Church was very--that is, they enjoyed the service very much, without knowing precisely why they liked it. They joined in the hymns with more energy than usual, because they felt "singy" and knew the tunes as well. Colonel Stumper handed round one of the bags at the end of a long pole--and, though the clergyman didn't look at all as if he required feeding, the threepenny bits dropped in without the least regret on the part of the contributors. Tim's coin, however, having been squeezed for several minutes before the bag came round, stuck to his moist finger, and Stumper, thinking he had nothing to put in, drove the long handle past him towards Maria. That same instant the coin came un-stuck, and dropped with a rattle into the aisle. Come- Back Stumper stooped to recover it. Whereupon, to Judy, Tim and Uncle Felix, watching him, came a sudden feeling of familiarity, as though all this had happened before. The bent figure, groping after the hidden coin, seemed irresistibly familiar. It was very odd, they thought, very odd indeed. Where--when--had they seen him groping before like that, almost on all fours? But no one, of course, could remark upon it, and it was only Tim and Judy who exchanged a brief, significant glance. Maria, being asleep, did not witness it, nor did she contribute to the feeding of the clergyman either.
There followed a short sermon, of which they heard only the beginning, the end, and certain patches in the middle when the preacher raised his voice abruptly, but the text, they all agreed, was "Seek and ye shall find." During the delivery of the portions that escaped them, Tim scratched his head and thought about rabbits, while Judy's mind hesitated between various costumes in the pews in front of her, unable to decide which she would wear when she reached the age of its respective owner.
And so, in due course, feeling somehow that something very real had been accomplished, they streamed out with the rest of the congregation into the blazing summer sunshine. Expectant, inquisitive and hungry, they stood between the yew trees and the porch, yawning and fidgeting until Uncle Felix gave the signal to start. The sunlight made them blink. There was something of pleasurable excitement in knowing themselves part of a "Congregation," for a Congregation was distantly connected with "metropolis" and "govunment," and an important kind of thing at any time.
They stood and watched it. It scattered slowly, loth to separate and go. There was no hurry certainly. People talked in lowered voices, as if conversation after service was against the rules, and the church and graves might overhear; they smiled, but not too gaily; they seemed subdued; yet really they wanted to sing and dance--once safely out of hearing and sight, they would run and jump and stand on their heads. The children, that is, attributed their own feelings to them.
Several--all "Members" of the Congregation--approached and asked unreal questions, to which Judy, as the eldest, gave unreal answers:
"Your parents will soon be back again?"
"Yes; Father comes to-morrow, Mother too."
"I hope they have enjoyed their little change."
"I think so--thank you."
Gradually the Congregation melted away, broughams and victorias drove off sedately down the road, the horses making as little sound as possible with their hoofs. The Choir-boys emerged from a side-door and vanished into a field; a series of Old Ladies and Invalids felt their way down the gravel path with sticks; the "Neighbours," looking clean and dressed-up, went off in various directions--gravely, voices hushed, manners circumspect. Tim, feeling as usual "awfully empty after church," was sure they ran as fast as ever they could the moment they were out of sight. A Congregation was a wonderful thing altogether. It was a puzzle how the little church could hold so many people. They watched the whole familiar business with suppressed excitement, forgetting they were hungry and impatient. It was both real and unreal, something better beckoned beyond all the time; but there was no hurry. It was a deep childhood mystery--wonder filled them to the brim.
"Come on, children; we'll be off now," sounded their uncle's voice, and at the same moment Come-Back Stumper joined them. He had been counting over the money with the clergyman, of course, all this time. He was very slow. They hoped their contributions had been noticed.
"You'll come back with us?" suggested Uncle Felix. And Stumper, growling his acceptance, walked home to lunch with them in the old Mill House. In his short black coat, trousers of shepherd's plaid, and knotted white tie bearing a neat horseshoe pin, he looked smart yet soldierly. Tim apologised for his moist finger and the threepenny bit. "I thought it had got down a hole," he said, "but you found it wonderfully." "It simply flew!" cried Judy. "Clever old thing!" she added with admiration.
"I've found harder things than that," said Stumper. "It hid itself well, though--bang in the open like a lost collar-stud. Thought I'd never look there!"
They glanced at one another with a curious, half-expectant air, and Tim suddenly took the soldier's hand. But no one said anything more about it; the sin was forgiven and forgotten. Uncle Felix put in a vague remark concerning Indian life, and Stumper mentioned proudly that a new edition of his scouting book was coming out and he had just finished revising the last sheets. "All yesterday I spent working on it," he informed them with a satisfied air, whereupon Tim said "Fancy that!" and Judy exclaimed "Did you really?" They seemed to have an idea that he was doing something else "all yesterday"; but no one knew exactly what it was. Then Judy planted herself in the road before him, made him stop, and picked something off his shoulder. "A tiny caterpillar!" she explained. "Another minute and you'd have had it down your neck." "It would have come back though," he said with a gruff laugh. "It might'nt have," returned Judy. "But look; it's awfully beautiful!" They examined it for a moment, all five of them, and then Judy set it down carefully in the ditch and watched it march away towards the safer hedge.
