Part 3 out of 3
poking under the bed for his shoes, when I sat up and grimly
regarded him. Just as he said I could come if I liked, Charlotte
slipped in, her face rigid and set. And then it was borne in
upon me that I was not on in this scene. These youngsters had
planned it all out, the piece was their own, and the
mounting, and the cast. My sceptre had fallen, my rule had
ceased. In this magic hour of the summer night laws went for
nothing, codes were cancelled, and those who were most in touch
with the moonlight and the warm June spirit and the topsy-
turvydom that reigns when the clock strikes ten, were the true
lords and lawmakers.
Humbly, almost timidly, I followed without a protest in the wake
of these two remorseless, purposeful young persons, who were
marching straight for the schoolroom. Here in the moonlight the
grim big box stood visible--the box in which so large a portion
of our past and our personality lay entombed, cold, swathed in
paper, awaiting the carrier of the morning who should speed them
forth to the strange, cold, distant Children's Hospital, where
their little failings would all be misunderstood and no one
would make allowances. A dreamy spectator, I stood idly by
while Harold propped up the lid and the two plunged in their arms
and probed and felt and grappled.
"Here's Rosa," said Harold, suddenly. "I know the feel of her
hair. Will you have Rosa out?"
"Oh, give me Rosa!" cried Charlotte with a sort of gasp. And
when Rosa had been dragged forth, quite unmoved apparently,
placid as ever in her moonfaced contemplation of this comedy-
world with its ups and downs, Charlotte retired with her to the
window-seat, and there in the moonlight the two exchanged their
private confidences, leaving Harold to his exploration alone.
"Here's something with sharp corners," said Harold, presently.
"Must be Leotard, I think. Better let HIM go."
"Oh, yes, we can't save Leotard," assented Charlotte,
Poor old Leotard! I said nothing, of course; I was not on in
this piece. But, surely, had Leotard heard and rightly
understood all that was going on above him, he must have sent up
one feeble, strangled cry, one faint appeal to be rescued from
unfamiliar little Annies and retained for an audience certain to
appreciate and never unduly critical.
"Now I've got to the Noah's Ark," panted Harold, still groping
"Try and shove the lid back a bit," said Charlotte, "and pull out
a dove or a zebra or a giraffe if there's one handy."
Harold toiled on with grunts and contortions, and presently
produced in triumph a small grey elephant and a large beetle with
a red stomach.
"They're jammed in too tight," he complained. "Can't get any
more out. But as I came up I'm sure I felt Potiphar!" And down
he dived again.
Potiphar was a finely modelled bull with a suede skin, rough
and comfortable and warm in bed. He was my own special joy and
pride, and I thrilled with honest emotion when Potiphar emerged
to light once more, stout-necked and stalwart as ever.
"That'll have to do," said Charlotte, getting up. "We dursn't
take any more, 'cos we'll be found out if we do. Make the box
all right, and bring 'em along."
Harold rammed down the wads of paper and twists of straw he had
disturbed, replaced the lid squarely and innocently, and picked
up his small salvage; and we sneaked off for the window most
generally in use for prison-breakings and nocturnal escapades. A
few seconds later and we were hurrying silently in single file
along the dark edge of the lawn.
Oh, the riot, the clamour, the crowding chorus, of all silent
things that spoke by scent and colour and budding thrust and
foison, that moonlit night of June! Under the laurel-shade all
was still ghostly enough, brigand-haunted, crackling, whispering
of night and all its possibilities of terror. But the open
garden, when once we were in it--how it turned a glad new face to
welcome us, glad as of old when the sunlight raked and searched
it, new with the unfamiliar night-aspect that yet welcomed us as
guests to a hall where the horns blew up to a new, strange
banquet! Was this the same grass, could these be the same
familiar flower-beds, alleys, clumps of verdure, patches of
sward? At least this full white light that was flooding them was
new, and accounted for all. It was Moonlight Land, and Past-Ten-
o'clock Land, and we were in it and of it, and all its other
denizens fully understood, and, tongue-free and awakened at last,
responded and comprehended and knew. The other two, doubtless,
hurrying forward full of their mission, noted little of all
this. I, who was only a super, had leisure to take it all in,
and, though the language and the message of the land were not all
clear to me then, long afterwards I remembered and understood.
Under the farthest hedge, at the loose end of things, where the
outer world began with the paddock, there was darkness once
again--not the blackness that crouched so solidly under the
crowding laurels, but a duskiness hung from far-spread arms of
high-standing elms. There, where the small grave made a darker
spot on the grey, I overtook them, only just in time to see Rosa
laid stiffly out, her cherry cheeks pale in the moonlight, but
her brave smile triumphant and undaunted as ever. It was a tiny
grave and a shallow one, to hold so very much. Rosa once in,
Potiphar, who had hitherto stood erect, stout-necked, through so
many days and such various weather, must needs bow his head
and lie down meekly on his side. The elephant and the beetle,
equal now in a silent land where a vertebra and a red circulation
counted for nothing, had to snuggle down where best they might,
only a little less crowded than in their native Ark.
The earth was shovelled in and stamped down, and I was glad that
no orisons were said and no speechifying took place. The whole
thing was natural and right and self-explanatory, and needed no
justifying or interpreting to our audience of stars and flowers.
The connexion was not entirely broken now--one link remained
between us and them. The Noah's Ark, with its cargo of sad-faced
emigrants, might be hull down on the horizon, but two of its
passengers had missed the boat and would henceforth be always
near us; and, as we played above them, an elephant would
understand, and a beetle would hear, and crawl again in
spirit along a familiar floor. Henceforth the spotty horse would
scour along far-distant plains and know the homesickness of alien
stables; but Potiphar, though never again would he paw the arena
when bull-fights were on the bill, was spared maltreatment by
town-bred strangers, quite capable of mistaking him for a cow.
Jerry and Esmeralda might shed their limbs and their stuffing, by
slow or swift degrees, in uttermost parts and unguessed corners
of the globe; but Rosa's book was finally closed, and no worse
fate awaited her than natural dissolution almost within touch and
hail of familiar faces and objects that had been friendly to her
since first she opened her eyes on a world where she had never
been treated as a stranger.
As we turned to go, the man in the moon, tangled in elm-boughs,
caught my eye for a moment, and I thought that never had he
looked so friendly. He was going to see after them, it was
evident; for he was always there, more or less, and it was no
trouble to him at all, and he would tell them how things were
still going, up here, and throw in a story or two of his own
whenever they seemed a trifle dull. It made the going away
rather easier, to know one had left somebody behind on the spot;
a good fellow, too, cheery, comforting, with a fund of anecdote;
a man in whom one had every confidence.