A Prisoner in Fairyland/Chapter 26
Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, Or loose the bands of Orion? ''Book of Job''.
The feeling that something was going to happen--that odd sense of anticipation--which all had experienced the evening before at tea-time had entirely vanished, of course, next morning. It was a mood, and it had passed away. Every one had slept it off. They little realised how it had justified itself. Jane Anne, tidying the Den soon after seven o'clock, noticed the slip of paper above the mantelpiece, read it over--'The Starlight Express will start to-night. Be reddy!'--and tore it down. 'How could that. have amused us!' she said aloud, as she tossed it into the waste-paper basket. Yet, even while she did so, some stray sensation of delight clutched at her funny little heart, a touch of emotion she could not understand that was wild and very sweet. She went singing about her work. She felt important and grown- up, extraordinarily light-hearted too. The things she sang made up their own words--such odd snatches that came she knew not whence. An insect clung to her duster, and she shook it out of the window with the crumbs and bits of cotton gathered from the table-cloth.
'Get out, you Morning Spider, You fairy-cotton rider!'
she sang, and at the same minute Mother opened the bedroom door and peeped in, astonished at the unaccustomed music. In her voluminous dressing-gown, her hair caught untidily in a loose net, her face flushed from stooping over the porridge saucepan, she looked, thought Jinny, 'like a haystack somehow.' Of course she did not say it. The draught, flapping at her ample skirts, added the idea of a covering tarpaulin to the child's mental picture. She went on dusting with a half-offended air, as though Mother had no right to interrupt her with a superintending glance like this.
'You won't forget the sweeping too, Jinny?' said Mother, retiring again majestically with that gliding motion her abundant proportions achieved so gracefully.
'Of course I won't, Mother,' and the instant the door was closed she fell into another snatch of song, the words of which flowed unconsciously into her mind, it seemed--
'For I'm a tremendously busy Sweep, Dusting the room while you're all asleep, And shoving you all in the rubbish heap, Over the edge of the tiles'
--a little wumbled, it is true, but its source unmistakable.
And all day long, with every one, it was similar, this curious intrusion of the night into the day, the sub-conscious into the conscious--a kind of subtle trespassing. The flower of forgotten dreams rose so softly to the surface of consciousness that they had an air of sneaking in, anxious to be regarded as an integral part of normal waking life. Like bubbles in water they rose, discharged their puff of fragrant air, and disappeared again. Jane Anne, in particular, was simply radiant all day long, and more than usually clear-headed. Once or twice she wumbled, but there was big sense in her even then. It was only the expression that evaded her. Her little brain was a poor transmitter somehow.
'I feel all endowed to-day,' she informed Rogers, when he congratulated her later in the day on some cunning act of attention she bestowed upon him. It was in the courtyard where they all sat sunning themselves after dejeuner, and before the younger children returned to afternoon school.
'I feel emaciated, you know,' she added, uncertain whether emancipated was the word she really sought.
'You'll be quite grown-up,' he told her, 'by the time I come back to little Bourcelles in the autumn.' Little Bourcelles! It sounded, the caressing way he said it, as if it lay in the palm of his big brown hand.
'But you'll never come back, because you'll never go,' Monkey chimed in. 'My hair, remember---'
'My trains won't take you,' said Jimbo gravely.
'Oh, a train may take you,' continued Monkey, 'but you can't leave. Going away by train isn't leaving.'
'It's only like going to sleep,' explained her brother. You'll come back every night in a Starlight Express---'
'Because a Starlight Express takes passengers--whether they like it or not. You take an ordinary train, but a starlight train takes you!' added Monkey.
Mother heard the words and looked up sharply from her knitting. Something, it seemed, had caught her attention vividly, though until now her thoughts had been busy with practical things of quite another order. She glanced keenly round at the faces, where all sat grouped upon the stone steps of La Citadelle. Then she smiled curiously, half to herself. What she said was clearly not what she had first meant to say.
