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THE LAND OF MEMORY
THE Fairy Bérylune had told the Children that the Land of Memory was not far off; but to reach it you had to go through a forest that was so dense and so old that your eyes could not see the tops of the trees. It was always shrouded in a heavy mist; and the Children would certainly have lost their way, if the Fairy had not said to them beforehand:
"It is straight ahead; and there is only one road."
The ground was carpeted with flowers which were all alike: they were snow-white pansies and very pretty; but, as they never saw the sun, they had no scent.
Those little flowers comforted the Children, who felt extremely lonely. A great mysterious silence surrounded them; and they trembled a little with a very pleasant sense of fear which they had never felt before.
"Let's take Granny a bunch of flowers," said Mytyl. "That's a good idea! She will be pleased!" cried Tyltyl. And, as they walked along, the Children gathered a beautiful white nosegay. The dear little things did not know that every pansy (which means "a thought") that they picked brought them nearer to their grandparents; and they soon saw before them a large oak with a notice-board nailed to it.
"Here we are!" cried the boy in triumph, as, climbing up on a root, he read:
"The Land of Memory."
They had arrived; but they turned to every side without seeing a thing:
"I can see nothing at all!" whimpered Mytyl. "I'm cold!... I'm tired!… I don't want to travel any more!"
Tyltyl, who was wholly wrapped up in his errand, lost his temper:
"Come, don't keep on crying just like Water!... You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" he said. "There! Look! Look! The fog is lifting!"
And, sure enough, the mist parted before their eyes, like veils torn by an invisible hand; the big trees faded away, everything vanished and, instead, there appeared a pretty little peasant's cottage, covered with creepers and standing in a little garden filled with flowers and with trees all over fruit.
The Children at once knew the dear cow in the orchard, the watch-dog at the door, the blackbird in his wicker cage; and everything was steeped in a pale light and a warm and balmy air.
Tyltyl and Mytyl stood amazed. So that was the Land of Memory! What lovely weather it was! And how nice it felt to be there! They at once made up their minds to come back often, now that they knew the way. But how great was their happiness when the last veil disappeared and they saw, at a few steps from them, Grandad and Granny sitting on a bench, sound asleep. They clapped their hands and called out gleefully:
"It's Grandad! It's Granny!... There they are! There they are!"
But they were a little scared by this great piece of magic and dared not move from behind the tree; and they stood looking at the dear old couple, who woke up gently and slowly under their eyes. Then they heard Granny Tyl's quavering voice say:
"I have a notion that our grandchildren who are still alive are coming to see us to-day."
And Gaffer Tyl answered:
"They are certainly thinking of us, for I feel anyhow and I have pins and needles in my legs."
"I think they must be quite near," said Granny, "for I see tears of joy dancing before my eyes and..."
Granny had not time to finish her sentence. The Children were in her arms!... What joy! What wild kisses and huggings! What a wonderful surprise! The happiness was too great for words. They laughed and tried to speak and kept on looking at one another with delighted eyes it was so glorious and so unexpected to meet again like this. When the first excitement was over, they all began to talk at once:
"How tall and strong you've grown, Tyltyl!" said Granny.
And Grandad cried:
"And Mytyl! Just look at her! What pretty hair, what pretty eyes!"
And the Children danced and clapped their hands and flung themselves by turns into the arms of one or the other.
At last, they quieted down a little; and, with Mytyl nestling against Grandad's chest and Tyltyl comfortably perched on Granny's knees, they began to talk of family affairs:
"How are Daddy and Mummy Tyl?" asked Granny.
"Quite well, Granny," said Tyltyl. "They were asleep when we went out."
Granny gave them fresh kisses and said:
"My word, how pretty they are and how nice and clean!... Why don't you come to see us oftener? It is months and months now that you have forgotten us and that we have seen nobody .... "
"We couldn't, Granny," said Tyltyl, "and to-day it's only because of the Fairy . ."
"We are always here," said Granny Tyl, "waiting for a visit from those who are alive. The last time you were here was on All-hallows .... "
"All-hallows? We didn't go out that day, for we both had colds!"
"But you thought of us! And, every time you think of us, we wake up and see you again."
Tyltyl remembered that the Fairy had told him this. He had not thought it possible then; but now, with his head on the heart of the dear Granny whom he had missed so much, he began to understand things and he felt that his grandparents had not left him altogether. He asked: "So you are not really dead?...."
The old couple burst out laughing. When they exchanged their life on earth for another and a much nicer and more beautiful life, they had forgotten the word "dead."
