A Prisoner in Fairyland/Chapter 29

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A Prisoner in Fairyland by Algernon Blackwood
Chapter 29
     Think with passion
     That shall fashion
     Life's entire design, well planned.
                  ''Woman of the Haystack''.

'You are looking so wonderfully well, Mr. Rogers,' Minks observed at Charing Cross Station, 'the passage across the Channel, I trust, was calm.'

'And yourself and Mrs. Minks?' asked Rogers, looking into the equally sunburned face of his secretary, remembering suddenly that he had been to the sea with his family; 'Frank, too, and the other children? All well, I hope?'

'All in excellent health, Mr. Rogers, thanks to your generous thought. My wife---'

'These are the small bags,' the other interrupted, 'and here are the keys for my portmanteaux. There's nothing dutiable. You might bring them on to the flat while I run over to the Club for a bit of supper, Minks.'

'Certainly, with pleasure, Mr. Rogers,' was the beaming reply. 'And Mrs. Minks begged me to tell you---'

Only Rogers was already in his taxi-cab and out of ear-shot.

'How well he looks!' reflected Minks, dangling the keys, accustomed to these abrupt interruptions, and knowing that his message had been understood and therefore duly delivered. These cut-off sentences were like a secret code between them. 'And ten years younger! Almost like a boy again. I wonder if---' He did not permit himself to finish the thought. He tried to remember if he himself had looked like that perhaps in the days of long ago when he courted Albinia Lucy--an air of joy and secrecy and an absent-minded manner that might any moment flame into vehement, concentrated action. For this was the impression his employer had made upon him. Only he could not quite remember those far-off, happy days. There was ecstasy in them; that he knew. And there was ecstasy in Henry Rogers now; that he divined.

'He oughtn't to,' he reflected, as he hurried in another taxi with the luggage. 'All his yearnings would be satisfied if he did, his life flow into a single channel instead of into many.'

He did not think about his own position and his salary.

'He won't,' he decided as the cab stopped at the door; 'he's not that kind of man.' Minks had insight; he knew men. 'No artist ever ought to. We are so few, and the world has need of us.' His own case was an exception that had justified itself, for he was but a man of talent, and talent did not need an exclusive asceticism; whereas his employer was a man of genius, and no one woman had the right to monopolise what was intended to sweeten the entire universe.

By the time the luggage had been taken up, he had missed the last tram home, and his sleep that night must in any case be short. Yet he took no note of that. One must live largely. A small sacrifice for such a master was nothing at all. He lingered, glancing now and again at the heap of correspondence that would occupy them next morning, and sorting once more the little pile that would need immediate personal attention. He was picking a bit of disfiguring fluff from his coat sleeve when the door opened and Henry Rogers came upon him.

'Ah! I waited a moment, Mr. Rogers. I thought you might have something to say before I went, perhaps.'

'I hoped you would, Minks. I have a great deal to say. It can wait till to-morrow, really--only I wanted--but, there now, I forgot; you have to get down to Sydenham, haven't you? And it's late already---'

'That's nothing, Mr. Rogers. I can easily sleep in town. I came prepared, indeed, to do so---' as though he, too, had his Club and would take a bedroom in it.

'Clever and thoughtful of you, Minks!'

'Only you must be tired after your journey,' suggested the secretary.

'Tired!' exclaimed the other vigorously, 'not a bit! I'm as fresh as a st--a daisy, I mean. Come, draw your chair up; we'll have a smoke and a little chat. I'm delighted to see you again. How are you? And how's everything?'

Goodness! How bright his eyes were, how alert his manner! He looked so young, almost springy, thought Minks, as he obeyed decorously, feeling flattered and pleased, yet at the same time uneasy a little. Such spirits could only proceed, he feared, from one cause. He was a close observer, as all poets had need to be. He would discover some clue before he went to bed, something that should betray the true state of affairs. In any case sleep would be impossible unless he did.