'Children, you're not sitting on the cold stone, are you?' she inquired, but a little absent-mindedly.
'We're quite warm; we've got our thick under-neathies on,' was the reply. They realised that only part of her mind was in the, question, and that any ordinary answer would satisfy her.
Mother resumed her knitting, apparently satisfied.
But Jinny, meanwhile, had been following her own train of thought, started by her cousin's description of her as 'grown-up.' The picture grew big and gracious in her mind.
'I wonder what I shall do when my hair goes up?' she observed, apparently a propos de bottes. It was the day, of course, eagerly, almost feverishly, looked forward to.
'Hide your head in a bag probably,' laughed her sister. Jinny flushed; her hair was not abundant. Yet she seemed puzzled rather than offended.
'Never mind,' Rogers soothed her. 'The day a girl puts up her hair, a thousand young men are aware of it,--and one among them trembles.' The idea of romance seemed somehow in the air.
'Oh, Cousinenry!' She was delighted, comforted, impressed; but perplexity was uppermost. Something in his tone of voice prevented impudent comment from the others.
'And all the stars grow a little brighter,' he added. 'The entire universe is glad.'
'I shall be a regular company promoter!' she exclaimed, nearer to wit than she knew, yet with only the vaguest inkling of what he really meant.
'And draw up a Memorandum of Agreement with the Milky Way,' he added, gravely smiling.
He had just been going to say 'with the Pleiades,' when something checked him. A wave of strange emotion swept him. It rose from the depths within, then died away as mysteriously as it came. Like exquisite music heard from very far away, it left its thrill of beauty and of wonder, then hid behind the breath of wind that brought it. 'The whole world, you see, will know,' he added under his breath to the delighted child. He looked into her queer, flushed face. The blue eyes for a moment had, he thought, an amber tinge. It was a mere effect of light, of course; the sun had passed behind a cloud. Something that he ought to have known, ought to have remembered, flashed mockingly before him and was gone. 'One among them trembles,' he repeated in his mind. He himself was trembling.
'The Morning Spiders,' said some one quietly and softly, 'are standing at their stable doors, making faces at the hidden sun.'
But he never knew who said it, or if it was not his own voice speaking below his breath. He glanced at Jimbo. The small grave face wore an air of man-like preoccupation, as was always the case when he felt a little out of his depth in general conversation. He assumed it in self-protection. He never exposed himself by asking questions. The music of that under-voice ran on:--
'Sweet thoughts, like fine weather, Bind closely together God's stars with the heart of a boy.'
But he said it aloud apparently this time, for the others looked up with surprise. Monkey inquired what in the world he was talking about, only, not quite knowing himself, he could not answer her. Jimbo then, silent and preoccupied, found his thoughts still running on marriage. The talk about his sister's hair going up no doubt had caused it.
He remembered the young schoolmistress who had her meals at the
Pension, and the Armenian student who had fallen in love with, and eventually married, her. It was the only courtship he had ever witnessed. Marriage and courtship seemed everywhere this morning.
'I saw it all with Mlle. Perette,' he informed the party. 'It began already by his pouring out water for her and passing the salt and things. It always begins like that. He got shawls even when she was hot.'
He looked so wise and grave that nobody laughed, and his sisters even seemed impressed rather. Jinny waited anxiously for more. If Mother did make an odd grimace, it was not noticed, and anyhow was cleverly converted into the swallowing of a yawn. There was a moment's silence. Jimbo, proudly conscious that more was expected of him, provided it in his solemn little voice.
'But it must be horrid,' he announced, 'to be married--always sticked to the same woman, like that.' No sentence was complete without the inevitable 'already' or 'like that,' translated from the language he was more at home in. He thought in French. 'I shall never marry myself (me marier) he decided, seeing his older sister's eyes upon him wonderingly. Then, uncertain whether he had said an awfully wise or an awfully foolish thing, he added no more. Anyhow, it was the way a man should talk--with decision.