"What does that word 'dead' mean?" asked Gaffer Tyl.
"Why, it means that one's no longer alive!" said Tyltyl. Grandad and Granny only shrugged their shoulders:
"How stupid the Living are, when they speak of the Others!" was all they said.
And they went over their memories again, rejoicing in being able to chat.
All old people love discussing old times. The future is finished, as far as they are concerned; and so they delight in the present and the past. But we are growing impatient, like Tyltyl; and, instead of listening to them, we will follow our little friend's movements.
He had jumped off Granny's knees and was poking about in every corner, delighted at finding all sorts of things which he knew and remembered:
"Nothing is changed, everything is in its old place!" he cried. And, as he had not been to the old people's home for so long, everything struck him as much nicer; and he added, in the voice of one who knows, "Only everything is prettier!... Hullo, there's the clock with the big hand which I broke the point off and the hole which I made in the door, the day I found Grandad's gimlet..."
"Yes, you've done some damage in your time!" said Grandad. "And there's the plum-tree which you were so fond of climbing, when I wasn't looking."
Meantime, Tyltyl was not forgetting his errand:
"You haven't the Blue Bird here by chance, I suppose?" At the same moment, Mytyl, lifting her head, saw a cage:
"Hullo, there's the old blackbird!... Does he still sing?"
As she spoke, the blackbird woke up and began to sing at the top of his voice.
"You see," said Granny, "as soon as one thinks of him..."
Tyltyl was simply amazed at what he saw:
"But he's blue!" he shouted. "Why, that's the bird, the Blue Bird!... He's blue, blue, blue as a blue glass marble!... Will you give him to me?"
The grandparents gladly consented; and, full of triumph, Tyltyl went and fetched the cage which he had left by the tree. He took hold of the precious bird with the greatest of care; and it began to hop about in its new home.
"How pleased the Fairy will be!" said the boy, rejoicing at his conquest. "And Light too!"
"Come along," said the grandparents. "Come and look at the cow and the bees."
As the old couple were beginning to toddle across the garden, the children suddenly asked if their little dead brothers and sisters were there too. At the same moment, seven little children, who, up to then, had been sleeping in the house, came tearing like mad into the garden. Tyltyl and Mytyl ran up to them. They all hustled and hugged one another and danced and whirled about and uttered screams of joy.
"Here they are, here they are!" said Granny. "As soon as you speak of them, they are there, the imps!"
Tyltyl caught a little one by the hair:
"Hullo, Pierrot! So we're going to fight again, as in the old days!... And Robert!... I say, Jean, what's become of your top?.... Madeleine and Pierrette and Pauline!... And here's Riquette!..."
"Riquette's still crawling on all fours!"
Tyltyl noticed a little dog yapping around them:
"There's Kiki, whose tail I cut off with Pauline's scissors... He hasn't changed either..."
"No," said Gaffer Tyl, in a voice of great importance, "nothing changes here!"
But, suddenly, amid the general rejoicings, the old people stopped spell-bound: they had heard the small voice of the clock indoors strike eight!
"How's this?" they asked. "It never strikes nowadays .... "
"That's because we no longer think of the time," said Granny. "Was any one thinking of the time?"
"Yes, I was," said Tyltyl. "So it's eight o'clock?... Then I'm off, for I promised Light to be back before nine .... "
He was going for the cage, but the others were too happy to let him run away so soon: it would be horrid to say good-bye like that! Granny had a good idea: she knew what a little glutton Tyltyl was. It was just supper-time and, as luck would have it, there was some capital cabbage-soup and a beautiful plum-tart.
"Well," said our hero, "as I've got the Blue Bird! . . And cabbage-soup is a thing you don't have every day!…"
They all hurried and carried the table outside and laid it with a nice white table-cloth and put a plate for each; and, lastly, Granny brought out the steaming soup-tureen in state. The lamp was lit and the grandparents and grandchildren sat down to supper, jostling and elbowing one another and laughing and shouting with pleasure. Then, for a time, nothing was heard but the sound of the wooden spoons noisily clattering against the soup-plates.
"How good it is! Oh, how good it is!" shouted Tyltyl, who was eating greedily. "I want some more! More! More! More!"
"Come, come, a little more quiet," said Grandad.
"You're just as ill-behaved as ever; and you'll break your plate ...."
Tyltyl took no notice of the remark, stood up on his stool, caught hold of the tureen and dragged it towards him and upset it; and the hot soup trickled all over the table and down upon everybody's lap. The children yelled and screamed with pain. Granny was quite scared; and Grandad was furious. He dealt our friend Tyltyl a tremendous box on the ear.
