Read CHAPTER XII - THE FOUR WINDS of Jimbo A Fantasy , free online book, by Algernon Blackwood, on ReadCentral.com.

The governess left the boy to his own reflections almost immediately.  He spent the hours thinking and resting; going over again in his mind every incident of the great flight and wondering when the real, final escape would come, and what it would be like.  Thus, between the two states of excitement he forgot for a while that he was still a prisoner, and the spell of horror was lifted temporarily from his heart.

The day passed quickly, and when Miss Lake appeared in the evening, she announced that there could be no flying again that night, and that she wished instead to give him important instruction for the future.  There were rules, and signs, and times which he must learn carefully.  The time might come when he would have to fly alone, and he must be prepared for everything.

“And the first thing I have to tell you,” she said, exactly as though it was a schoolroom, “is:  Never fly over the sea. Our kind of wings quickly absorb the finer particles of water and get clogged and heavy over the sea.  You finally cannot resist the drawing power of the water, and you will be dragged down and drowned.  So be very careful!  When you are flying high it is often difficult to know where the land ends and the sea begins, especially on moonless nights.  But you can always be certain of one thing:  if there are no sounds below you ­hoofs, voices, wheels, wind in trees ­you are over the sea.”

“Yes,” said the child, listening with great attention.  “And what else?”

“The next thing is:  Don’t fly too high. Though we fly like birds, remember we are not birds, and we can fly where they can’t.  We can fly in the ether ­”

“Where’s that?” he interrupted, half afraid of the sound.

She stooped and kissed him, laughing at his fear.

“There is nothing to be frightened about,” she explained.  “The air gets lighter and lighter as you go higher, till at last it stops altogether.  Then there’s only ether left.  Birds can’t fly in ether because it’s too thin.  We can, because ­”

“Is that why it was good for me to get lighter and thinner?” he interrupted again in a puzzled voice.

“Partly, yes.”

“And what happens in the ether, please?” It still frightened him a little.

“Nothing ­except that if you fly too high you reach a point where the earth ceases to hold you, and you dash off into space.  Weight leaves you then, and the wings move without effort.  Faster and faster you rush upwards, till you lose all control of your movements, and then ­”

Miss Lake hesitated a moment.

“And then ?” asked the fascinated child.

“You may never come down again,” she said slowly.  “You may be sucked into anything that happens to come your way ­a comet, or a shooting star, or the moon.”

“I should like a shooting star best,” observed the boy, deeply interested.  “The moon frightens me, I think.  It looks so dreadfully clean.”

“You won’t like any of them when the time comes,” she laughed.  “No one ever gets out again who once gets in.  But you’ll never be caught that way after what I’ve told you,” she added, with decision.

“I shall never want to fly as high as that, I’m sure,” said Jimbo.  “And now, please, what comes next?”

The next thing, she went on to explain, was the weather, which, to all flying creatures, was of the utmost importance.  Before starting for a flight he must always carefully consider the state of the sky, and the direction in which he wished to go.  For this purpose he must master the meaning and character of the Four Winds and be able to recognise them in a moment.

“Once you know these,” she said, “you cannot possibly go wrong.  To make it easier, I’ve put each Wind into a little simple rhyme, for you.”

“I’m listening,” he said eagerly.

“The North Wind is one of the worst and most dangerous, because it blows so much faster than you think.  It’s taken you ten miles before you think you’ve gone two.  In starting with a North Wind, always fly against it; then it will bring you home easily.  If you fly with it, you may be swept so far that the day will catch you before you can get home; and then you’re as good as lost.  Even birds fly warily when this wind is about.  It has no lulls or resting-places in it; it blows steadily on and on, and conquers everything it comes against ­everything except the mountains.”

“And its rhyme?” asked Jimbo, all ears.

  “It will show you the joy of the birds, my child,
   You shall know their terrible bliss;
   It will teach you to hide, when the night is wild,
   From the storm’s too passionate kiss. 
      For the Wind of the North
      Is a volleying forth
      That will lift you with springs
      In the heart of your wings,
      And may sweep you away
      To the edge of the day. 
   So, beware of the Wind of the North, my child,
   Fly not with the Wind of the North!”

“I think I like him all the same,” said Jimbo.  “But I’ll remember always to fly against him.”

“The East Wind is worse still, for it hurts,” continued the governess.  “It stings and cuts.  It’s like the breath of an ice-creature; it brings hail and sleet and cold rain that beat down wings and blind the eyes.  Like the North Wind, too, it is dreadfully swift and full of little whirlwinds, and may easily carry you into the light of day that would prove your destruction.  Avoid it always; no hiding-place is safe from it.  This is the rhyme: 

  “It will teach you the secrets the eagles know
   Of the tempests’ and whirlwinds’ birth;
   And the magical weaving of rain and snow
   As they fall from the sky to the earth. 
      But an Easterly wind
      Is for ever unkind;
      It will torture and twist you
      And never assist you,
      But will drive you with might
      To the verge of the night. 
   So, beware of the Wind of the East, my child,
   Fly not with the Wind of the East.”