'It's bad enough to be a wife,' put in Monkey, 'but it must be worse still to have one!'
But Jane Anne seemed shocked. A man, Jimbo reflected, can never be sure how his wisdom may affect the other sex; women are not meant to know everything. She rose with dignity and went upstairs towards the door, and Monkey, rippling with laughter, smacked her as she went. This only shocked her more.
'That was a slight mistake behind,' she said reprovingly, looking back; 'you should have more reserve, I think,' then firmly shut the door.
All of which meant--so far as Jane Anne was concerned--that an important standard of conduct--grown-up, dignified, stately in a spiritual sense--was being transferred to her present behaviour, but transferred ineffectively. Elsewhere Jane Anne lived it, was it. She knew it, but could not get at the part of her that knew it. The transmitting machinery was imperfect. Connecting links and switches were somehow missing. Yearning was strong in her, that yearning which is common to all the world, though so variously translated. Once out of the others' sight, she made a curious face. She went into her room between the kitchen and the Den, flung herself on the bed, and burst into tears. And the fears brought relief. They oiled the machinery perhaps. At any rate, she soon felt better.
'I felt so enormous and unsettled,' she informed Mother later, when the redness of her eyes was noticed and she received breathlessly a great comforting hug. I never get anything right.'
'But you are right, darling,' Mother soothed her, little guessing that she told the perfect truth. 'You are all right, only you don't know it. Everybody's wumbled somewhere.' And she advised her--ah, Mother was profoundly wise instinctively--not to think so much, but just go ahead as usual and do her work.
For Mother herself felt a little queer that day, as though something very big and splendid lay hiding just beyond her reach. It surged up, vanished, then surged up again, and it came closest when she was not thinking of it. The least effort of the mind to capture it merely plunged her into an empty gulf where she could not touch bottom. The glorious thing ran instantly underground. She never ceased to be aware of it, but any attempt to focus resulted in confusion. Analysis was beyond her powers, yet the matter was very simple really, for only when thought is blank, and when the mind has forgotten to think, can inspiration come through into the heart. The intellect interprets afterwards, sets in order, regulates, examines the wonder and beauty the heart distils alchemically out of the eternal stream in which life everywhere dips its feet. If Reason interferes too soon, or during transmission, it only muddles and destroys. And Mother, hitherto, had always been so proud of being practical, prosaic, reasonable. She had deliberately suppressed the other. She could not change in a single day just because she had been 'out' and made discoveries last night. Oh, how simple it all was really, and yet how utterly most folk convert the wonder of it into wumbling!
Like Jane Anne, her miniature, she felt splendid all day long, but puzzled too. It was almost like those religious attacks she had experienced in early youth. She had no definite creed by which she could explain it. Though nominally Christian, like her husband, she could not ascribe her joy to a 'Holy Spirit,' or to a 'God' working in her. But she was reminded of her early 'religious attacks' because she now experienced that large sensation of glorious peace and certainty which usually accompanies the phenomenon in the heart called 'conversion.' She saw life whole. She rested upon some unfailing central Joy. Come what might, she felt secure and 'saved.' Something everlasting lay within call, an ever-ready help in trouble; and all day she was vaguely conscious that her life lay hid with--with what? She never found the word exactly, for 'Joy' was but one aspect of it. She fell back upon the teachings of the big religions which are the police regulations of the world. Yet all creeds shared these, and her feeling was far deeper than mere moral teachings. And then she gave up thinking about it. Besides, she had much knitting to do.
'It's come to stay anyhow; I feel in sympathy with everybody,' she said, and so dismissed vain introspection, keeping the simple happiness and peace. That was her strength, as it was also Jinny's. A re-formation had begun.
