FAIRIES

Harry lay quite still under a great tree, his chin propped on his hands,
his eyes fixed upon a spot in the glade where he knew there was a fairy
ring, upon which he was sure that if he gazed long enough with his eyes
clear and his brain free, he would see the gossamer fairies dancing.
His couch of beech-mast was dry under him, and not a breath of air
stirred the warmth that had settled there during a sunny day, though
cool fingers seemed to be touching his cheeks now and then, as of the
spirit of the young spring. He was happy and at peace with himself, and
his happiness grew as the long minutes passed over him. His world was
whole and good all around him. His life contained no regrets and no
unfulfilled desires, except this one of learning the secret of his
happiness, which touched him as the fingers of the still April night
were touching him, to more alertness, not to any trouble or disturbance
of mind. Besides, the secret was coming to him at last. He must
believe that, or it would not come. And he did believe it. He no more
doubted that he would see the fairies under to-night’s moon than he
doubted of his body, lying there motionless. Indeed, his spirit was
more alive than his body, which was in a strange state of quiescence, so
that it was not difficult to keep perfectly still for as long as it
should be necessary, and no discomfort arose from his immobility.

If Lady Brent was sometimes criticized, as she was, for keeping the boy
away from the intercourse that prepared other boys of his age and rank
for playing their part in the world, and the criticism had reached her
ears, she need have done no more than point to him as he was at the
threshold of his manhood, for justification. Shut up in a great house,
with two women and a lazy tame-cat of a man; never seeing anybody
outside from one year’s end to another; no young people about him; no
chance even of playing a game with other boys—those were the
accusations, brought by Mrs. Fearon, for instance, wife of the Rector of
Poldaven, seven miles away, who had sons and daughters round about
Harry’s age, would have liked them to be in constant companionship with
him, and was virulent against Lady Brent, because she would have no such
companionship in any degree whatsoever. The boy would grow up a regular
milksop. He couldn’t always be kept shut up at Royd, and when he did go
out into the world the foolish woman would see what a mistake she had
made. His own father had made a pretty mess of it, and his early death
was no doubt a blessing in disguise. Harry would have even less
experience to guide him. It would be a wonder if he did not kick over
the traces entirely, and bring actual disgrace upon his name.

Thus Mrs. Fearon, not too happy in the way her own sons were turning
out, though they had had all the advantages that Harry lacked, and at
her wits’ end to cope with the discontent of her elder daughters.

Poldaven Rectory was the only house of any size within a seven-mile
radius of Royd except Poldaven Castle, which was hardly ever inhabited.
One summer, when Harry was about eight years old, Lady Avalon brought
her young family there, and settled them with nurses and governess,
while she herself made occasional appearances to see how they were
getting on. There was going and coming during that summer between Royd
and Poldaven. Harry would be taken there to play with the little
Pawles, and a carriage full of them would appear every now and then to
spend a long day at Royd. Of all the large family, there was only one
with whom he found himself in accord. The little Lords were noisy and
grasping, the little Ladies dull and mincing. But one of the girls,
Sidney, of exactly the same age as himself, was different from the rest.
The two children would go off together, and when out of sight of nurses
and governess Sidney became quite natural and they would talk and play
games entirely happy in one another’s company until they were discovered
by the rest, and the disputes would begin again, and the eternal
cleavage between male and female. Lady Avalon happened to be there,
they were encouraged to be together and she and Lady Brent would have
their heads close as they watched them. A sweet little couple, hand in
hand—the boy so straight and handsome, the girl so pretty and naturally
gay. There was match-making going on, and the nurses were in it too,
and left them alone together, and often prevented the other children
from seeking them out.

When the Pawle children went away after their secluded summer, Harry and
Sidney kissed gravely, under command of the head-nurse, who called them
“little sweet’earts.” But the kiss meant nothing to Harry, since he had
been told to proffer it. He would rather have kissed Lady Ursula, a
large-eyed pink and flaxen damsel of twelve, for whom he had an
admiration, though she never had much to say to him, and there was no
interest in her companionship as there was in Sidney’s. He missed Sidney
when they went away, but not for long, and by this time he had almost
forgotten her. For Poldaven Castle had remained empty ever since that
summer, and if Lady Brent had formed any premature matrimonial plans for
her grandson she seemed to have forgotten them, for she scarcely ever
mentioned the names of her one-time neighbours, and never that of Sidney
Pawle, except once when the news of Lady Ursula’s marriage was in all
the papers. Then she said that Ursula was a beautiful girl, but Sidney
had always been her favourite. Harry looked at the picture of bride and
bridesmaids. He remembered how he had admired Ursula’s beauty, and she
was beautiful now, but he hardly recognized her; grown-up, she seemed a
generation older. Sidney was recognizable in the photograph; she was
not yet grown up. But she looked different too, in her silken finery.
Lady Avalon must have been economizing in her children’s clothes during
that summer at Poldaven, for the girls had never been dressed in
anything more elaborate than linen and rough straw. Somehow this
bridesmaid Sidney was different from his old playmate. He could not
imagine her playing the Princess to his rescuing knight, as she had done
once or twice when they had got quite away by themselves; or indeed his
letting her into any of that kind of secret, now. He put the paper away
and forgot her afresh.

