Of course, no one but an elf would have appeared like that, just in time to say the right thing; so the children were not at all surprised when a particularly elfish elf came tumbling out of the hedge and perched himself on a thistle and winked at them.
“Do you mean to say you know where the kite has gone?” asked both the children, breathlessly.
“Look up there and see,” answered the elf, pointing to the sky.
The sky was covered with stars, hundreds and thousands of them, all twinkling round the moon just as Chloe had painted on the kite. Only, she could not help thinking that her stars had more shape and were decidedly more like stars than the real stars were; but this, she supposed, might be because the real stars were such a long way off. One of them was different from all the others; it had a long bright tail that glittered like a cracker at Christmas time, and it was scurrying across the sky at such a pace that the rest of the stars had to get out of its way as best they could. Most of the people who looked out of their windows that night thought they saw a comet; but Jerry and Chloe knew better.
“Oh,” they cried, clapping their hands with excitement. “There is our kite, and it is flying to the moon after all!”
“There’s no doubt about that,” said the elf, who was still winking at them from the top of the thistle.
“But why did it not fly to the moon this afternoon, when all the other boys were looking on?” asked Jerry, regretfully.
“Because there wasn’t a moon to fly to, of course!” answered the elf. “You shouldn’t expect too much, even from the biggest kite in the village. As soon as there was a moon, you see, away it flew.”
“Then, if I had painted the sun on it, instead of the moon, it would have flown away this afternoon!” exclaimed Chloe.
“Exactly so,” said the elf. “Now, what ever made you to paint a thing like the moon on anybody’s kite, eh?”
“Well, you see, the moon is so nice and easy,” explained Chloe. “All you have to do is to draw a circle round the biggest plate you can find; and then you take away the plate, and you paint in the eyes and the nose and the mouth, and there you are! You can’t do much more than that with three paints and a brush that’s got hardly any hairs, can you?”
“Yes, you can,” said the elf, “you can paint the sun, and that’s ever so much better than painting the moon—nasty, silly, chilly thing!”
“Oh, but you can’t paint the sun when you’ve only got three paints,” objected Chloe. “It takes ever so many more paints than that to make it shine properly; and even then, it doesn’t always.”
“Shine!” repeated the elf. “Who said anything about shining? When I say the sun, I mean the other side of the sun, of course. That doesn’t shine!”
He seemed so hurt about it that Chloe quickly said. “I’m very sorry,” she said. “Of course, I would like to paint your side of the sun very much, but it is a little difficult when I have never been there, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps it is,” admitted the elf; “but if that is all, I’ll take you there this very minute. Will you come?”
Chloe looked round; and there was Jerry still gazing up at the star with the long tail, that was causing so much commotion in the sky. Just then, it reached the moon and went straight into it with a big splash; and Jerry heaved a deep sigh.
That decided things for Chloe. “If you could,” she said, turning to the elf in a great hurry, “I think we would rather go to the moon.”
The elf instantly got upset. “What!” he exclaimed, shaking all over. “You would sooner go to the moon than the back of the sun? Well, I am sorry for you.”
Chloe was just going to say something else, when Jerry came. “You see,” he explained to the elf, “it’s not the moon we want, it’s the kite. And the kite has gone to the moon, unfortunately. I suppose I am glad it has gone,” he added rather doubtfully, “but I do wish it had waited to take me with it.”
“Oh, well,” said the elf, calming down a little, “if you are quite sure you don’t want to go to the moon, I shall have the greatest pleasure in taking you there. I’ll call a comet at once.” He put his fingers to his mouth and blew a whistle that was long enough to reach the sky. “Now that I come to think of it,” he continued thoughtfully, “it is a very good thing you did not want to go to Elfland, because we should have had to wait until the morning.”
“Why couldn’t we go to-night?” asked Jerry.
“Because there isn’t an Elfland to go to,” answered the elf, promptly. “When the sun goes down it takes the back of itself with itself, and there isn’t an Elfland again until the next morning. I wouldn’t be here now, if I hadn’t missed the last sunbeam this evening. That is the worst part of living in a place that disappears every night.”
“Oh, but it doesn’t disappear really,” said Chloe, who wanted to show that she knew a little geography; “the sun is shining somewhere else at this very moment, only we can’t see it.”
“Rubbish!” said the elf, scornfully. “Don’t you believe everything you’re told about the sun! Who said it didn’t disappear, eh? Has anyone ever gone after it to see?”
“N-no,” said Chloe, doubtfully, “but—”
“That proves it doesn’t go on shining, then,” said the elf, triumphantly.
“Here is our comet; jump in, or else we shall be late.”
Down swooped the great shining comet, and there it lay across the road, waiting for them to get on. The children climbed on to its broad glittering tail and held tightly to each other, while the elf got in front of them and stood like the man at the wheel, with his hand on the comet’s head; then up they flew at a terrific pace, right through the wonderful blue darkness that stretched all round them. Far above was the great land of light that lay round the moon; but the country of the stars came in between, and the stars were still so far off that they had not even begun to look like real stars.
“Afraid of the dark?” asked the elf over his shoulder.
“Oh, no,” said Chloe. This is a nice, friendly kind of darkness.”
“They are like real stars,” murmured Chloe, for she had begun to have serious doubts whether the stars she had painted on the kite were not wrong after all. It was very comforting to find that the stars that were whizzing past them in hundreds and thousands looked just like the stars she had been used to seeing on Christmas trees.