Jimbo, too, felt something in his microcosmic way, only he said little and asked no single question. It betrayed itself, however, to his Mother's widened vision. He was all stirred up. He came back again from school at three o'clock--for it was Thursday and he did not take the singing lesson from three to four--put down his books with a very business-like air, forgot to kiss his Mother--and went out.
'Where are you off to, Jimbo?' She scented mischief. He was so affaire.
He turned obediently at once, the face grave and puckered.
'Going over to the carpenter's house, Mummy.'
'What for, dear? Why don't you stay and play here?' She had the feeling that her husband was absorbed in his work and would not like to be disturbed.
The boy's reply was evasive too. 'I want to have a long discuss with Daddy,' he said.
'Can't you have your long discuss with me instead?' she asked.
He shook his head. 'You see,' he answered solemnly, 'it's about things.'
'But Daddy's working just now; he'll be over to tea at four. Can't it wait till then?'
She understood too well to inquire what 'things' might be. The boy wished to speak with one of his own sex--as one man to another man.
'When a man's at work,' she added, 'he doesn't like to be disturbed.'
'All right,' was the reply. 'We can wait a little,' and he settled down to other things in a corner by himself. His mind, clearly, was occupied with grave considerations he could not discuss with anybody, least of all with women and children. But, of course, busy men must not be interrupted. For a whole hour in his corner he made no sound, and hardly any movement.
But Daddy did not come at four o'clock. He was evidently deep in work. And Mother did not send for him. The carpenter's wife, she knew, would provide a cup of tea.
He came late to supper, too, at the Pension, nodded to Mother with an expression which plainly said, 'I've finished the story at last'; winked to his cousin, meaning, 'It came out all right, I'm satisfied,' and took his seat between Jinny and Mlle. Vuillemot, the governess who had earned her meal by giving a music lesson that afternoon to a pensionnaire. Jinny looked sideways at him in a spirit of examination, and picked the inevitable crumb deftly from his beard.
'Reminiscences!' she observed slyly. 'You did have some tea, then.' Her long word was well chosen for once; her mind unusually logical, too.
But Daddy made no reply; he went on eating whatever was set before him with an air of complete detachment; he devoured cold ham and salad automatically; and the children, accustomed to this absorption, ignored his presence. He was still in the atmosphere of his work, abstracted, lost to the outer world. They knew they would only, get wumbled answers to their questions and remarks, and they did not dare to tease him. From time to time he lifted his eyes--very bright they were--and glanced round the table, dimly aware that he was in the midst of a stream of noisy chatter, but unable to enter it successfully at any point. Mother, watching him, thought, 'He's sitting on air, he's wrapped in light, he's very happy'; and ate an enormous supper, as though an insatiable hunger was in her.
The governess, Mlle. Vuillemot, who stood in awe of the 'author' in him, seized her opportunity. She loved to exchange a mot with a real writer, reading all kinds of unintended subtlety into his brief replies in dreadful French. To-night she asked him the meaning of a word, title of a Tauchnitz novel she had been reading--Juggernaut; but, being on his deaf side, he caught 'Huguenot' instead, and gave her a laboured explanation, strangled by appalling grammar.
The historical allusions dazed her; the explanation ended on a date. She was sorry she had ventured, for it made her feel so ignorant.
'Shuggairnort,' she repeated bravely. She had a vague idea he had not properly heard before.
But this time he caught 'Argonaut,' and swamped her then with classical exposition, during which she never took her eyes off him, and decided that he was far more wonderful than she had ever dreamed. He was; but not for the reasons she supposed.
'Thank you,' she said with meek gratitude at the end, 'I thank you.'
'Il n'y a pas de quar,' replied Daddy, bowing; and the adventure came to an end. The others luckily had not heard it in full swing; they only caught the final phrase with which he said adieu. But it served its unwitting purpose admirably. It brought him back to the world about him. The spell was broken. All turned upon him instantly.