'You stayed away somewhat longer than you originally intended,' he ventured at length, having briefly satisfied his employer's question. 'You found genuine recreation. You needed it, I'm sure.' He glanced with one eye at the letters.

'Re-creation, yes; the very word. It was difficult to leave. The place was so delightful,' said Rogers simply, filling his pipe and lighting it. 'A wonderful mountain village, Minks,' he added, between puffs of smoke, while the secretary, who had been waiting for the sign, then lit his own Virginian and smoked it diffidently, and with just the degree of respect he felt was becoming. He never presumed upon his master's genial way of treating him. He made little puffs and was very careful with the ashes.

'Ah, yes,' he said; 'I am sure it must have been--both delightful and --er--difficult to leave.' He recalled the Margate sands, bathing with Albinia and digging trenches with the children. He had written many lyrics during those happy weeks of holiday.

'Gave one, in fact, quite a new view of life--and work. There was such space and beauty everywhere. And my cousin's children simply would not let me go.'

There was a hint of apology and excuse in the tone and words--the merest hint, but Minks noticed it and liked the enthusiasm. 'He's been up to some mischief; he feels a little ashamed; his work--his Scheme-- has been so long neglected; conscience pricks him. Ha, ha!' The secretary felt his first suspicion confirmed. 'Cousin's children,' perhaps! But who else?

'He made a tactful reference--oh, very slight and tentative--to the data he had collected for the Scheme, but the other either did not hear it, or did not wish to hear it. He brushed it aside, speaking through clouds of tobacco smoke. Minks enjoyed a bigger, braver puff at his own. Excitement grew in him.

'Just the kind of place you would have loved, Minks,' Rogers went on with zeal. 'I think you really must go there some day; cart your family over, teach the children French, you know, and cultivate a bit of vineyard. Such fine big forests, too, full of wild flowers and things--O such lovely hand-made things--why, you could almost see the hand that made 'em.' The phrase had slipped suddenly into his mind.

'Really, really, Mr. Rogers, but how very jo--delightful it sounds.' He thought of the stubble fields and treeless sea-coast where he had been. The language, however, astonished him. Enthusiasm like this could only spring from a big emotion. His heart sank a little.

'And the people all so friendly and hospitable and simple that you could go climbing with your bootmaker or ask your baker in to dine and sleep. No snobbery! Sympathy everywhere and a big free life flowing in your veins.' This settled it. Only a lover finds the whole world lovable.

'One must know the language, though,' said Minks, 'in order to enjoy the people and understand them, I suppose?'

'Not a bit, not a bit! One feels it all, you see; somehow one feels it and understands. A few words useful here and there, but one gets along without even these. I never knew such a place. Every one seemed to be in sympathy together. They think it, as it were. It was regular fairyland, I tell you.'

'Which means that you felt and thought it,' said Minks to himself. Aloud he merely remarked, though with conviction, for he was getting interested, 'Thinking is important, I know.'

Rogers laid his pipe aside and suddenly turned upon him--so abruptly that Minks started. Was this the confession coming? Would he hear now that his chief was going to be married? His wandering eyes almost drew level in the excitement that he felt. He knocked a tiny ash from his cigarette and waited. But the expected bomb did not explode. He heard instead this curious question:--

'And that's something--it reminds me now--something I particularly wanted to ask you about, my dear fellow. You are familiar, I know, with such things and theories--er--speculations, as it were. You read that sort of stuff. You are in touch with the latest ideas, I mean, and up-to-date. You can tell me, if any one can.'

He paused, hesitating a moment, as Minks, listening in some bewilderment, gazed into his eager face. He said nothing. He only committed himself to a deprecating gesture with his hands, letting his cigarette slip from his fingers on to the carpet.

'About thought,' continued Rogers, keeping his eyes fixed upon him while he rose with flushed face from the search to find the stump. 'What do you know about thought? Tell me what you hear about that-- what theories are held--what people believe about it. I mean thought- transference, telepathy, or whatever it is called. Is it proved? Is it a fact?'