It was a pleasant walk home, all together; they took the short cut across the fields; the world was covered with flowers, birds were singing, the air was fresh and sweet and the delicious sunlight not uncomfortably hot. Tim ran everywhere, exploring eagerly like a dog, and, also like a dog, doubling the journey's length. He whistled to himself; from time to time he came back to report results of his discoveries. He was full of energy. Judy behaved in a similar manner, dancing in circles to make her hair and dress fly out; she sang bits of the hymn-tunes that she liked, taking the tune but fitting words of her own upon it. Maria was carried over two fields and a half; the down-hill parts she walked, however. She kept everybody waiting. They could not leave her. She contrived to make herself the centre of the party. Stumper and Uncle Felix brought up the rear, talking together "about things," and whirling their sticks in the air as though it helped them forward somehow.
On the slippery plank-bridge across the mill stream all paused a moment to watch the dragon-flies that set the air on fire with their coloured tails.
"The things that nobody can understand!" cried Judy.
"Nobody else," Tim corrected her. "We do!"
They leaned over the rail and saw their own reflections in the running water.
"Why, Come-Back hasn't got a button-hole!" exclaimed Judy--and flew off to find one for him, Tim fast upon her heels like a collie after a dipping swallow. They raced down the banks where the golden king-cups grew in spendthrift patches and disappeared among the colonies of reeds. Between some hanging willow branches further down they were visible a moment, like dryad figures peering and flitting through the cataract of waving green. They searched as though their lives depended on success. It was absurd that Stumper had no button-hole!
Maria, seated comfortably on the lower rail, watched their efforts and listened to the bursts of laughing voices that came up-stream--then, with a leisurely movement, took the flower from her own button-hole and handed it to Stumper. The eyes rolled upwards with the flower-- solemnly. And Come-Back saw the action reflected in the stream below.
"Aw--thank you, my dear," he said, fastening the forget-me-not into his Sunday coat, "but I ought not to take it all. It's yours." The voice had a quiet, almost distant sound in it.
"Ours," Maria murmured to herself, addressing the faces in the water. She took the fragment Stumper handed back to her. All three, forgetting it was time for lunch, forgetting they were hungry, forgetting that there was still half a mile of lane between them and the house, gazed down at their reflections in the stream as though fascinated. Uncle Felix certainly felt the watery-enchantment in his soul. The reflections trembled and quivered, yet did not pass away. The stream flowed hurrying by them, yet still was always there. It gave him a strange, familiar feeling--something he knew, but had forgotten. Everything in life was passing, yet nothing went--there was no hurry. The rippling music, as the water washed the banks and made the grasses swish, was audible, and there was a deeper sound of swirling round the wooden posts that held the bridge secure. Bubbles rose and burst in spray. A lark, hanging like a cross in the blue sky, overhead, dropped suddenly as though it was a stone, but in the reflection it rushed up into their faces. It seemed to rise at them from the pebbly bed of the stream. Both movements seemed one and the same--both were true--the direction depended upon the point of view.
It startled them and broke the water-spell. For the singing stopped abruptly too. At the same moment Judy and Tim arrived, their arms full of flowers, hemlock, ferns, and bulrushes. They were breathless and exhausted; both talked at once; they had quite forgotten, apparently, what they had gone to find. Judy had seen a king-fisher, Tim had discovered tracks of an otter; in the excitement they forgot about the button-hole. But, somehow, the bird, the animal, and the flowers were the same thing really--one big simple thing. Only the point of view was different.
"We've looked simply everywhere!" cried Judy.
"Just look what we found!" Tim echoed.
To Uncle Felix it seemed they said one and the same thing merely-- using one word in many syllables.
"Beautiful!" agreed Stumper, as they emptied their arms at his feet in wild profusion; "and enough for everybody too!"
Stumper also said the thing they had just said. Uncle Felix watched him move forward, where Maria was already using the heaped-up greenery as a cushion for her back, and pick something off the stem of a giant bulrush.
"But that's what I like best," he exclaimed. "Look at the colour, will you--blue and cream and yellow! You can hear the Ganges in it, if you listen close enough." He held a small, coloured snail-shell between his sinewy fingers, then placed it against his ear, while the others, caught by a strange enveloping sense of wonder, stared and listened, swept for a moment into another world.
"How marvellous!" whispered some one.
"Extrornary!" another murmured.
"Yes," said Maria. Her voice made a sound like a thin stone falling from a height into water. But Maria had said the same thing as the others, only said it shorter. An entire language lay in that mono- syllable. Again, it was the point of view of doing, saying one enormous thing. And Maria's point of view was everywhere at once--the centre.
"Listen!" she added the next minute.
Perhaps the sunlight quivering on the surface of the stream confused them, or perhaps it was the murmur and movement of the leaves upon the banks that brought the sense of sweet, queer bewilderment upon all five. A new sound there certainly was--footsteps, as though some one came dancing--voices, as though some one sang. Figures were seen in the distance among the waving world of green; they moved behind the cataract of falling willow branches; and their distance was as the distance of a half-remembered dream.
"They're coming," gasped Judy below her breath.
"They're coming back," Tim whispered, the tone muffled, underground.