'Snay pas un morsow de bong.' Monkey copied his accent, using a sentence from a schoolboy's letter in Punch. 'It's not a bit of good.' Mother squelched her with a look, but Daddy, even if he noticed it, was not offended. Nothing could offend him to-night. Impertinence turned silvery owing to the way he took it. There was a marvellous light and sweetness about him. 'He is on air,' decided Mother finally. 'He's written his great Story--our story. It's finished!'
'I don't know,' he said casually to the others, as they stood talking a few minutes in the salon before going over to the Den, 'if you'd like to hear it; but I've got a new creature for the Wumble Book. It came to me while I was thinking of something else---'
'Thinking of one thing while you were thinking of another!' cried Monkey. It described exaccurately his state of mind sometimes.
'---and I jotted down the lines on my cuff. So it's not very perfect yet.'
Mother had him by the arm quickly. Mlle. Vuillemot was hovering in his neighbourhood, for one thing. It seemed to her they floated over, almost flew.
'It's a Haystack Woman,' he explained, once they were safely in the Den grouped about him. 'A Woman of the Haystack who is loved by the Wind. That is to say, the big Wind loves her, but she prefers the younger, handsomer little Winds, and---'
He was not allowed to finish. The children laid his cuff back in a twinkling, drawing up the coat sleeve.
'But surely I know that,' Mother was saying. 'I've heard of her before somewhere. I wonder where?' Others were saying the same thing. 'It's not new.'
'Impossible,' said Daddy, 'for the idea only came to me this morning while I was---'
'Thinking of something else,' Monkey again finished the sentence for him.
Mother felt that things were rushing about her from another world. She was vaguely conscious--deliciously, bewilderingly--of having heard this all before. Imaginative folk have built the certainty of a previous existence upon evidence as slight; for actual scenery came with it, and she saw dim forest trees, and figures hovering in the background, and bright atmosphere, and fields of brilliant stars. She felt happy and shining, light as a feather, too. It all was just beyond her reach, though; she could not recover it properly. 'It must have been a dream she told me,' was her conclusion, referring to Mlle. Lemaire. Her old friend was in it somewhere or other. She felt sure of that.
She hardly heard, indeed, the silly lines her husband read aloud to the children. She liked the sound of his voice, though; it suggested music she had known far away--in her childhood.
'It's high spirits really,' whispered Rogers, sitting beside her in the window. 'It's a sort of overflow from his story. He can't do that kind of rhyme a bit, but it's an indication---'
'You think he's got a fine big story this time?' she asked under her breath; and Cousin Henry's eyes twinkled keenly as he gave a significant nod and answered: 'Rather! Can't you feel the splendour all about him, the strength, the harmony!'
She leaped at the word. Harmony exactly described this huge new thing that had come into the family, into the village, into the world. The feeling that they all were separate items, struggling for existence one against the other, had gone for ever. Life seemed now a single whole, an enormous pattern. Every one fitted in. There was effort-- wholesome jolly effort, but no longer the struggle or fighting that were ugly. To 'live carelessly' was possible and right because the pattern was seen entire. It was to live in the whole.
'Harmony,' she repeated to herself, with a great swelling happiness in her heart, 'that's the nunculus of the matter.'
'The what?' he asked, overhearing her.
'The nunculus,' she repeated bravely, seeing the word in her mind, yet unable to get it quite. Rogers did not correct her.
'Rather,' was all he said. 'Of course it is.' What did the pronunciation of a word matter at such a time? Her version even sounded better than the original. Mother saw things bigger! Already she was becoming creative!
'And you're the one who brought it,' she continued, but this time so low that he did not catch the words. 'It's you, your personality, your thinking, your atmosphere somehow that have brought this gigantic sense of peace and calm security which are au fond nothing but the consciousness of harmony and the power of seeing ugly details in their proper place--in a single coup d'oeil--and understanding them as parts of a perfect whole.'
