He felt that the day that had begun so freezingly was warm, strangely warm. He wiped the tears from his eyes away to the side of his face with his sleeve, and looked about. The sun was very bright, but in a mild, pleasant way. And a tree on the other side of the street was showering softly, softly, softly, yellow autumn leaves, until they covered the cobblestones all around. Eric did not think about being late. The Magic was pulling him now. He went across and stood under the tree, and felt the leaves showering on his head and shoulders, and caught a few in his hands.
All the people passed, and soon the last one was hidden behind the heavy factory door. Eric gave the door a glance or two, but did not go. Over the roof of the factory he saw the tops of tall trees waving. He had never looked so high above the factory before. But he knew there was a wood on the other side, a wood he had always been too tired to think of exploring, even on holidays. Now he saw the tops of the tall trees beckoning him in a golden mist. “The mist is the yellow leaves they’re dropping,” thought Eric. With every beckon the golden mist of leaves grew brighter and brighter, until he could not see the beckoning any more, but only the mist. Still he knew the beckoning was going on behind the mist.
“If I’m to live in the streets at night,” he thought to himself, “there’s no need to live in the factory by day. I’ll just go and see what those trees want of me.”
Very slowly, with little firm steps, he went by the factory door, and then around under its windows to the wood at the back.
It was Indian Summer. That was why the golden leaves were showering in a mist, and why the sun was so warm.
Eric dropped his ragged coat and cap on the edge of the wood,—it was so warm,—and went in.
A little girl had been watching him from her place at one of the factory windows where she was sorting cans. She had seen him before, working at the factory, day after day, and they had played together sometimes in the noon half hour. Now she wondered what he was doing out there. Had they sent him, perhaps, to do a different kind of work that could only be done in the woods? But as he walked away in under the trees farther and farther, the golden mist that was over the wood drew in about him; and although she leaned far forward over the cans at a great risk of knocking over dozens and setting them rolling,—he was lost in it. It had dropped down behind him like a curtain.
THE BRIGHT HOUSE
Eric knew nothing of the little girl and her thoughts. He was walking in a golden mist, but he could see quite perfectly, and even far ahead down long tree aisles. At first the trees did not grow very close together, and there was little underbrush. Several narrow paths started off in different directions,—straight little paths made by people who knew where they were going. But Eric did not know where he was going, so he struck off in a place where there was no sign of a path. Soon the trees drew closer and closer together, until their branches locked fingers overhead and shook the yellow leaves down for each other. The leaves showered softly and steadily. Eric’s feet rustled loudly in them.