In two minutes the old gentleman was pointing out the constellations—the Great Bear hanging low in the north-east, pointing to the Pole star, and across it to Cassiopeia’s bright zigzag high in the heavens; the barren square of Pegasus, with its long tail stretching to the Milky Way, and the points that cluster round Perseus; Arcturus, white Vega and yellow Capella; the Twins, and beyond them the Little Dog twinkling through a coppice of naked trees to eastward; yet further round the Pleiads climbing, with red Aldebaran after them; below them Orion’s belt, and last of all, Sirius flashing like a diamond, white and red, and resting on the horizon where the dark pasture lands met the sky.
Then, growing flushed with his subject, he began to descant on these stars, their distances and velocities; how that each was a sun, careering in measureless space, each trailing a company of worlds that spun and hurtled round it; that the Dog-star’s light shone into their eyes across a hundred trillion miles; that the star itself swept along a thousand miles in a minute. He hurled figures at them, heaping millions on millions. “See here”—and, turning the telescope on its pivot, he sighted it carefully. “Look at that small star in the Great Bear: that’s Groombridge Eighteen-thirty. He’s two hundred billions of miles away. He travels two hundred miles a second, does Groombridge Eighteen-thirty. In one minute Groombridge Eighteen-thirty could go from here to Hong-Kong.”
“Then damn Groombridge Eighteen-thirty!”
It was uttered in the bated tone that night enforces: but it came with a groan. The old gentleman faced round in amazement.
“He means, sir,” explained the woman, who had grown to understand Adam passing well, “my man means that it’s all too big for us. We’ve strayed out of prison, sir, and shall feel safer back again, looking at all this behind bars.”
She reached out a hand to Adam: and this time it was he that followed, as one blinded and afraid. In three months they were back again at the gates of the paradise they had wandered from. There stood a warder before it, clad in blue: but he carried no flaming sword, and the door opened and let them in.
On the outskirts of the village of Gantick stand two small semi-detached cottages, coloured with the same pale yellow wash, their front gardens descending to the high-road in parallel lines, their back gardens (which are somewhat longer) climbing to a little wood of secular elms, traditionally asserted to be the remnant of a mighty forest. The party hedge is heightened by a thick screen of white-thorn on which the buds were just showing pink when I took up my lodging in the left-hand cottage (the 10th of May by my diary); and at the end of it are two small arbours, set back to back, their dilapidated sides and roofs bound together by clematis.