It was her thought really running on; she never could have found the words like that. She thought in French, too, for one thing. And, in any case, Rogers could not have heard her, for he was listening now to the uproar of the children as they criticised Daddy's ridiculous effusion. A haystack, courted in vain by zephyrs, but finally taken captive by an equinoctial gale, strained nonsense too finely for their sense of what was right and funny. It was the pictures he now drew in the book that woke their laughter. He gave the stack a physiognomy that they recognised.
'But, Mother, he's making it look like you!' cried Monkey--only Mother was too far away in her magnificent reverie to reply intelligently.
I know her; she's my friend,' she answered vaguely. 'So it's all right.'
'Majestic Haystack'--it was the voice of the wind addressing her:--
'Majestic Haystack, Empress of my life, Your ample waist Just fits the gown I fancy for my wife, And suits my taste; Yet there you stand, flat-footed, square and deep, An unresponsive, elephantine heap, Coquetting with the stars while I'm asleep, O cruel Stack! Coy, silent Monster, Matron of the fields, I sing to you; And all the fondest love that summer yields I bring to you; Yet there you squat, immense in your disdain, Heedless of all the tears of streaming rain My eyes drip over you--your breathless swain; O stony Stack! Stupendous Maiden, sweetest when oblong, Does inner flame Now smoulder in thy soul to hear my song Repeat thy name? Or does thy huge and ponderous heart object The advances of my passion, and reject My love because it's airy and elect? O wily Stack! O crested goddess, thatched and top-knotted, O reckless Stack! Of wives that to the Wind have been allotted There is no lack; You've spurned my love as though I were a worm; But next September when I see thy form, I'll woo thee with an equinoctial storm! I have that knack!'
'Far less wumbled than usual,' thought Rogers, as the children danced about the room, making up new ridiculous rhymes, of which 'I'll give you a whack' seemed the most popular. Only Jane Anne was quiet. A courtship even so remote and improbable as between the Wind and a Haystack sent her thoughts inevitably in the dominant direction.
'It must be nice when one is two,' she whispered ambiguously to Mother with a very anxious face, 'but I'm sure that if a woman can't cook, love flies out of the window. It's a positive calamity, you know.'
But it was Cousin Henry's last night in Bourcelles, and the spirit of pandemonium was abroad. Neither parent could say no to anything, and mere conversation in corners was out of the question. The door was opened into the corridor, and while Mother played her only waltz, Jimbo and Monkey danced on the splintery boards as though it were a parquet floor, and Rogers pirouetted somewhat solemnly with Jane Anne. She enjoyed it immensely, yet rested her hand very gingerly upon his shoulder. 'Please don't hold me quite so tight,' she ventured. 'I've never danced with a strange man before, you see'; and he no more laughed at her than he had laughed at Mother's 'nunculus.' Even Jane Anne, he knew, would settle down comfortably before long into the great big pattern where a particular nook awaited--aye, needed--her bizarre, odd brilliance. The most angular fragments would nest softly, neatly in. A little filing, a little polishing, and all would fit together. To force would only be to break. Hurry was of the devil. And later, while Daddy played an ancient tune that was written originally as a mazurka yet did duty now for a two-step, he danced with Mother too, and the children paused to watch out of sheer admiration.
'Fancy, Mother dancing!' they exclaimed with glee--except Jinny, who was just a little offended and went to stand by the piano till it was over. For Mother danced as lightly as a child for all her pride of measurement, and no frigate ever skimmed the waves more gracefully than Mother glided over those uneven boards.
'The Wind and the Haystack' of course, was Monkey's description.
'You'll wind and haystack to bed now,' was the reply, as Mother sat and fanned herself in the corner. The 'bed-sentence' as the children called it, was always formed in this way. Whatever the child was saying when the moment came, Mother adopted as her verb. 'Shall I put some peat on, Mother?' became 'Peat yourself off to bed-it's nine o'clock'--and the child was sorry it had spoken.
