'I should think not indeed,' ventured Monkey, but so low that no one heard her.
'And so you went on thinking it all alone,' said Rogers in a low voice.
'I tried to write it first as a story,' she answered softly, 'but found that was beyond me; so I went on thinking it all alone, as you say---'
'Until the Pattern of your thought floated across the world to me,'
said Daddy proudly. 'I imagined I was inspired; instead I was a common, unoriginal plagiarist!'
'Like all the rest of us,' she laughed.
'Mummie, what _is_ a plagiarist?' asked Jinny instantly; and as Rogers, her husband, and even Minks came hurriedly to her aid, the spell of the strange recital was broken, and out of the turmoil of voices the only thing distinctly heard was Mother exclaiming with shocked surprise:--
'Why, it's ten o'clock! Jimbo, Monkey, please plagiarise off to bed at once!'--in a tone that admitted of no rejoinder or excuses.
'A most singular thing, isn't it, Henry?' remarked the author, coming across to his side when the lamp was lit and the children had said their good-nights.
'I really think we ought to report it to the Psychical Society as a genuine case of thought-transference. You see, what people never properly realise is---'
But Henry Rogers lost the remainder of the sentence even if he heard the beginning, for his world was in a state of indescribable turmoil, one emotion tumbling wildly upon the heels of another. He was elated to intoxication. The room spun round him. The next second his heart sank down into his boots. He only caught the end of the words she was saying to Mother across the room:--
'... but I must positively go to-morrow, I've already stayed too long.
So many things are waiting at home for me to do. I must send a telegram and....'
His cousin's wumbling drowned the rest. He was quite aware that Rogers was not listening to him.
'... your great kindness in writing to him, and then coming yourself,'
Mother was saying. 'It's such an encouragement. I can't tell you how much he--we---'
'And you'll let me write to you about the children,' she interrupted, 'the plans we discussed, you know....'
Rogers broke away from his cousin with a leap. It felt at least like a leap. But he knew not where to go or what to say. He saw Minks standing with Jane Anne again by the fourneau, picking at his ear. By the open window with Mother stood the little visitor. She was leaving to-morrow. A torturing pain like twisting knives went through him. The universe was going out!... He saw the starry sky behind her. Daddy went up and joined them, and he was aware that the three of them talked all at once for what seemed an interminable time, though all he heard was his cousin's voice repeating at intervals, 'But you _can't_ send a telegram before eight o'clock to-morrow morning in any case; the post is closed....'
And then, suddenly, the puzzle reeled and danced before his eyes. It dissolved into a new and startling shape that brought him to his senses with a shock. There had been a swift shuffling of the figures.
Minks and his cousin were helping her into her cloak. She _was_ going.
One of them--he knew not which--was offering politely to escort her through the village.
It sounded like his own sentence of exile, almost of death. Was he forty years of age, or only fifteen? He felt awkward, tongue-tied, terrified.
They were already in the pa.s.sage. Mother had opened the door into the yard.
'But your way home lies down the hill,' he heard the silver voice, 'and to go with me you must come up. I can easily---'
Above the leaves of the plane tree he saw the stars. He saw Orion and the Pleiades. The Fairy Net flung in and caught him. He found his voice.
In a single stride he was beside her. Minks started at his sudden vehemence and stepped aside.
'_I_ will take you home, Countess, if I may,' and his tone was so unnecessarily loud and commanding that Mother turned and stared. 'Our direction lies together. I will come up--with you.'
She did not even look at him. He saw that tiny smile that was like the flicker of a star--no more. But he heard her answer. It seemed to fill the sky.
'Thank you. I might lose my way alone.'
And, before he realised how she managed it, they had crossed the cobbled yard, Daddy was swinging away downhill towards the carpenter's, and Minks behind them, at the top of the stone steps, was saying his last good-night to Mother. With the little visitor beside him, he pa.s.sed the singing fountain and led her down the deserted village street beneath the autumn stars.
Three minutes later they were out of sight... when Minks came down the steps and picked his way among the shadows after Daddy, who had the latch-key of the carpenter's house. He ran to overtake him.
And he ran upon his toes As softly as a saying does, For so the saying goes!
His thoughts were very active, but as clear as day. He was thinking whether German was a difficult language to acquire, and wondering whether a best man at a wedding ought to wear white gloves or not. He decided to ask Albinia. He wrote the letter that very night before he went to sleep.
And, while he slept, Orion pursued the Pleiades across the sky, and numerous shooting stars fastened the great Net of thought and sympathy close over little Bourcelles.
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