His voice had lowered. There was mystery in his manner. He sat back in his chair, picked up his pipe, replaced it in his mouth unlighted, and waited.

Minks pulled himself together. His admirable qualities as a private secretary now came in. Putting excitement and private speculations of his own aside, he concentrated his orderly mind upon replies that should be models of succinct statement. He had practised thought- control, and prided himself upon the fact. He could switch attention instantly from one subject to another without confusion. The replies, however, were, of course, drawn from his own reading. He neither argued nor explained. He merely stated.

'Those who have taken the trouble to study the evidence believe,' he began, 'that it is established, though its laws are as yet unknown. Personally, if I may quote myself, I do believe it.'

'Quite so, quite so. Do quote yourself--that's what I want--facts. But you refer to deliberate experiments, don't you?'

'In my own case, yes, Mr. Rogers, although the most successful thought-transference is probably unconscious and not deliberate---'

'Such as, for instance---'

'Public opinion,' replied Minks, after a moment's search, 'which is the result of waves of thought sent out by everybody--by a community; or by the joint thinking of a nation, again, which modifies every mind born into that nation, the result of' centuries of common thinking along definite familiar channels. Thought-currents rush everywhere about the world, affecting every one more or less, and--er-- particularly lodging in minds receptive to them.'

'Thought is dynamic, then, they hold?'

'An actual force, yes; as actual as electricity, and as little understood,' returned the secretary, proud that he had read these theories and remembered them. 'With every real thought a definite force goes forth from you that modifies every single person, and probably every single object as well, in the entire world. Thought is creative according to its intensity. It links everybody in the world with everybody else---'

'Objects too, you say?' Rogers questioned.

Minks glanced up to make sure there was no levity in the question, but only desire for knowledge.

'Objects too,' he replied, apparently satisfied, 'for science tells us that the movement of a body here affects the farthest star. A continuous medium--ether--transmits the vibrations without friction-- and thought-force is doubtless similarly transmitted--er---'

'So that if I think of a flower or a star, my thought leaps into them and affects them?' the other interrupted again.

'More, Mr. Rogers,' was the reply, 'for your thought, being creative, enriches the world with images of beauty which may float into another mind across the sea, distance no obstacle at all. You make a mental image when you think. There's imagination in all real thinking--if I make myself clear. "Our most elaborate thoughts," to quote for a moment, "are often, as I think, not really ours, but have on a sudden come up, as it were, out of hell or down out of heaven." So what one thinks affects everybody in the world. The noble thinkers lift humanity, though they may never tell their thoughts in speech or writing.'

His employer stared at him in silence through the cloud of smoke. The clock on the mantelpiece struck half-past twelve.

'That is where the inspiration of the artist comes in,' continued the secretary after a moment's hesitation whether he should say it or not, 'for his sensitive soul collects them and gives them form. They lodge in him and grow, and every passionate longing for spiritual growth sets the whole world growing too. Your Scheme for Disabled---'

'Even if it never materialises---' Rogers brusquely interposed.

'Sweetens the world--yes--according to this theory,' continued Minks, wondering what in the world had come over his chief, yet so pleased to state his own views that he forgot to analyse. 'A man in a dungeon earnestly praying would accomplish more than an active man outside who merely lived thoughtlessly, even though beneficently--if I make myself clear.'

'Yes, yes; you make yourself admirably clear, Minks, as I knew you would.' Rogers lit his pipe again and puffed hard through a minute's silence. The secretary held his peace, realising from the tone of the last sentence that he had said enough. Mr. Rogers was leading up to other questions. Hitherto he had been clearing the ground.

It came then, through the clouds of smoke, though Minks failed to realise exactly why it was--so important:

'So that if I thought vividly of anything, I should. actually create a mental picture which in turn might slip into another's mind, while that other would naturally suppose it was his own?'

