicious and intense. Even To- morrow might not be Sunday after all: it felt strange and wonderful enough for that!
The possibility that Some Day was coming--was close at hand--had in some mysterious way become a probability. It was clear at last why Uncle Felix had been so heavy and preoccupied.
"You see what's happened?" he continued after the long pause. "You see what it all means--this strange stopping of the clock--at Dawn?"
They admitted nothing; the least mistake on their part might prevent, might spoil or cripple it. The depth and softness of his tone warned them. They stared and waited. He gathered them closer to him with both arms. Even Maria wriggled slightly nearer--an inch or so.
"It means," he said in still lower tones, "the calendar,"--then stopped abruptly to examine the effect upon them.
Now, ordinarily, they knew quite well what a calendar was; but this new, strange emphasis he put upon it robbed the word suddenly of all its original meaning. Their minds went questioning at once:
"What is a calendar?" asked Judy carefully--"exactly?" she added, to make her meaning absolutely clear. It sounded almost like a nonsense word.
"Exactly," he repeated cautiously, yet with some great emotion working in him, "what is a calendar? That's the whole question. I'll try and tell you what a calendar is." He drew a deeper breath, a great effort being evidently needed. "A calendar," he went on, while the word sounded less real each time it was uttered, "is an invention of clever, scientific men to note the days as they pass; it records the passing days. It's a plan to measure Time. It's made of paper and has the date and the name of the day stamped in ink on separate sheets. When a day has passed you tear off a sheet. That day is done with-- gone. There are three hundred and sixty-five of these separate sheets in a year. It's just an invention of scientific men to measure the passing of--Time, you see?"
They said they saw.
"Another invention," he resumed, his face betraying more and more emotion, "is a clock. A clock is just a mechanical invention that ticks off the movements of the sun into seconds and minutes and hours. Both clocks and calendars, therefore, are mere measuring tricks. Time goes on, or does not go on, just the same, whether you possess these inventions or whether you do not possess them. Both clocks and calendars go at the same rate whether Time goes fast or slow. See?"
A tremendous discovery began to poke its nose above the edge of their familiar world. But they could not pull it up far enough to "see" as yet. Uncle Felix continued to pull it up for them. That he, too, was muddled never once occurred to them.
"Scientific men, like all other people, are not always to be relied upon," he went on. "They make mistakes like--you, or Thompson, or Mrs. Horton, or--or even me. Clocks, we all know, are full of mistakes, and for ever going wrong. But the same thing has happened to calendars as well. Calendars are notoriously inaccurate; they simply cannot be depended upon. No calendar has ever been entirely veracious, nor ever will be. Like elastic, they are sometimes too long and sometimes too short--imperfectly constructed."
He paused and looked at them. "Yes," they said breathlessly, aware dimly that accustomed foundations were already sliding from beneath their feet.
"Half the calendars of the world are simply wrong," he continued, more boldly still, "and the people who live by them are in a muddle consequently--a muddle about Time. England is no exception to the rest. Is it any wonder that Time bothers us in the way it does--always time to do this, or time to do that, or not time enough to finish, and so on?"
"No," they said promptly, "it isn't."
"Of course," he resumed. "Well, sometimes a nation finds out its mistake and alters its calendar. Russia has done this; the Russian New Year and Easter are not the same as ours. Pope Gregory, the thirteenth, ordered that the day after October 4, 1582, should be called October 15. He called it the Gregorian Calendar; but there are lots of other calendars besides--there's the Jewish and Mohammedan, and a variety of calendars in the East. All of them can't be right. The result is that none of them are right, and the world is in confusion. Some calendars mark off too many days, others mark off too few. Half the world is ahead of Time, and the other half behind it. The Governments know this quite well, but they dare not say anything, because their officials are muddled enough as it is. There is everywhere this fearful rush and hurry to keep up with Time. All are terrified of being late--too late or too early."
"And the extraordinary result of all these mistakes," he went on marvellously, "is simply this: that a considerable amount of Time has never been recorded at all by any of them. There are a lot of extra days, unused, unrecorded days, still at large--if only we could find them."
"Extra Days!" they gasped. Tim and Judy's mouths were open now, and slowly opening wider every minute. Only Maria's mouth kept closed. Her great blue eyes were closed as well. She looked as if she could have told them all this in a couple of words!
"Knocking about on the loose," he explained further, then paused and stared into the upturned faces; "sort of escaped days that have never been torn off calendars or ticked away by clocks--unused, unfilled, unlived--slipped out of Time, that is--"
"Then when Daddy said, 'A day is coming,' and all that--?" Tim managed to squeeze out as though the pain of the excitement hurt his lips.
"Of course," replied Uncle Felix, nodding his great head, "of course. Sooner or later one of these lost Extra Days is bound to crop up. And what's more--" he glanced down significantly at the stopped alarum- clock--"I think--"
He broke off in the middle of the sentence. They all stood up. Tim picked up the clock and handed it to his uncle, who held it tightly against his chest a moment, then put it into his capacious pocket.
"I think," he went on enormously, "it's come!"
An entire minute passed without a sound.
"We can fill it with anything we like?" asked Judy, overawed a little.
"Anything we like," came the sublime reply.
"And do things over and over again--sort of double--and no hurry?" Tim whispered.
"Anything, anywhere, anyhow, and no end to it all," he answered gloriously. "No hurry either!" It was too much to think about all at once, too big to realise. They all sat down again beside Maria, who had not moved an inch in any direction at all. She was a picture of sublime repose.
"We have only got to find it, then climb into it, then sail away," murmured Uncle Felix, with a strange catch in his breath they readily understood.
"When will it begin?" both children asked in the same breath.
"At dawn," he said.
"At dawn to-morrow morning."
"But to-morrow's Sunday," they objected.
"To-morrow's--an Extra Day," he said amazingly.
They hesitated a moment, stared, frowned, smiled, then opened their eyes and mouths still wider than before.
"Oh, like that!" they exclaimed.
"Like that, yes," he said finally. "It means getting in behind Time, you see. There's no Time in an Extra Day because it's never been recorded by calendar or clock. And that means getting behind the great hurrying humbug of a thing that blinds and confuses everybody all the world over--it means getting closer to the big Reality that--"
He broke off sharply, aware that his own emotion was carrying him out of his depth, and out of their depth likewise. He changed the sentence: "We shall be in Eternity," he whispered very softly, so softly that it was scarcely audible perhaps.
And it was then that Maria, still seated solidly upon the lawn, looked up and asked another baffling and unexpected question. For this was her private and particular adventure: and, living ever at the centre of the circle, Maria claimed even Eternity as especially her own. Her question was gigantic. It was infinitely bigger than her original question, "Why?" It was the greatest question in the universe, because it answered itself adequately at once. It was the question the undying gods have flung about the listening cosmos since Time first began its tricky cheating of delight--and still fling into the echoing hearts of men and children everywhere. The stars and insects, the animals and birds, even the stones and flowers, all keep the glorious echo flying.
"Why not?" she asked.
It was unanswerable.