Read CHAPTER XVI - PREPARATION of Jimbo A Fantasy , free online book, by Algernon Blackwood, on ReadCentral.com.

Now that he was preparing to leave it, Jimbo began to realise more fully how things in this world of delirium ­so the governess sometimes called it ­were all terribly out of order and confused.  So long as he was wholly in it and of it, everything had seemed all right; but, as he approached his normal condition again, the disorder became more and more apparent.

And the next few hours brought it home with startling clearness, and increased to fever heat the desire for final escape.

It was not so much a nonsense-world ­it was too alarming for that ­as a world of nightmare, wherein everything was distorted.  Events in it were all out of proportion; effects no longer sprang from adequate causes; things happened in a dislocated sort of way, and there was no sequence in the order of their happening.  Tiny occurrences filled him with disproportionate, inconceivable horror; and great events, on the other hand, passed him scathless.  The spirit of disorder ­monstrous, uncouth, terrifying ­reigned supreme; and Jimbo’s whole desire, though inarticulate, was to escape back into order and harmony again.

In contrast to all this dreadful uncertainty, the conduct of the governess stood out alone as the one thing he could count upon:  she was sure and unfailing; he felt absolute confidence in her plans for his safety, and when he thought of her his mind was at rest.  Come what might, she would always be there in time to help.  The adventure over the sea had proved that; but, childlike, he thought chiefly of his own safety, and had ceased to care very much whether she escaped with him or not.  It was the older Jimbo that preferred captivity to escape without her, whereas every minute now he was sinking deeper into the normal child state in which the intuitive flashes from the buried soul became more and more rare.

Meanwhile, there was preparation going on, secret and mysterious.  He could feel it.  Some one else besides the governess was making plans, and the boy began to dread the moment of escape almost as much as he desired it.  The alternative appalled him ­to live for ever in the horror of this house, bounded by the narrow yard, watched by Fright listening ever at his elbow, and visited by the horrible Frightened Children.  Even the governess herself began to inspire him with something akin to fear, as her personality grew more and more mysterious.  He thought of her as she stood by the window, with the branches of the tree visible through her body, and the thought filled him with a dreadful and haunting distress.

But this was only when she was absent; the moment she came into the room, and he looked into her kind eyes, the old feeling of security returned, and he felt safe and happy.

Once, during the day, she came up to see him, and this time with final instructions.  Jimbo listened with rapt attention.

“To-night, or to-morrow night we start,” she said in a quiet voice.  “You must wait till you hear me calling ­”

“But sha’n’t we start together?” he interrupted.

“Not exactly,” she replied.  “I’m doing everything possible to put him off the scent, but it’s not easy, for once Fright knows you he’s always on the watch.  Even if he can’t prevent your escape, he’ll try to send you home to your body with such a shock that you’ll be only ‘half there’ for the rest of your life.”

Jimbo did not quite understand what she meant by this, and returned at once to the main point.

“Then the moment you call I’m to start?”

“Yes.  I shall be outside somewhere.  It depends on the wind and weather a little, but probably I shall be hovering above the trees.  You must dash out of the window and join me the moment you hear me call.  Clear the wall without sinking into the yard, and mind he doesn’t tear your wings off as you fly by.”

“What will happen, though, if I don’t find you?” he asked.

“You might get lost.  If he succeeds in getting me out of the way first, you’re sure to get lost ­”

“But I’ve had long flights without getting lost,” he objected.

“Nothing to this one,” she replied.  “It will be tremendous.  You see, Jimbo, it’s not only distance; it’s change of condition as well.”

“I don’t mind what it is so long as we escape together,” he said, puzzled by her words.

He kept his eyes fixed on her face.  It seemed to him she was changing even as he looked at her.  A sort of veil lifted from her features.  He fancied he could see the shape of the door through her body.

“Oh, please, Miss Lake ­” he began in a frightened voice, taking a step towards her.  “What is the matter?  You look so different!”

“Nothing, dearest boy, is the matter,” she replied faintly.  “I feel sad at the thought of your ­of our going, that’s all.  But that’s nothing,” she added more briskly, “and remember, I’ve told you exactly what to do; so you can’t make any mistake.  Now good-bye for the present.”

There was a smile on her face that he had never seen there before, and an expression of tenderness and love that he could not fail to understand.  But even as he looked she seemed to fade away into a delicate, thin shadow as she moved slowly towards the trap-door.  Jimbo stretched out his arms to touch her, for the moment of dread had passed, and he wanted to kiss her.

