Read CHAPTER X - THE PLUNGE of Jimbo A Fantasy , free online book, by Algernon Blackwood, on ReadCentral.com.

To enter the world of wings is to enter a new state of existence.  The apparent loss of weight; the ability to attain full speed in a few seconds, and to stop suddenly in a headlong rush without fear of collapse; the power to steer instantly in any direction by merely changing the angle of the body; the altered and enormous view of the green world below ­looking down upon forests, seas and clouds; the easy voluptuous rhythm of rising and falling in long, swinging undulations; and a hundred other things that simply defy description and can be appreciated only by actual experience, these are some of the delights of the new world of wings and flying.  And the fearful joy of very high speed, especially when the exhilaration of escape is added to it, means a condition little short of real ecstasy.

Yet Jimbo’s first flight, the governess had been careful to tell him, could not be the flight of final escape; for, even if the wings proved equal to a prolonged effort, escape was impossible until there was somewhere safe to escape to.  So it was understood that the practice flights might be long, or might be short; the important thing, meanwhile, was to learn to fly as well as possible.  For skilled flying is very different to mere headlong rushing, and both courage and perseverance are necessary to acquire it.

With rare common sense Miss Lake had said very little about the possibility of failure.  Having warned him about the importance of not falling, she had then stopped, and the power of suggestion had been allowed to work only in the right direction of certain success.  While the boy knew that the first plunge from the window would be a moment fraught with the highest danger, his mind only recognised the mere off-chance of falling and being caught.  He felt confidence in himself, and by so much, therefore, were the chances of disaster lessened.

For the rest of the afternoon Jimbo saw nothing of his faithful companion; he spent the time practising and resting, and when weary of everything else, he went to the window and indulged in thrilling calculations about the exact height from the ground.  A drop of three storeys into a paved courtyard with a monster waiting to catch him, and a high wall too close to allow a proper swing, was an alarming matter from any point of view.  Fortunately, his mind dwelt more on the delight of prospective flight and freedom than on the chances of being caught.

The yard lay hot and naked in the afternoon glare and the enclosing wall had never looked more formidable; but from his lofty perch Jimbo could see beyond into soft hayfields and smiling meadows, yellow with cowslips and buttercups.  Everything that flew he watched with absorbing interest:  swift blackbirds, whistling as they went, and crows, their wings purple in the sunshine.  The song of the larks, invisible in the sea of blue air sent a thrill of happiness through him ­he, too, might soon know something of that glad music ­and even the stately flight of the butterflies, which occasionally ventured over into the yard, stirred anticipations in him of joys to come.

The day waned slowly.  The butterflies vanished; the rooks sailed homewards through the sunset; the wind dropped away, and the shadows of the high elms lengthened gradually and fell across the window.

The mysterious hour of the dusk, when the standard of reality changes and other worlds come close and listen, began to work its subtle spell upon his soul.  Imperceptibly the shadows deepened as the veil of night drew silently across the sky.  A gentle breathing filled the air; trees and fields were composing themselves to sleep; stars were peeping; wings were being folded.

But the boy’s wings, trembling with life to the very tips of their long feathers, these were not being folded.  Charged with excitement, like himself, they were gathering all their forces for the supreme effort of their first journey out into the open spaces where they might touch the secret sources of their own magical life.

For a long, long time he waited; but at last the trap-door lifted and Miss Lake appeared above the floor.  The moment she stood in the room he noticed that her wings came through two little slits in her gown and folded down close to the body.  They almost touched the ground.

“Hush!” she whispered, holding up a warning finger.

She came over on tiptoe and they began to talk in low whispers.

“He’s on the watch; we must speak very quietly.  We couldn’t have a better night for it.  The wind’s in the south and the moon won’t be up till we’re well on our way.”

Now that the actual moment was so near the boy felt something of fear steal over him.  The night seemed so vast and terrible all of a sudden ­like an immense black ocean with no friendly islands where they could fold their wings and rest.

“Don’t waste your strength thinking,” whispered the governess.  “When the time comes, act quickly, that’s all!”

She went over to the window and peered out cautiously, after a while beckoning the child to join her.

“He is there,” she murmured in his ear.  Jimbo could only make out an indistinct shadowy object crouching under the wall, and he was not even positive of that.

“Does he know we’re going?” he asked in an awed whisper.

“He’s there on the chance,” she muttered, drawing back into the room.  “When there’s a possibility of any one getting frightened he’s bound to be lurking about somewhere near.  That’s Fright all over.  But he can’t hurt you,” she added, “because you’re not going to get frightened.  Besides, he can only fly when it’s dark; and to-night we shall have the moon.”

“I’m not afraid,” declared the boy in spite of a rather fluttering heart.

“Are you ready?” was all she said.

At last, then, the moment had come.  It was actually beside him, waiting, full of mystery and wonder, with alarm not far behind.  The sun was buried below the horizon of the world, and the dusk had deepened into night.  Stars were shining overhead; the leaves were motionless; not a breath stirred; the earth was silent and waiting.