'Exactly, Mr. Rogers; exactly so.' Minks contrived to make the impatience in his voice sound like appreciation of his master's quickness. 'Distance no obstacle either,' he repeated, as though fond of the phrase.

'And, similarly, the thought I deemed my own might have come in its turn from the mind of some one else?'

'Precisely; for thought binds us all together like a network, and to think of others is to spread oneself about the universe. When we think thus we get out--as it were--into that medium common to all of us where spirit meets spirit---'

'Out!' exclaimed Rogers, putting down his pipe and staring keenly, first into one eye, then into the other. 'Out?'

'Out--yes,' Minks echoed faintly, wondering why that particular word was chosen. He felt a little startled. This earnest talk, moreover, stirred the subconsciousness in him, so that he remembered that unfinished sonnet he had begun weeks ago at Charing Cross. If he were alone now he could complete it. Lines rose and offered themselves by the dozen. His master's emotion had communicated itself to him. A breath of that ecstasy he had already divined passed through the air between them.

'It's what the Contemplative Orders attempt---' he continued, yet half to himself, as though a little bemused.

'Out, by George! Out!' Rogers said again.

So emphatic was the tone that Minks half rose from his chair to go.

'No, no,' laughed his chief; 'I don't mean that you're to get out. Forgive my abruptness. The fact is I was thinking aloud a moment. I meant--I mean that you've explained a lot to me I didn't understand before--had never thought about, rather. And it's rather wonderful, you see. In fact, it's very wonderful. Minks,' he added, with the grave enthusiasm of one who has made a big discovery, 'this world is a very wonderful place.'

'It is simply astonishing, Mr. Rogers,' Minks answered with conviction, 'astonishingly beautiful.'

'That's what I mean,' he went on. 'If I think beauty, that beauty may materialise---'

'Must, will, does materialise, Mr. Rogers, just as your improvements in machinery did. You first thought them out!'

'Then put them into words; yes, and afterwards into metal. Strong thought is bound to realise itself sooner or later, eh? Isn't it all grand and splendid?'

They stared at one another across the smoky atmosphere of the London flat at the hour of one in the morning in the twentieth century.

'And when I think of a Scaffolding of Dusk that builds the Night,' Rogers went on in a lower tone to himself, yet not so low that Minks, listening in amazement, did not catch every syllable, 'or of a Dustman, Sweep, and Lamplighter, of a Starlight Express, or a vast Star Net that binds the world in sympathy together, and when I weave all these into a story, whose centre somehow is the Pleiades--all this is real and actual, and--and---'

'May have been projected by another mind before it floated into your own,' Minks suddenly interposed almost in a whisper, charmed wholly into the poet's region by these suggestive phrases, yet wondering a little why he said it, and particularly how he dared to say it.

His chief turned sharply upon him.

'My own thought exactly!' he exclaimed; 'but how the devil did you guess it?'

Minks returned the stare with triumph.

'Unconscious transference!' he said.

'You really think that?' his master asked, yet not mockingly.

Minks turned a shade pinker.

'I do, indeed, sir,' he replied warmly. 'I think it probable that the thoughts of people you have never seen or heard of drop into your mind and colour it. They lodge there, or are rejected, according to your mood and the texture of your longings--what you want to be, that is. What you want, if I may say so, is emptiness, and that emptiness invites. The flying thought flits in and makes itself at home. Some people overflow with thoughts of kindness and beauty that radiate from them, of love and tenderness and desire to help. These thoughts, it may be, find no immediate object; but they are not lost. They pour loose about the world of men and women, and sooner or later find the empty heart that needs them. I believe, sir, that to sit in a chair and think such things strongly brings comfort to thousands who have little idea whence comes the sudden peace and happiness. And any one who happens to be praying for these things at the moment attracts them instantly. The comfort, the joy, the relief come---'

'What a good idea, Minks,' said Rogers gently, 'and how helpful if we all believed it. No one's life need be a failure then. Those who want love, for instance, need it, crave it, just think what an army they are!'

