Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE CHAPTER BEFORE THE BEGINNING
WONDER if you know that stories have a
way of beginning themselves? Sometimes
they even do more than this. They tell themselves—beginning
and ending just where they
please—with no consideration at all for the
author or the reader.
Perhaps you have discovered this for yourself;
you may have in mind this minute some
of the stories that you wished had begun long
before they did—and others that ended before
you thought they had any business doing so.
These have a very unpleasant way of leaving
your expectations and your interest all agog;
 and I have not a doubt that you have always
blamed the author. This is not fair. In a
matter of this kind an author is just as helpless
as a reader, and there is no use in trying to
coax or scold a story into telling itself her way.
As sure as she tries the story gets sulky or hurt,
picks up its beginning and ending, and trails
away, never to come back; and that story is
lost for all time. You may try it yourself if
you do not believe me.
Now, if I could have had my way, I should
have begun with David in the window nook at
dusk-hour, looking out on the Hill Country all
white with the gathering snow; and I should
"It was the year after last—and the year
before next—and just seven days before Christmas—"
I have begun this way a hundred times, and
every time the same thing happens. The
story behaves disgracefully. It will have none
of my way. I have actually heard it screaming:
"No! I won't begin there! I won't—I won't—I won't!"
After which it always runs for the
door. As a result I have become completely
cowed and I have given in. I am making
believe now (and so must you, for it never does to
 let a story get in a bad humor) that after all
this is the best beginning.
It was late fall when David's world dropped
away from him; at least to David that is what
seemed to happen. When one loses the very
things one always expects to have—big things
like mother and father, home and the boys on
the block—why, there is not so very much of
the world left. To David, speeding toward the
Hill Country on the big express with Johanna,
it seemed as if there was not enough left to
fill even one of the many empty days that lay
It had all come about because of father being
a scientist. Just what a scientist was David
had never felt quite sure, but he knew it meant
having a great deal of knowledge and very little
time—time for boys. It also meant forgetting
things that even David was supposed to remember;
things like going to bed, and coming
home at dinner-time, and putting on a coat
when it was cold, and rubbers when it rained.
Mother always laughed at these and said that
father was more trouble to look after than
David; and she wondered what she would do
if the time ever came when she would have to
 decide between the two of them, and which
needed her most.
And then, without any warning, that time
had come. Very suddenly father came home
one night and announced that there was a
fresh development of an almost unknown bacillus
among the soldiers in the Eastern war zone;
it was the chance of a lifetime for a scientist,
and he would go as soon as he could pack and
make necessary arrangements. The next
moment he had plunged into his pocket for his
note-book, and only David had seen how
white and still mother had grown. When
she spoke at last there was a funny little
catch in her voice that sounded as if it had
tried to be a laugh, but somehow could not
"I hoped and prayed that this wouldn't happen
quite so soon—this having to decide
between my big boy and my little boy."
Father had laughed outright. "Nonsense,
there is nothing to decide. Of course you stay
with David. The war country is no place for
either of you, and I shall manage perfectly by
"The war country is no place for David; but
there are plenty of women over there working
 side by side with their husbands. Oh, my
dear, my dear!"
Mother's arms had gathered them both in
and mother was holding them close. It was to
father, however, that she was speaking. "I
believe you are my little boy, after all. Manage!
Over there! When you can't take care of yourself
in your own civilized country! No, my
dear, you need a mother more than David does.
Besides, there's Johanna; we'll send for her.
She will look after David almost as well as I
can; but what would she do with you!" This
time the laugh had right of way and rippled all
over mother's face.
Father had stopped making notes and was
looking at them both with that funny wrinkly
smile about his mouth that David loved to see.
"Well, sir, what do you think about it?"
he said, looking straight at David.
David had squared his shoulders and straightened
his chin; but it took two hard swallows
before he could answer. "I think, sir, that
mother is right. You see I'm eight, going on
nine; and when, a—man's that old he ought to
be able to look after himself for a while. Don't
you think so?"
"He certainly ought to; but it seems that
 there are some who never are quite able."
And father's hand had suddenly reached up to
mother's, which was about his shoulder.
That is all there had been to it. The next
day Johanna had come—good, Irish Johanna,
who had taken care of him as a baby and had
stayed until he had outgrown his need of her
and she had married Barney. The day after,
he had said good-by to the boys on the block;
and he had said it as one about to depart upon
a rare adventure, taking his leave of less
fortunate comrades. He did not intend that they
should discover how much of his world had
dropped away from him, or how he envied them
the continued possession of theirs. Moreover,
it increased his courage threefold to make
believe that what had happened was not so bad,
after all. In this manner he was able to assume
an added stature, one fitting his newly acquired
manhood, when the time came to swing the
door of his home tight shut; and he was
able to say a brave good-by to father and
Now it was all over. He and Johanna were
speeding toward the Hill Country, and he was
glad, very glad, to be a little boy again and
snuggle into the hollow of Johanna's arm as
 he had been used to doing in the old nursery
days. After all, eight-going-on-nine is not so
David wasted no time. Out of the scraps
that were left him he tried at once to build up a
new world. He looked out of the car window
at the fields and houses flying past, and he
thought of all the pleasant things Johanna had
promised him. Johanna and Barney were the
caretakers of a big summer hotel in the
mountains. The summer season was over, the hotel
closed, and he was going to live with Johanna
and Barney in the lodge and have a whole
mountain-top to play on. He was going to
help Barney cut down next year's fire-wood and
drive the sledge for him over the lumber roads.