“The West Wind is really a very nice and jolly wind in itself,” she went on, “but it’s dangerous for a special reason:  it will carry you out to sea.  The Empty House is only a few miles from the coast, and a strong West Wind would take you there almost before you had time to get down to earth again.  And there’s no use struggling against a really steady West Wind, for it’s simply tireless.  Luckily, it rarely blows at night, but goes down with the sun.  Often, too, it blows hard to the coast, and then drops suddenly, leaving you among the fogs and mists of the sea.”

“Rather a nice, exciting sort of wind though,” remarked Jimbo, waiting for the rhyme.

  “So, at last, you shall know from their lightest breath
   To which heaven each wind belongs;
   And shall master their meaning for life or death
   By the shout of their splendid songs. 
      Yet the Wind of the West
      Is a wind unblest;
      It is lifted and kissed
      By the spirits of mist;
      It will clasp you and flee
      To the wastes of the sea. 
   So, beware of the Wind of the West, my child,
   Fly not with the Wind of the West!”

“A jolly wind,” observed Jimbo again.  “But that doesn’t leave much over to fly with,” he added sadly.  “They all seem dangerous or cruel.”

“Yes,” she laughed, “and so they are till you can master them ­then they’re kind, only one that’s really always safe and kind is the Wind of the South.  It’s a sweet, gentle wind, beloved of all that flies, and you can’t possibly mistake it.  You can tell it at once by the murmuring way it stirs the grasses and the tops of the trees.  Its taste is soft and sweet in the mouth like wine, and there’s always a faint perfume about it like gardens in summer.  It is the joy of this wind that makes all flying things sing.  With a South Wind you can go anywhere and no harm can come to you.”

“Dear old South Wind,” cried Jimbo, rubbing his hands with delight.  “I hope it will blow soon.”

“Its rhyme is very easy, too, though you will always be able to tell it without that,” she added.

  “For this is the favourite Wind of all,
      Beloved of the stars and night;
   In the rustle of leaves you shall hear it call
      To the passionate joys of flight. 
   It will carry you forth in its wonderful hair
      To the far-away courts of the sky,
   And the breath of its lips is a murmuring prayer
      For the safety of all who fly. 
        For the Wind of the South
        Is like wine in the mouth,
        With its whispering showers
        And perfume of flowers,
        When it falls like a sigh
        From the heart of the sky.”

“Oh!” interrupted Jimbo, rubbing his hands, “that is nice.  That’s my wind!”

  “It will bear you aloft
   With a pressure so soft
   That you hardly shall guess
   Whose the gentle caress.”

“Hooray!” he cried again.

    “It’s the kindest of weathers
     For our red feathers,
     And blows open the way
     To the Gardens of Play. 
  So, fly out with the Wind of the South, my child,
  With the wonderful Wind of the South.”

“Oh, I love the South Wind already,” he shouted, clapping his hands again.  “I hope it will blow very, very soon.”

“It may be rising even now,” answered the governess, leading him to the window.  But, as they gazed at the summer landscape lying in the fading light of the sunset, all was still and resting.  The air was hushed, the leaves motionless.  There was no call just then to flight from among the tree-tops, and he went back into the room disappointed.

“But why can’t we escape at once?” he asked again, after he had given his promise to remember all she had told him, and to be extra careful if he ever went out flying alone.

“Jimbo, dear, I’ve told you before, it’s because your body isn’t ready for you yet,” she answered patiently.  “There’s hardly any circulation in it, and if you forced your way back now the shock might stop your heart beating altogether.  Then you’d be really dead, and escape would be impossible.”

The boy sat on the edge of the bed staring intently at her while she spoke.  Something clutched at his heart.  He felt his Older Self, with its greater knowledge, rising up out of the depths within him.  The child struggled with the old soul for possession.

“Have you got any circulation?” he asked abruptly at length.  “I mean, has your heart stopped beating?”

But the smile called up by his words froze on her lips.  She crossed to the window and stood with her back to the fading light, avoiding his eyes.

“My case, Jimbo, is a little different from yours,” she said presently.  “The important thing is to make certain about your escape.  Never mind about me.”

“But escape without you is nothing,” he said, the Older Self now wholly in possession.  “I simply wouldn’t go.  I’d rather stay here ­with you.”

The governess made no reply, but she turned her back to the room and leaned out of the window.  Jimbo fancied he heard a sob.  He felt a great big heart swelling up within his little body, and he crossed over beside her.  For some minutes they stood there in silence, watching the stars that were already shining faintly in the sky.

“Whatever happens,” he said, nestling against her, “I shan’t go from here without you.  Remember that!”

He was going to say a lot more, but somehow or other, when she stooped over to kiss his head ­he hardly came up to her shoulder ­it all ran suddenly out of his mind, and the little child dropped back into possession again.  The tide of his thoughts that seemed about to rise, fast and furious, sank away completely, leaving his mind a clean-washed slate without a single image; and presently, without any more words, the governess left him and went through the trap-door into the silence and mystery of the house below.

Several hours later, about the middle of the night, there came over him a most disagreeable sensation of nausea and dizziness.  The ground rose and fell beneath his feet, the walls swam about sideways, and the ceiling slid off into the air.  It only lasted a few minutes, however, and Jimbo knew from what she had told him that it was the Flying Sickness which always followed the first long flight.

But, about the same time, another little body, lying in a night-nursery bed, was being convulsed with a similar attack; and the sickness of the little prisoner in the Empty House had its parallel, strangely enough, in the half-tenanted body miles away in a different world.