He stared thoughtfully a moment at his little secretary.

'You might write a book about it, you know--try and make people believe it--convince them. Eh? Only, you'd have to give your proofs, you know. People want proofs.'

Minks, pinker than before, hesitated a moment. He was not sure how far he ought to, indulge his private theories in words. The expression in his chief's blue eyes apparently encouraged him.

'But, indeed, Mr. Rogers, the proofs are there. Those moments of sudden strength and joy that visit a man, catching him unawares and unexplained--every solitary man and woman knows them, for every solitary man and woman in the world craves first of all--to be loved. To love another, others, an impersonal Cause, is not enough. It is only half of life; to be loved is the other half. If every single person--I trust, sir, I do not tire you?--was loved by some one, the happiness of life would be enormously greater than it is, for each one loved would automatically then give out from his own store, and to receive love makes one overflow with love for every one else. It is so, is it not, sir?'

Rogers, an odd thrill catching him unawares, nodded. 'It is, Minks, it is,' he agreed. 'To love one person makes one half prepared to love all, and to be loved in turn may have a similar effect. It is nice to think so anyhow.'

'It is true, sir----' and Minks sat up, ready with another deluge.

'But you were saying something just now,' interrupted the other, 'about these sudden glimpses of joy and beauty that--er--come to one-- er--inexplicably. What d'ye mean by that precisely?'

Minks glowed. He was being listened to, and understood by his honoured chief, too!

'Simply that some one, perhaps far away--some sweet woman probably-- has been thinking love,' he replied with enthusiasm, yet in a low and measured voice, 'and that the burning thoughts have rushed into the emptiness of a heart that needs them. Like water, thought finds its level. The sudden gush--all feel it more or less at times, surely!-- may rise first from her mind as she walks lonely upon the shore, pacing the decks at sea, or in her hillside rambles, thinking, dreaming, hoping, yearning--to pour out and find the heart that needs these very things, perhaps far across the world. Who knows? Heart thrills in response to heart secretly in every corner of the globe, and when these tides flood unexplained into your soul---'

'Into my soul---!' exclaimed his chief.

'I beg your pardon, sir,' Minks hurried to explain; 'I mean to any lonely soul that happens to crave such comfort with real longing--it implies, to my mind at least, that these two are destined to give and take from one another, and that, should they happen to meet in actual life, they will rush together instantly like a pair of flames---'

'And if they never--meet?' asked Rogers slowly, turning to the mantel- piece for the matches.

'They will continue to feed each other in this delicious spiritual way from a distance, sir. Only--the chances are--that they will meet, for their thought already connects them vitally, though as yet unrealised.'

There was a considerable pause. Rogers lit his pipe. Minks, feeling he ought to stand while his master did so, also rose from his chair. The older man turned; they faced each other for a moment, Rogers putting smoke violently into the air between them.

'Minks, my dear fellow,' he observed, 'you are, as I have always thought, a poet. You have ideas, and, whether true or not, they are rather lovely. Write them out for others to read. Use your spare time writing them out. I'll see to it that you have more leisure.'

With a laugh the big man moved abruptly past his chair and knocked his pipe on the edge of the ash-bowl. His eye, as he did so, fell upon the pile of letters and papers arranged so neatly on the table. He remembered the lateness of the hour--and other things besides.

'Well, well,' he said vaguely with a sigh; 'so here we are again back at work in London.'

Minks had turned, too, realising that the surprising conversation was over. A great excitement was in him. He did not feel in the least tired. An unusual sense of anticipation was in the air. He could not make it out at all. Reviewing a dozen possibilities at once, he finally rejected the romantic one he had first suspected, and decided that the right moment had at last come to say something of the Scheme. He had worked so hard to collect data. All was in perfect order. His chief could not feel otherwise than pleased.

