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... The sun,
In a southern-facing room on the first floor of La Citadelle the English family sat after tea. The father, a spare, mild-eyed man, his thatch of brown hair well sprinkled with grey above the temples, was lighting his pipe for the tenth time-the tenth match, but the same pipeful of tobacco; and his wife, an ample, motherly woman, slightly younger than himself, was knitting on the other side of the open fireplace, in which still glowed a mass of peat ashes. From time to time she stirred them with a rickety pair of tongs, or with her foot kicked into the grate the matches he invariably threw short upon the floor. But these were adventures ill-suited to her. Knitting was her natural talent. She was always knitting.
By the open window stood two children, a boy and a girl of ten and twelve respectively, gazing out into the sunshine. It was the end of April, and though the sun was already hot, there was a sharpness in the air that told of snow still lying on the mountain heights behind the village. Across vineyard slopes and patches of agricultural land, the Lake of Neuchatel lay blue as a southern sea, while beyond it, in a line of white that the sunset soon would turn to pink and gold, stretched the whole range of Alps, from Mont Blanc to where the Eiger and the Weisshorn signalled in the east. They filled the entire horizon, already cloud-like in the haze of coming summer.
The door into the corridor opened, and a taller child came in. A mass of dark hair, caught by a big red bow, tumbled untidily down her back. She was sixteen and very earnest, but her eyes, brown like her father's, held a curious puzzled look, as though life still confused her so much that while she did her duties bravely she did not quite understand why it should be so.
'Excuse me, Mother, shall I wash up?' she said at once. She always did wash up. And 'excuse me' usually prefaced her questions.
'Please, Jane Anne,' said Mother. The entire family called her Jane Anne, although her baptismal names were rather fine. Sometimes she answered, too, to Jinny, but when it was a question of household duties it was Jane Anne, or even 'Ria.'
She set about her duties promptly, though not with any special deftness. And first she stooped and picked up the last match her father had dropped upon the strip of carpet that covered the linoleum.
'Daddy,' she said reprovingly, 'you do make such a mess.' She brushed tobacco ashes from his coat. Mother, without looking up, went on talking to him about the bills-washing, school-books, boots, blouses, oil, and peat. And as she did so a puzzled expression was visible in his eyes akin to the expression in Jane Anne's. Both enjoyed a similar mental confusion sometimes as to words and meanings and the import of practical life generally.
'We shan't want any more now, thank goodness,' he said vaguely, referring to the peat, though Mother was already far ahead, wading among boots and shirts and blouses.
'But if we get a load in now, you see, it's cheaper,' she said with emphasis on every alternate word, slowing up the pace to suit him.
'Mother, where did you put the washing-up rag?' came the voice of Jinny in plaintive accents from the tiny kitchen that lay beyond the adjoining bedroom. 'I can't find it anywhere,' she added, poking her head round the door suddenly.
'Pet lamb,' was Mother's answer, still bending over her knitting-she was prodigal of terms like this and applied them indiscriminately, for Jane Anne resembled the animal in question even less than did her father--'I saw it last on the geranium shelf--you know, where the fuchsias and the-' She hesitated, she was not sure herself. 'I'll get it, my duckie, for you,' she added, and began to rise. She was a voluminous, very stately woman. The operation took time.
'Let me,' said Daddy, drawing his mind with difficulty from the peat, and rising too. They rose together.
'It's all right, I've got it,' cried the child, who had disappeared again. 'It was in the sink. That's Jimbo; he washed up yesterday.'
'Pas vrai!' piped a little voice beside the open window, overhearing his name, 'because I only dried. It was Monkey who washed up.' They talked French and English all mixed up together.
But Monkey was too busy looking at the Alps through an old pair of opera-glasses, relic of her father's London days that served for telescope, to think reply worth while. Her baptismal names were also rather wonderful, though neither of her parents could have supplied them without a moment's reflection first. There was commotion by that window for a moment but it soon subsided again, for things that Jinny said never provoked dissension, and Jimbo and Monkey just then were busy with a Magic Horse who had wings of snow, and was making fearful leaps from the peaks of the Dent du Midi across the Blumlisalp to the Jungfrau.
'Will you please carry the samovar for me?' exclaimed Jane Anne, addressing both her parents, as though uncertain which of them would help her. 'You filled it so awfully full to-day, I can't lift it. I advertise for help.'
Her father slowly rose. 'I'll do it, child,' he said kindly, but with a patience, almost resignation, in his tone suggesting that it was absurd to expect such a thing of him. 'Then do exactly as you think best,' he let fall to his wife as he went, referring to the chaos of expenses she had been discussing with him. 'That'll be all right.' For his mind had not yet sorted the jumble of peat, oil, boots, school- books, and the rest. 'We can manage THAT at any rate; you see it's francs, not shillings,' he added, as Jane Anne pulled him by the sleeve towards the steaming samovar. He held the strings of an ever empty purse.
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A Prisoner in Fairyland -by- Algernon Blackwood