He was going to make a toboggan-slide down the
cleared side of the mountain; he was going to
skate on the pond above the beaver dam, and
learn to skee, and a crowd of other jolly things.
And in the spring there were to be the maple-trees
to tap. Only, in the mean time, there were
father and mother traveling farther and farther
away; and there was Christmas coming nearer
and nearer. And how could he ever stand one
without the others?
He turned away from the car window and
 looked at Johanna; and then out popped the
most surprising question from her.
"Hark, laddy! Have ye forgotten all about
the fairies and the stories Johanna used to
David smiled without knowing it.
"Why, no. No, I haven't. A person never
entirely forgets about fairies, even if he does
grow up—does he? I guess I haven't been
thinking about them lately, that's all."
"Sure, and ye haven't!" Johanna's voice
had the same folksy ring to it that it had in the
nursery days. "Faith, 'tis hard keeping them
lively when ye are living in the city. Wasn't
I almost giving over believing in them myself,
after living there a few years? It wasn't till I
moved to the hilltops and the green country
that I got them back again."
"Have you seen any up there?"
David asked it as one might inquire about
the personal habits of Santa Claus or the
chances of finding the crock of gold at the rainbow's
end, experiences one has never had oneself,
but which one is perfectly willing to credit
to another upon receipt of satisfactory evidence.
Moreover, fairies were undeniably comfortable
to think about just now. And what is more,
 whenever things happen that seem unreal and
that make you feel strange and unreal yourself,
that is the very time that fairies become the
most real and easy to believe in. David
discovered this now, and it made him snuggle
closer to Johanna and repeat his question:
"Have you really seen any up there?"
Johanna puckered her forehead and
considered for a moment.
"'Tis this way, laddy. I can't be saying
honestly that I have laid my two eyes on one
for certain; and then again I can't say
honestly that I haven't. Many's the time in the
woods or thereabouts that I've had the feeling
I've just stumbled on one, just missed him by a
wink, or beaten him there by a second. The
moss by the brookside would have a trodden-down
look and the bracken would be swaying
with no help o' the wind—for all the world as
if a wee man had just been brushing his way
"It might have been a squirrel," suggested
David, the dust of the city still clouding his
"Aye, but I'm thinking it wasn't. And if there's a fairy
up yonder in the Hill Country I'm thinking ye'll find him.
'Twill give ye one
 thing more to do, eh, laddy?" Johanna
tightened the arm about him and laughed softly.
"But how would fairies get over here? I
shouldn't think they would ever want to leave
Ireland; and I thought they never came out in
"They might come because they had been
locked out." Johanna's eyes suddenly began
to dance mysteriously, and she put her lips
close to David's ear that the noise and jar of the
train might not drown one word of what she
was going to say:
"Whist, laddy! Do ye mind what day it is?
'Tis the very last day of the fairy summer, the
last day when they'll be making the rings and
dancing the reels over in Ireland."
"Why, it's Hallowe'en," remembered David.
"Aye, that's what! And after this night the
fairies bolt the doors of their raths fast with
magic and never come out again till May Eve,
barring once in a white winter or so when they
come out on Christmas Eve. But it happens
every so often that a fairy gets locked out on
this night. He stays dancing too long, or playing
too many tricks, and when he gets back to
the rath 'tis past cock-crow and the door is
barred against him. Then there's naught for
 him to do but to bide how and where he can
till opening time comes on May Eve."
"And if—and if—"
"Sure, if one should get locked out this night,
what's to prevent his coming over? What's
more likely than that he'd be saying to himself,
'Faith, Ireland 'll be a mortal lonely place with
the rest o' the lads gone. I'll try my luck in
another country.' And with that he follows the
rest of the Irish and emigrates over here. And
if he ever lands, ye mark my word, laddy, he'll
make straight for the Hill Country! That is,
if he's not there already ahead of himself."
Johanna laughed and David laughed with
"Sure, there's a heap o' sense in some nonsense,
mind that! And never be so foolish, just
because ye grow up and get a little book
knowledge, as to turn up your nose and mock at the
things ye loved and believed in when ye were a
little lad. Them that do, lose one of the biggest
cures for heartache there is in the world,
David turned back to the window. Already,
beyond the foreground of passing woods and
meadows, he could catch glimpses of the Hill
Country, hazy and purple, lying afar off.
 Johanna was right. It was better to think of
the locked-out fairy than of himself. He found
himself wondering if fairies grew lonesome as
humans did, and if it was as hard to be locked
out of a rath as a home. He wondered if all
the fairies were grown up or if there were boy
and girl fairies, and father and mother fairies.
He would ask Johanna some time, when he was
sure he could ask it with a perfectly steady
voice. But most of all, he wondered about
opening time; and he wished with all his heart
that he knew just when opening time would
come for him. Until then, he must keep very
busy with the fire-wood and the sled and the
toboggan-slide and the skating and skeeing and
What kind of a Christmas was it going to be?
The train climbed half-way to the top of the
highest hill and there it left David and Johanna.
Barney was waiting for them with the horses
and the big wagon to carry them up the rest
of the way; and to David it seemed a very lonesome
way. The stars were out before they
reached the lodge, but even in the starlight he
could see that they were alone on the hilltop
except for the great, shadowy, closed hotel
and the encompassing fir-trees.
 "Ye'll not be troubled with noise, and ye'll
not be pestered with neighbors," laughed
Barney, as he helped David to clamber down from
the wagon. "Johanna says that in the winter
there is nobody alive in these parts but the
creatures and the 'heathens' and ourselves."