'Then I'll be saying good-night, Mr. Rogers,' he began, 'for you must be very tired, and I trust you will enjoy a long night's rest. Perhaps you would like me to come a little later in the morning than usual.'

He stood looking affectionately at the formidable pile of correspondence, and, as his chief made no immediate reply, he went on, with more decision in his voice:

'Here,' he said, touching the papers he had carefully set on one side, 'are all the facts you wanted referring to your great Scheme---'

He jumped. His master's fist had come down with a bang upon the table. He stepped back a pace. They stared at one another.

'Damn the Scheme!' cried Rogers. 'have done and finished with it. Tear up the papers. Cancel any arrangements already made. And never mention the thing again in my hearing. It's all unreal and wrong and unnecessary!'

Minks gasped. The man was so in earnest. What could it mean?

'Wrong--unnecessary--done with!' he faltered. Then, noticing the flashing eyes that yet betrayed a hint of merriment in their fire, he added quickly, 'Quite so, Mr. Rogers; I understand. You've got an improvement, you mean?'

It was not his place to ask questions, but he could not contain himself. Curiosity and disappointment rushed over him.

'A bigger and a better one altogether, Minks,' was the vehement reply. He pushed the heap of papers towards the secretary. Minks took them gingerly, reluctantly.

'Burn 'em up,' Rogers went on, 'and never speak to me again about the blessed thing. I've got a far bigger Scheme than that.'

Minks slowly gathered the papers together and put them in his biggest pocket. He knew not what to think. The suddenness of the affair dazed him. Thought-transference failed this time; he was too perturbed, indeed, to be in a receptive state at all. It seemed a catastrophe, a most undesirable and unexpected climax. The romantic solution revived in him--but only for a passing moment. He rejected it. Some big discovery was in the air. He felt that extraordinary sense of anticipation once again.

'Look here, my dear fellow, Minks,' said Rogers, who had been watching his discomfiture with amusement, 'you may be surprised, but you need not be alarmed. The fact is, this has been coming for a long time; it's not an impulsive decision. You must have felt it--from my letters. That Scheme was all right enough, only I am not the right man for it. See? And our work,' he added laughingly, 'won't go for nothing either, because our thought will drop into another mind somewhere that will accomplish the thing far better than I could have accomplished it.'

Minks made an odd gesture, as who should say this might not be true. He did not venture upon speech, however. This new plan must be very wonderful, was all he thought just then. His faith in his employer's genius was complete.

'And in due time you shall hear all about it. Have a little patience. Perhaps you'll get it out of my thoughts before I tell it to you,' he smiled, 'but perhaps you won't. I can only tell you just now that it has beauty in it---a beauty of the stars.'

Yet what his bigger Scheme was he really had no clear idea. He felt it coming-that was all!

And with that Minks had to be content. This was dismissal. Good-nights were said, and the secretary went out into the street.

'Go to a comfortable hotel,' was the last thing he heard, 'and put it down to me, of course. Sleep well, sleep well. To-morrow at two o'clock will do.'

Minks strolled home, walking upon air. The sky was brilliant with its gorgeous constellations--the beauty of the stars. Poems blazed upon him. But he was too excited to compose. Even first lines evaded capture. 'Stars,' besides, was a dreadful word to rhyme with, for all its charm and loveliness. He knew of old that the only word was 'wars,' most difficult to bring in naturally and spontaneously, and with the wrong sound in any case.

'He must have been writing poetry out there,' he reflected finally, 'or else living it. Living it, probably. He's a grand fellow anyhow, grand as a king.' Stars, wars, kings, thrones-=the words flew in and out among a maze of unaccomplished lines.

But the last thing in his mind as he curled up to sleep in the strange bed was that he had delivered his wife's message, but that he could not tell her about this sudden collapse of the great, long-talked-of Scheme. Albinia would hardly understand. She might think less of his chief. He would wait until the new one dawned upon the horizon with its beauty of the stars. Then he would simply overwhelm her with it, as his temperament loved to do.