Good-byes had really been said at intervals all day long, and so to- night were slight enough; the children, besides, were so 'excitey- tired,' as Monkey put it, that they possessed no more emotion of any kind. There were various disagreeable things in the immediate future of To-morrow--getting up early, school, and so forth; and Cousin Henry's departure they lumped in generally with the mass, accepted but unrealised. Jimbo could hardly keep his eyes alight, and Monkey's hair was like a baby haystack the wind had treated to an equinoctial storm. Jinny, stiff, perplexed, and solemn with exhaustion, yet dared not betray it because she was older, in measurable distance of her hair going up.
'Why don't you play with the others, child?' asked Mother, finding her upright on a sofa while the romp went on.
'Oh, to-night,' Jinny explained, 'I sit indifferent and look on. I don't always feel like skedivvying about!'
To skedivvy was to chivvy and skedaddle--its authority not difficult to guess.
'Good-bye, Cousinenry,' each gasped, as his big arms went round them and squeezed out the exclamation. 'Oh, thank you most awfully,' came next, with another kiss, produced by his pressing something hard and round and yellow into each dirty little hand. 'It's only a bit of crystallised starlight,' he explained, 'that escaped long ago from the Cave. And starlight, remember, shines for everybody as well as for yourselves. You can buy a stamp with it occasionally, too,' he added, 'and write to me.'
'We will. Of course!'
Jimbo straightened up a moment before the final collapse of sleep.
'Your train leaves at 6.23,' he said, with the authority of exclusive information. 'You must be at the station at six to get the bagages enregistrees. It's a slow train to Pontarlier, but you'll find a wagon direct for Paris in front, next to the engine. I shall be at the station to see you off.'
'I shan't,' said Monkey.
Rogers realised with delight the true meaning of these brief and unemotional good-byes. 'They know I'm coming back; they feel that the important part of me is not going away at all. My thinking stays here with them.'
Jinny lingered another ten minutes for appearance's sake. It was long past her bed-time, too, but dignity forbade her retiring with the others. Standing by the window she made conversation a moment, feeling it was the proper, grown-up thing to do. It was even expected of her.
'Look! It's full moon,' she observed gravely, as though suggesting that she could, if she liked, go out and enjoy the air. 'Isn't it lovely?'
'No, yesterday was full moon,' Rogers corrected her, joining her and looking out. 'Two nights ago, to be exact, I think.'
'Oh,' she replied, as solemnly as though politics or finance were under discussion, 'then it's bigger than full moon now. It goes on, does it, getting fuller and fuller, till--'
'Now, Jinny dear, it's very late, and you'd better full-moon off to bed,' Mother interrupted gently.
'Yes, Mother; I'm just saying good-night.' She held her hand out, as though she was afraid he might kiss her, yet feared he would not. 'Good-bye, Mr. Cousin Henry, and I hope you'll have an exceedingly happy time in the train and soon come back and visit us again.'
'Thank you,' he said, 'I'm sure I shall.' He gave her a bit of solid starlight as he said it, then suddenly leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. Making a violent movement like an experienced boxer who dodges an upper cut, Jinny turned and fled precipitately from the room, forgetting her parents altogether. That kiss, she felt, consumed her childhood in a flash of fiery flame. In bed she decided that she must lengthen her skirts the very next day, and put her hair up too. She must do something that should give her protection and yet freedom. For a long time she did not sleep. She lay thinking it over. She felt supremely happy--wild, excited, naughty. 'A man has kissed me; it was a man; it was Mr. Rogers, Daddy's cousin.... He's not my cousin exactly, but just "a man."' And she fell asleep, wondering how she ought to begin her letter to him when she wrote, but, more perplexing still, how she ought to--end it! That little backward brain sought the solution of the problem all night long in dreams. She felt a criminal, a dare-devil caught in the act, awaiting execution. Light had been flashed cruelly upon her dark, careful secret--the greatest and finest secret in the world. The child lay under sentence indeed, only it was a sentence of life, and not of death.