“No!” she cried sharply.  “Don’t touch me, child; don’t touch me!”

But he was already close beside her, and in another second would have had his arms round her, when his foot stumbled over something, and he fell forward into her with his full weight.  Instead of saving himself against her body, however, he fell clean through her!  Nothing stopped him; there was no resistance; he met nothing more solid than air, and fell full length upon the floor.  Before he could recover from his surprise and pick himself up, something touched him on the lips, and he heard a voice that was faint as a whisper saying, “Good-bye, darling child, and bless you.”  The next moment he was on his feet again and the room was empty.  The governess had gone through the trap-door, and he was alone.

It was all very strange and confusing, and he could not understand what was happening to her.  He never for a moment realised that the change was in himself, and that as the tie between himself and his body became closer, the things of this other world he had been living in for so long must fade gradually away into shadows and emptiness.

But Jimbo was a brave boy; there was nothing of the coward in him, though his sensitive temperament made him sometimes hesitate where an ordinary child with less imagination would have acted promptly.  The desire to cry he thrust down and repressed, fighting his depression by the thought that within a few hours the voice might sound that should call him to the excitement of the last flight ­and freedom.

The rest of the daylight slipped away very quickly, and the room was full of shadows almost before he knew it.  Then came the darkness.  Outside, the wind rose and fell fitfully, booming in the chimney with hollow music, and sighing round the walls of the house.  A few stars peeped between the branches of the elms, but masses of cloud hid most of the sky, and the air felt heavy with coming rain.

He lay down on the bed and waited.  At the least sound he started, thinking it might be the call from the governess.  But the few sounds he did hear always resolved themselves into the moaning of the wind, and no voice came.  With his eyes on the open window, trying to pierce the gloom and find the stars, he lay motionless for hours, while the night wore on and the shadows deepened.

And during those long hours of darkness and silence he was conscious that a change was going on within him.  Name it he could not, but somehow it made him feel that living people like himself were standing near, trying to speak, beckoning, anxious to bring him back into their own particular world.  The darkness was so great that he could see only the square outline of the open window, but he felt sure that any sudden flash of light would have revealed a group of persons round his bed with arms outstretched, trying to reach him.  The emotion they roused in him was not fear, for he felt sure they were kind, and eager only to help him; and the more he realised their presence, the less he thought about the governess who had been doing so much to make his escape possible.

Then, too, voices began to sound somewhere in the air, but he could not tell whether they were actually in the room, or outside in the night, or only within himself ­in his own head: ­strange, faint voices, whispering, laughing, shouting, crying; fragments of stories, rhymes, riddles, odd names of people and places jostled one another with varying degrees of clearness, now loud, now soft, till he wondered what it all meant, and longed for the light to come.

But besides all this, something else, too, was abroad that night ­something he could not name or even think about without shaking with terror down at the very roots of his being.  And when he thought of this, his heart called loudly for the governess, and the people hidden in the shadows of the room seemed quite useless and unable to help.

Thus he hovered between the two worlds and the two memories, phantoms and realities shifting and changing places every few minutes.

A little light would have saved him much suffering.  If only the moon were up!  Moonlight would have made all the difference.  Even a moon half hidden and misty would have put the shadows farther away from him.

“Dear old misty moon!” he cried half aloud to himself upon the bed, “why aren’t you here to-night?  My last night!”

Misty Moon, Misty Moon!  The words kept ringing in his head.  Misty Moon, Misty Moon!  They swam round in his blood in an odd, tumultuous rhythm.  Every time the current of blood passed through his brain in the course of its circulation it brought the words with it, altered a little, and singing like a voice.

Like a voice!  Suddenly he made the discovery that it actually was a voice ­and not his own.  It was no longer the blood singing in his veins, it was some one singing outside the window.  The sound began faintly and far away, up above the trees; then it came gradually nearer, only to die away again almost to a whisper.

If it was not the voice of the governess, he could only say it was a very good imitation of it.

The words forming out of the empty air rose and fell with the wind, and, taking his thoughts, flung them in a stream through the dark sky towards the hidden, misty moon: 

  “O misty moon,
   Dear, misty moon,
   The nights are long without thee;
   The shadows creep
   Across my sleep,
   And fold their wings about me!”