Harry played no outdoor games in his boyhood, except the games he made
up for himself. But he was a horseman from his earliest years. Lady
Brent encouraged it, when he was once old enough to go to the stables
without fear of danger. He had first a tiny little Shetland, then a
forest-bred pony, and a horse when he was big enough to ride one. He
roamed all over the country, happy to be by himself and indulge his
daydreams. His handsome young face and slim supple boy’s figure were
known far and wide. He had friends among farmers and cottage people,
but the few of his own class who lived in that sparsely populated
country he was inclined to avoid. They thought it was by his
grandmother’s direction, but though it suited her that he should do so,
it was in truth from a kind of shyness that he kept away from them. His
isolation was beginning to bear fruit. The boys of his own age whom he
occasionally came across seemed to have nothing in common with him, nor
he with them. The girls eyed him curiously, if admiringly, and he had
nothing to talk to them about. He was happier by himself, or with his
horse and his dogs. But he was never really by himself. He could always
conjure up brave knights and gentle ladies to ride with him through the
woods or by the sea, if he wanted company. There was a whole world of
varied characters about him, from the highest to the lowest, and his
imagination did not stop at mortal companionship; he walked with gods
and heroes as often as with men and women.

No one about him suspected this inner life of his, as real to him as his
outer life, and still more important. To his mother and grandmother he
was a bright active boy, with the outdoor tastes of a boy, who slept
soundly, ate enormously, and behaved himself just as a well brought-up
boy should. To his tutor he was a pleasant companion during the hours
they spent together, and one who did credit to his teaching. Wilbraham
had his scholarly tastes and perceptions. He would have hated the
drudgery of teaching an ordinary boy who made heavy work of his lessons,
but this boy took an interest in them. It is true that there were
surprising gaps in the course of study that they followed. Greek and
Latin, and English and French literature took up very nearly all their
time and attention. Wilbraham looked forward with some apprehension to
the time when he should have to tell Lady Brent that in order to prepare
Harry for any examination extra cramming would be necessary by somebody
else in the subjects that he had neglected. But at sixteen the boy was
a fair classical scholar, and his range of reading was wider than that
of many University honours men.




Harry was fortunate in having the Vicar to help and encourage him in his
Natural History studies, for this was a subject in which Wilbraham took
no interest. Mr. Thomson was an old bachelor, who had been Vicar of Royd
for over forty years. His house was a museum, and Harry revelled in it.
No doubt he would have developed his tastes in that direction without
any guidance, but Mr. Thomson put him on the right lines, and was
overjoyed, at the end of his life, to have so apt a pupil. He took him
out birds’ nesting, geologizing, botanizing, and encouraged him to form
his own collections though the boy showed no great keenness in this form
of acquisition. He wanted to know about everything around him but to
collect specimens did not greatly interest him. However, he was proud
enough when the old man died and bequeathed to him all his treasures. At
this time he was arranging them in a couple of rooms that had been given
up to them in the Castle. But the excitement was already beginning to
wear a little thin. When he was not working with Wilbraham he always
wanted to be out of doors, even in bad weather. And he missed his old
friend; it made him rather sad to be poring over the cases and shelves
and cabinets that had been so much a part of him.

Part of the old Vicar’s preoccupation had been with the antiquities of
the country in which he had lived. He had collected legends and
folk-lore, perhaps in rather a dry-as-dust way; but it was all material
for the boy’s glowing imagination to work upon. All the books were
there, now in Harry’s possession, and many manuscript notes, too. And
scattered over the country were the remnants of old beliefs and old
rites, which took one right back to the dim ages of the past. There was
a cromlech within the park walls of Royd itself, and from it could be
seen a shining stretch of sea under which lay, according to ancient
tradition, a deep-forested land that had once been alive with romance.
All this was very real to Harry, too. The figures of Celtic heroes
mixed themselves up with those of the classical gods and heroes. The
fairies and pixies of his own romantic land were still more real to him
than the fauns and dryads of ancient Greece; as he grew older his
expectation of meeting with a stray woodland nymph during his forest
rambles died away, but he was more firmly convinced than ever that the
native fairies were all about him, if he could only see them.

He lay for a very long time under the beech, quite motionless, but with
his senses acutely alert. He heard every tiny sound made by the
creatures of the night, and of nature which sleeps but lightly under the
moon, and took in all their meaning, but without thinking about them.
The shadow cast by the tree under which he was lying had shifted an
appreciable space over the brightly illumined grass since he had stirred
a muscle. And all the time his expectation grew.

He was in a strangely exalted state, but penetrated through and through
with a deep sense of calm, and of being in absolute tune with the time
and place. If no revelation of the hidden meaning of nature came to him
to-night, before the set of the moon, he would arise and go home, not
disappointed and vaguely unhappy, as he had done before, but with his
belief in that hidden meaning destroyed. Only he knew now that that
could not happen. When he had stolen out into the night, he had hoped
that he might see something that he had never seen before. Now he knew
that he would. He had only to wait until the revelation should come.
And he was quite content to wait, in patience that grew if anything as
the shadows lengthened towards the east.

He made not the slightest movement, nor was conscious of any quickening
of emotion, when the sight he had expected did break upon his eyes. It
came suddenly, but with no sense of suddenness. At one moment there was
the empty moon-white glade, at the next there were tiny fairies dancing
in a ring, so sweet, so light, so gay. And in the middle of them,
rhythmically waving her wand, was the queen—Titania perhaps, but he did
not think about that until afterwards. Their wings were iridescent,
from their gauzy garments was diffused faint light, hardly brighter than
the light of the moon, hardly warmer, and yet different, with more glow
in it, more colour.

He heard the silvery chime of their laughter—just once. Then where they
had been there was nothing.

He arose at once. He had no expectation of seeing them again. He did
not go down to the place where they had been, but made his way home by a
path under the trees. His mind was full of a deep content. The fairies
were, and he had seen them.