"Eh?" ejaculated Stumper. "Coming back?" His voice, too, had distance in it.
Whether they saw it in the reflections on the running water, or whether the maze of shadow and sunshine in the wooded banks produced it, no one knew exactly. The figures, at any rate, were plainly visible, moving along with singing and dancing through the summery noontide of the brilliant day. No one spoke while they went by, no one except Maria who at intervals murmured "Yes." There was no other audible comment or remark. They afterwards agreed that Weeden was seen clearest, but Thompson and Mrs. Horton were fairly distinct as well, and bringing up the rear was a figure in blue that could only have been the Policeman who lived usually upon the high road to London. They carried flowers in their arms, they moved lightly and quickly--it was uncommonly like dancing--and their voices floated through the woodland spaces with a sound that, if it was not singing, was at least an excellent imitation--an attempt to sing!
"They're not lost," said Tim, as they disappeared from view. "They're just looking--for the way."
"The way home," said Judy. "And they're following some one--who knows it."
"Yes," added Maria. For another figure, more like a tree moving in the wind than anything else, and certainly looking differently to each of them--another figure was seen in advance of the group, seen in flashes, as it were, and only glimpses of it discernible among the world of moving green. This other figure was singing too; snatches of wild sweet music floated through the quiet wood--one said the singing of a bird, another, the wind, a third, the rippling murmur of the stream--but, to one and all, an enchanting and enticing sound. And, to one and all, familiar too, with the familiarity of a half-remembered dream.
And a flood of memory rose about them as they watched and listened, a tide that carried them away with it into the heart of something they knew, yet had forgotten. In the few moments' interval an eternity might have passed. Their hearts opened curiously, they saw wonder growing like a flower inside--the exquisite wonder of common things. There was something they were looking for, but they had found it. The flower of wonder blossomed there before their very eyes, explaining the world, but not explaining it away, explaining simply that it was wonderful beyond all telling. They all knew suddenly what they didn't know they knew; they understood what nobody understands. None knew why it came just at this particular moment, and none knew where it came from either. It was there, so what else mattered. It broke upon them out of the heart of the summer's day, out of this very ordinary Sunday morning, out of the brimming life all about them that was passing but could never pass away. The familiar figures of the gardener, the butler, the policeman and the cook brought back to them the memory of something they had forgotten, yet brought it back in the form of endless and inexhaustible enticement rather than of complete recovery. There had been long preparation somewhere, growth, development; but that was past and they gave no thought to it; Expectancy and Wonder rushed them off their feet. The world hid something. Every one was looking for it. They must go on looking, looking, looking too!
What it was they had forgotten--they entirely forgot. Only the marvellous hint remained, and the certainty that it could be found. For, to each of them it seemed, came this fairy reminder, stealing deliciously upon the senses: somewhere, somehow, they had known an experience that had enriched their lives. It had become part of them. It had always been in them, but they had found it now. They felt quite positive about it. They believed. To Tim came messages from the solid earth about him, secrets from creatures that lived in it and knew; Judy, catching a thousand kisses from the air upon her cheeks, divined the mystery of all flying life--that brought the stars within her reach; Maria, possessing all within herself, remained steady and calm at the eternal centre of the circle--a clearing-house for messages from everywhere at once. Asking nothing for herself, she merely wanted to give away, give out. She said "Yes" to all that came her way; and all did come her way. To every one of them, to Stumper and Uncle Felix too, came a great conviction that they had passed nearer, somehow, to an everlasting joy. There was no hurry, life had just begun--seemed singing everywhere about them. There was Unity.
"It's a lovely day," remarked Uncle Felix presently. "I want my luncheon."
He picked up Maria and moved on across the bridge.
"It's the Extra Day," Maria whispered in his ear. "It's my adventure, but you all can have it."
The others followed with Come-Back Stumper, and in the lane they saw the figures of Weeden, Thompson and Mrs. Horton in front of them, coming home from church. They were walking quietly enough.
"We're not late, then," Tim remarked. "There's lots of time!"
Crossing the field in the direction of the London road a policeman was moving steadily. They saw him stoop and pick a yellow flower as he went. He was off to take charge of the world upon his Sunday beat. He disappeared behind a hedge. The butler and the cook vanished through a side-door into the old Mill House about the same time.
In due course, they also arrived at the porch, and Uncle Felix set his burden down. As they scraped their muddy boots and rubbed them on the mat, their backs were turned to the outside world; but Maria, whose boots required no scraping, happened to face it still. As usual she faced in all directions like a circle.
"Look," she said. "There's some one coming!"
And they saw the figure of a tramp go past the opening of the drive where the London road was just visible. He paused a moment and looked towards the house. He did not come in. He just looked--and waved his hand at them. The next minute he was gone. But not before Maria had returned his wave.
"He'll come back," suggested Stumper, as they went inside.
"Yes," said Maria. "He's mine--but you can have him too."
Ten minutes later, when they all sat down to lunch, the big blue figure of the policeman passed the opening of the drive. Being occupied with hot roast beef, they did not see him. He paused a moment, looked towards the house, and then went slowly out of sight again along the London road, following the tramp....