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A Prisoner in Fairyland

Chapter 7
... The sun,
Closing his benediction,
Sinks, and the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night-
Night with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep.
W. E. HENLEY.
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
 
 
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