“Yes, I’m ready,” he whispered, almost inaudibly.

“Then listen,” she said, “and I’ll tell you exactly what to do:  Jump upwards from the window ledge as high as you can, and the moment you begin to drop, open your wings and strike with all your might.  You’ll rise at once.  The thing to remember is to rise as quickly as possible, because the wall prevents a long, easy, sweeping rise; and, whatever happens, you must clear that wall!”

“I shan’t touch the ground then?” asked a faint little voice.

“Of course not!  You’ll get near it, but the moment you use your wings you’ll stop sinking, and rise up, up, up, ever so quickly.”

“And where to?”

“To me.  You’ll see me waiting for you above the trees.  Steering will come naturally; it’s quite easy.”

Jimbo was already shaking with excitement.  He could not help it.  And he knew, in spite of all Miss Lake’s care, that Fright was waiting in the yard to catch him if he fell, or sank too near the ground.

“I’ll go first,” added the governess, “and the moment you see that I’ve cleared the wall you must jump after me.  Only do not keep me waiting!”

The girl stood for a minute in silence, arranging her wings.  Her fingers were trembling a little.  Suddenly she drew the boy to her and kissed him passionately.

“Be brave!” she whispered, looking searchingly into his eyes, “and strike hard ­you can’t possibly fail.”

In another minute she was climbing out of the window.  For one second he saw her standing on the narrow ledge with black space at her feet; the next, without even a cry, she sprang out into the darkness, and was gone.

Jimbo caught his breath and ran up to see.  She dropped like a stone, turning over sideways in the air, and then at once her wings opened on both sides and she righted.  The darkness swallowed her up for a moment so that he could not see clearly, and only heard the threshing of the huge feathers; but it was easy to tell from the sound that she was rising.

Then suddenly a black form cleared the wall and rose swiftly in a magnificent sweep into the sky, and he saw her outlined darkly against the stars above the high elm tree.  She was safe.  Now it was his turn.

“Act quickly!  Don’t think!” rang in his ears.  If only he could do it all as quickly as she had done it.  But insidious fear had been working all the time below the surface, and his refusal to recognise it could not prevent it weakening his muscles and checking his power of decision.  Fortunately something of his Older Self came to the rescue.  The emotions of fear, excitement, and intense anticipation combined to call up the powers of his deeper being:  the boy trembled horribly, but the old, experienced part of him sang with joy.

Cautiously he began to climb out on to the window-sill; first one foot and then the other hung over the edge.  He sat there, staring down into black space beneath.

For a minute he hesitated; despair rushed over him in a wave; he could never take that awful jump into emptiness and darkness.  It was impossible.  Better be a prisoner for ever than risk so fearful a plunge.  He felt cold, weak, frightened, and made a half-movement back into the room.  The wings caught somehow between his legs and nearly flung him headlong into the yard.

“Jimbo!  I’m waiting for you!” came at that moment in a faint cry from the stars, and the sound gave him just the impetus he needed before it was too late.  He could not disappoint her ­his faithful friend.  Such a thing was impossible.

He stood upright on the ledge, his hands clutching the window-sash behind, balancing as best he could.  He clenched his fists, drew a deep, long breath, and jumped upwards and forwards into the air.

Up rushed the darkness with a shriek; the air whistled in his ears; he dropped at fearful speed into nothingness.

At first everything was forgotten ­wings, instructions, warnings, and all.  He even forgot to open his wings at all, and in another second he would have been dashed upon the hard paving-stones of the courtyard where his great enemy lay waiting to seize him.

But just in the nick of time he remembered, and the long hours of practice bore fruit.  Out flew the great red wings in a tremendous sweep on both sides of him, and he began to strike with every atom of strength he possessed.  He had dropped to within six feet of the ground; but at once the strokes began to tell, and oh, magical sensation! he felt himself rising easily, lightly, swiftly.

A very slight effort of those big wings would have been sufficient to lift him out of danger, but in his terror and excitement he quite miscalculated their power, and in a single moment he was far out of reach of the dangerous yard and anything it contained.  But the mad rush of it all made his head swim; he felt dizzy and confused, and, instead of clearing the wall, he landed on the top of it and clung to the crumbling coping with hands and feet, panting and breathless.

The dizziness was only momentary, however.  In less than a minute he was on his feet and in the act of taking his second leap into space.  This time it came more easily.  He dropped, and the field swung up to meet him.  Soon the powerful strokes of his wings drove him at great speed upwards, and he bounded ever higher towards the stars.

Overhead, the governess hovered like an immense bird, and as he rose up he caught the sound of her wings beating the air, while far beneath him, he heard with a shudder a voice like the rushing of a great river.  It made him increase his pace, and in another minute he found himself among the little whirlwinds that raced about from the beating of Miss Lake’s great wings.

“Well done!” cried the delighted governess.  “Safe at last!  Now we can fly to our heart’s content!”

Jimbo flew up alongside, and together they dashed forward into the night.