Tyltyl was staggered for a moment; and then he put his hand to his cheek with a look of rapture and exclaimed:
"Grandad, how good, how jolly! It was just like the slaps you used to give me when you were alive! .. . I must give you a kiss for it!…."
"There's more where that came from, if you like them!" said Grandad, grumpily.
But he was touched, all the same, and turned to wipe a tear from his eyes.
"Goodness!" cried Tyltyl, starting up. "There's half-past eight striking!... Mytyl, we've only just got time! . ."
The grandparents and grandchildren sat down to supper
Granny in vain implored them to stay a few minutes longer.
"No, we can't possibly," said Tyltyl firmly; "I promised Light!"
And he hurried to take up the precious cage. "Good-bye, Grandad… Good-bye, Granny .... Good-bye, brothers and sisters, Pierrot, Robert, Pauline, Madeleine, Riquette and you, too, Kiki .... We can't stay .... Don't cry, Granny; we will come back often!"
Poor old Grandad was very much upset and complained lustily:
"Gracious me, how tiresome the Living are, with all their fuss and excitement!"
Tyltyl tried to console him and again promised to come back very often.
"Come back every day!" said Granny. "It is our only pleasure; and it's such a treat for us when your thoughts pay us a visit!"
"Good-bye! Good-bye!" cried the brothers and sisters in chorus. "Come back very soon! Bring us some barley sugar!"
There were more kisses; all waved their handkerchiefs; all shouted a last good-bye. But the figures began to fade away; the little voices could no longer be heard; the two Children were once more wrapped in mist; and the old forest covered them with its great dark mantle.
"I'm so frightened!" whimpered Mytyl. "Give me your hand, little brother! I'm so frightened!"
Tyltyl was shaking too, but it was his duty to try and comfort and console his sister:
"Hush!" he said. "Remember that we are bringing back the Blue Bird!"
As he spoke, a thin ray of light pierced the gloom; and the little boy hurried towards it. He was holding his cage tight in his arms; and the first thing he did was to look at his bird .... Alas and alack, what a disappointment awaited him! The beautiful Blue Bird of the Land of Memory had turned quite black! Stare at it as hard as Tyltyl might, the bird was black! Oh, how well he knew the old blackbird that used to sing in its wicker prison, in the old days, at the door of the house! What had happened? How painful it was! And how cruel life seemed to him just then!
He had started on his journey with such zest and delight that he had not thought for a moment of the difficulties and dangers. Full of confidence, pluck and kindness, he had marched off, certain of finding the beautiful Blue Bird which would bring happiness to the Fairy's little girl. And now all his hopes were shattered! For the first time, our poor friend perceived the mortifications, the vexations, the obstacles that awaited him! Alas, was he attempting an impossible thing? Was the Fairy making fun of him? Would he ever find the Blue Bird? All his courage seemed to be leaving him...
To add to his misfortunes, he could not find the straight road by which he had come. There was not a single white pansy on the ground; and he began to cry.
Luckily, our little friends were not to remain in trouble long. The Fairy had promised that Light would watch over them. The first trial was over; and, just as outside the old people's house a little while ago, the mist now suddenly lifted. But, instead of disclosing a peaceful picture, a gentle, homely scene, it revealed a marvellous temple, with a blinding glare streaming from it.
On the threshold stood Light, fair and beautiful in her diamond-coloured dress. She smiled when Tyltyl told her of his first failure. She knew what the little ones were seeking; she knew everything. For Light surrounds all mortals with her love, though none of them is fond enough of her ever to receive her thoroughly and thus to learn all the secrets of Truth. Now, for the first time, thanks to the diamond which the Fairy had given to the boy, she was going to try and conquer a human soul:
"Do not be sad," she said to the Children. "Are you not pleased to have seen your grandparents? Is that not enough happiness for one day? Are you not glad to have restored the old blackbird to life? Listen to him singing!"
For the old blackbird was singing with might and main; and his little yellow eyes sparkled with pleasure as he hopped about his big cage.
"As you look for the Blue Bird, dear Children, accustom yourselves to love the grey birds which you find on your way.
She nodded her fair head gravely; and it was quite clear that she knew where the Blue Bird was. But life is often full of beautiful mysteries, which we must respect, lest we should destroy them; and, if Light had told the Children where the Blue Bird was, well, they would never have found him! I will tell you why at the end of this story.
And now let us leave our little friends to sleep on beautiful white clouds under Light's watchful care.