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The sweet spring winds came laughing down the street, bearing a voice that mingled with their music.
Daddy! Daddy! vite; il y a un paquet!' sounded in a child's excited cry. 'It arrives this afternoon. It's got the Edinburgh postmark. Here is the notice. C'est enorme!'
The figure of Jimbo shot round the corner, dancing into view. He waved a bit of yellow paper in his hand. A curious pang tore its way into the big man's heart as he saw him--a curious, deep, searching pain that yet left joy all along its trail. Positively moisture dimmed his eyes a second.
But Jimbo belonged to some one else.
Daddy's wumbled head projected instantly again from the window beneath.
'A box?' he asked, equally excited. 'A box from Scotland? Why, we had one only last month. Bless their hearts! How little they know what help and happiness. ... 'The rest of the sentence disappeared with the head; and a moment later Jimbo was heard scampering up the stairs. Both men went out to meet him.
The little boy was breathless with excitement, yet the spirit of the man of affairs worked strongly in him. He deliberately suppressed hysterics. He spoke calmly as might be, both hands in his trouser- pockets beneath the blouse of blue cotton that stuck out like a ballet skirt all round. The belt had slipped down. His eyes were never still. He pulled one hand out, holding the crumpled paper up for inspection.
'It's a paquet,' he said, 'comme ca.' He used French and English mixed, putting the latter in for his cousin's benefit. He had little considerate ways like that. It's coming from Scotland, et puis ca pese soixante-quinze kilos. Oh, it's big. It's enormous. The last one weighed,' he hesitated, forgetful, 'much, much less,' he finished. He paused, looking like a man who has solved a problem by stating it.
'One hundred and fifty pounds,' exclaimed his father, just as eager as the boy. 'Let me look,' and he held his hand out for the advice from the railway. 'What can be in it?'
'Something for everybody,' said Jimbo decidedly. 'All the village knows it. It will come by the two o'clock train from Bale, you know.' He gave up the paper unwillingly. It was his badge of office. 'That's the paper about it,' he added again.
Daddy read out slowly the advice of consignment, with dates and weights and address of sender and recipient, while Jimbo corrected the least mistake. He knew it absolutely by heart.
'There'll be dresses and boots for the girls this time,' he announced, 'and something big enough for Mother to wear, too. You can tell---'
'How can you tell?' asked Daddy, laughing slyly, immensely pleased about it all.
'Oh, by the weight of the paquet, comme ca,' was the reply. 'It weighs 75 kilos. That means there must be something for Mummy in it.'
The author turned towards his cousin, hiding his smile. 'It's a box of clothes,' he explained, 'from my cousins in Scotland, Lady X you know, and her family. Things they give away--usually to their maids and what-not. Awfully good of them, isn't it? They pay the carriage too,' he added. It was an immense relief to him.
'Things they can't wear,' put in Jimbo, 'but very good things-- suits, blouses, shirts, collars, boots, gloves, and--oh, toute sorte de choses comme ca.'
'Isn't it nice of 'em,' repeated Daddy. It made life easier for him-- ever so much easier. 'A family like that has such heaps of things. And they always pay the freight. It saves me a pretty penny I can tell you. Why, I haven't bought the girls a dress for two years or more. And Edward's dressed like a lord, I tell you,' referring to his eldest boy now at an expensive tutor's. 'You can understand the excitement when a box arrives. We call it the Magic Box.'
Rogers understood. It had puzzled him before why the children's clothes, Daddy's and Mummy's as well for that matter, were such an incongruous assortment of village or peasant wear, and smart, well-cut garments that bore so obviously the London mark.
'They're very rich indeed,' said Jimbo. 'They have a motor car. These are the only things that don't fit them. There's not much for me usually; I'm too little yet. But there's lots for the girls and the others.' And 'the others,' it appeared, included the Widow Jequier, the Postmaster and his wife, the carpenter's family, and more than one household in the village who knew the use and value of every centimetre of ribbon. Even the retired governesses got their share. No shred or patch was ever thrown away as useless. The assortment of cast-off clothing furnished Sunday Bests to half the village for weeks to come. A consignment of bullion could not have given half the pleasure and delight that the arrival of a box produced.
But midi was ringing, and dejeuner had to be eaten first. Like a meal upon the stage, no one ate sincerely; they made a brave pretence, but the excitement was too great for hunger. Every one was in the secret--the Postmaster (he might get another hat out of it for himself) had let it out with a characteristic phrase: 'Il y a un paquet pour la famille anglaise!' Yet all feigned ignorance. The children exchanged mysterious glances, and afterwards the governesses hung about the Post Office, simulating the purchase of stamps at two o'clock. But every one watched Daddy's movements, for he it was who would say the significant words.
And at length he said them. 'Now, we had better go down to the station,' he observed casually, 'and see if there is anything for us.' His tone conveyed the impression that things often arrived in this way; it was an everyday affair. If there was nothing, it didn't matter much. His position demanded calmness.
'Very well,' said Jimbo. 'I'll come with you.' He strutted off, leading the way.
'And I, and I,' cried Monkey and Jane Anne, for it was a half-holiday and all were free. Jimbo would not have appeared to hurry for a kingdom.
'I think I'll join you, too,' remarked Mother, biting her lips, 'only please go slowly.' There were hills to negotiate.
They went off together in a party, and the governesses watched them go. The Widow Jequier put her head out of the window, pretending she was feeding the birds. Her sister popped out opportunely to post a letter. The Postmaster opened his guichet window and threw a bit of string into the gutter; and old Miss Waghorn, just then appearing for her daily fifteen minutes' constitutional, saw the procession and asked him, 'Who in the world all those people were?' She had completely forgotten them. 'Le barometre a monte,' he replied, knowing no word of English, and thinking it was her usual question about the weather. He reported daily the state of the barometer. 'Vous n'aurez pas besoin d'un parapluie.' 'Mercy,' she said, meaning merci.
The train arrived, and with it came the box. They brought it up themselves upon the little hand-cart--le char. It might have weighed a ton and contained priceless jewels, the way they tugged and pushed, and the care they lavished on it. Mother puffed behind, hoping there would be something to fit Jimbo this time.
'Shall we rest a moment?' came at intervals on the hill, till at last Monkey said, 'Sit on the top, Mummy, and we'll pull you too.' And during the rests they examined the exterior, smelt it, tapped it, tried to see between the cracks, and ventured endless and confused conjectures as to its probable contents.
They dragged the hand-cart over the cobbles of the courtyard, and heaved the box up the long stone staircase. It was planted at length on the floor beside the bed of Mlle. Lemaire, that she might witness the scene from her prison windows. Daddy had the greatest difficulty in keeping order, for tempers grow short when excitement is too long protracted. The furniture was moved about to make room. Orders flew about like grape-shot. Everybody got in everybody else's way. But finally the unwieldy packing-case was in position, and a silence fell upon the company.
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A Prisoner in Fairyland -by- Algernon Blackwood