And another silvery voice, that might have been the voice of a star, took it up faintly, evidently from a much greater distance: 

  “O misty moon,
   Sweet, misty moon,
   The stars are dim behind thee;
   And, lo, thy beams
   Spin through my dreams
   And weave a veil to blind me!”

The sound of this beautiful voice so delighted Jimbo that he sprang from his bed and rushed to the window, hoping that he might be able to hear it more clearly.  But, before he got half-way across the room, he stopped short, trembling with terror.  Underneath his very feet, in the depths of the house, he heard the awful voice he dreaded more than anything else.  It roared out the lines with a sound like the rushing of a great river: 

  “O misty moon,
   Pale misty moon,
   Thy songs are nightly driven,
   Eternally,
   From sky to sky,
   O’er the old, grey Hills of Heaven!”

And after the verse Jimbo heard a great peal of laughter that seemed to shake the walls of the house, and rooted his feet to the floor.  It rolled away with thundering echoes into the very bowels of the earth.  He just managed to crawl back to his mattress and lie down, when another voice took up the song, but this time in accents so tender, that the child felt something within him melt into tears of joy, and he was on the verge of recognising, for the first time since his accident, the voice of his mother: 

  “O misty moon,
   Shy, misty moon,
   Whence comes the blush that trembles
   In sweet disgrace
   O’er half thy face
   When Night her stars assembles?”

But his memory, of course, failed him just as he seemed about to grasp it, and he was left wondering why the sound of that one voice had brought him a moment of radiant happiness in the midst of so much horror and pain.  Meanwhile the answering voices went on, each time different, and in new directions.

But the next verse somehow brought back to him all the terror he had felt in his flight over the sea, when the sound of the hissing waters had reached his ears through the carpet of fog: 

  “O misty moon,
   Persuasive moon,
   Earth’s tides are ever rising;
   By the awful grace
   Of thy weird white face
   Leap the seas to thy enticing!”

Then followed the voice that had started the horrid song.  This time he was sure it was not Miss Lake’s voice, but only a very clever imitation of it.  Moreover, it again ended in a shriek of laughter that froze his blood: 

  “O misty moon,
   Deceiving moon,
   Thy silvery glance brings sadness;
   Who flies to thee,
   From land or sea,
   Shall end ­his ­days ­in ­MADNESS!”

Other voices began to laugh and sing, but Jimbo stopped his ears, for he simply could not bear any more.  He felt certain, too, that these strange words to the moon had all been part of a trap ­a device to draw him to the window.  He shuddered to think how nearly he had fallen into it, and determined to lie on the bed and wait till he heard his companion calling, and knew beyond all doubt that it was she.

But the night passed away and the dawn came, and no voice had called him forth to the last flight.

Hitherto, in all his experiences, there had been only one absolute certainty:  the appearance of the governess with the morning light.  But this time sunrise came and the clouds cleared away, and the sweet smells of field and air stole into the little room, yet without any sign of the governess.  The hours passed, and she did not come, till finally he realised that she was not coming at all, and he would have to spend the whole day alone.  Something had happened to prevent her, or else it was all part of her mysterious “plan.”  He did not know, and all he could do was to wait, and wonder, and hope.

All day long he lay and waited, and all day long he was alone.  The trap-door never once moved; the courtyard remained empty and deserted; there was no sound on the landing or on the stairs; no wind stirred the leaves outside, and the hot sun poured down out of a cloudless sky.  He stood by the open window for hours watching the motionless branches.  Everything seemed dead; not even a bird crossed his field of vision.  The loneliness, the awful silence, and above all, the dread of the approaching night, were sometimes more than he seemed able to bear; and he wanted to put his head out of the window and scream, or lie down on the bed and cry his heart out.  But he yielded to neither impulse; he kept a brave heart, knowing that this would be his last night in prison, and that in a few hours’ time he would hear his name called out of the sky, and would dash through the window to liberty and the last wild flight.  This thought gave him courage, and he kept all his energy for the great effort.

Gradually, once more, the sunlight faded, and the darkness began to creep over the land.  Never before had the shadows under the elms looked so fantastic, nor the bushes in the field beyond assumed such sinister shapes.  The Empty House was being gradually invested; the enemy was masquerading already under cover of these very shadows.

Very soon, he felt, the attack would begin, and he must be ready to act.

The night came down at last with a strange suddenness, and with it the warning of the governess came back to him; he thought quakingly of the stricken children who had been caught and deprived of their wings; and then he pulled out his long red feathers and tried their strength, and gained thus fresh confidence in their power to save him when the time came.