It grew lighter and lighter as they came nearer the moon, and even the stars began to look pale in the white light that was shining so close to the edge of their country. The stars were growing fewer, too, for stars naturally prefer to shine in a place where they can be seen. Then the elf gave another turn to the points of the comet, and it glided gently from the country of the stars into the pale white of the moon.
“It’s like being inside a great flame that isn’t hot,” whispered Chloe.
Even the elf had to admit that the country of the moon had something in its favour. “For those who like light,” he allowed, “the moon is very nice. For my part, I prefer Elfland, where there isn’t any light at all.”
“If you please,” Chloe said politely, “can you tell me when we shall get to the moon?”
“Why,” laughed the elf, “we are at the moon now!”
Chloe looked round her in bewilderment. “But where are the eyes and the nose and the mouth?” she asked.
The elf shook his head. “I am afraid,” he said seriously, “that you must have found them in the plate. Perhaps Jerry knows where they are.”
But Jerry was looking everywhere for something that was far more important. Some people might want to come all this way to look for the man in the moon, but for his part he intended to find the biggest kite in the village, the kite that had taken him so long to make. “Do you think we shall find it soon?” he asked impatiently.
Nobody answered him, for just then the comet came to such a sudden standstill that all three of them were nearly jerked off into the air. It was not the comet’s fault, however, for right in its way was Jerry’s kite; and it was lucky for everybody, that night, that there was not a bad accident.
“Why don’t you look where you are going?” asked the kite rudely.
Jerry was so astonished at being addressed in this manner by a thing he had made with his own hands, that he did not know what to reply. Just then a strange, clear voice from beyond spoke.
“Who is daring to make all this commotion in my country?” said the voice.
“Hullo!” muttered the elf, suddenly; “I was expecting that. Good-bye, children; I’m off!” And pointing his hands downward, he took a dive from the head of the comet and disappeared in the direction of the stars.
At the same instant, out from the pale white distance of the country of the moon glided a tall figure, as white and delicate and shimmering as the light that surrounded it.
“Is it—can it be the man in the moon?” whispered Chloe to the boy beside her.
Then the figure came closer, and they saw that it was a wonderful, mysterious-looking, white woman.
“I am the Lady of the Moon,” she said, in the same clear, cold voice. “Snow and stillness and space are wherever I go; when I smile, I make the whole world beautiful, but my smile takes the colour away from the flowers and the ripple away from the water and the warmth away from the sunshine.”
She looked round, and her eye landed on Jerry’s kite. “What is that creature doing in my country?” she demanded.
All the rudeness seemed to have gone out of the biggest kite in the village, for it lay there at the feet of the Lady of the Moon, and had not so much as a word to say for itself. Jerry, however, summoned up courage to answer for it. After all, it was through him that the kite was there, and he naturally felt bound to defend it.
“If you please,” he said, “it is my kite. I made it all by myself and Chloe painted the moon and the stars on it.”
“I am afraid,” said Chloe, quickly, “that the moon is not very much like the moon, but it was the best I could do with three paints and a brush that hadn’t any hairs. The stars are right,” she added anxiously.
The Lady of the Moon smiled. “Stars, indeed!” she observed. “What does it matter how the stars are painted? The moon is far more important, and you have made a regular muddle of that! And who told you children that you might come into my country, I should like to know?”
“The elf brought us,” explained Jerry. “He was here a minute ago, but he has just left.”
“No doubt he has,” said the Lady of the Moon, with a little laugh. “Elves know better than to come my way. I can turn their laughter into frost, and they don’t like that. As for you, unless you want to be stuck in the middle of the moon for the rest of your lives, you had better quickly head home again.”
Chloe was only too anxious to be off, for she had no wish to spend the rest of her life with someone like this. Jerry, however, did not mean to have his journey to the moon for nothing.
“Please, may I take my kite back with me?” he asked boldly. “I want to show the other boys and girls that it did fly to the moon after all.”
“That’s all very well,” objected the kite, “but I don’t want to go back among a lot of girls and boys who do not know how to appreciate me. When a fellow has once been a comet, you cannot expect him to end his days as an everyday kite.”
“Oh, well,” said the Lady of the Moon, gathering her cloak closely round her and stepping away from them, “settle that among yourselves.”
She had hardly finished speaking when a faint gleam of pink pierced the white light around her and touched the edge of her cloak. She gave a cry, and waved her arms about her in the greatest excitement.
“Go, go, go! Dawn is coming, and you will be stuck on the moon,” she said to them. “Go, go, go!”
Chloe began to feel worried but Jerry had a sudden inspiration.
“Jump, Chloe, jump!” he shouted, seizing her by the arm and springing away from the comet.
“Now,” said Jerry sternly to his kite, “you’ve just got to take us home straightway without any more fuss! If you want to stay you can come back again and be a comet for the rest of your days, but first you will show the village that you know how to fly. Now, down you go!”
Evidently, the kite felt that there was some sense in Jerry’s words, for it made no further objections, but sailed swiftly out of the country of the moon just in time. The downward journey was much simpler than the one of the night before, for the sun was rising as fast as it could, and the stars were disappearing so quickly that there were hardly any of them left to get in the way. This was a very good thing, for, as I said before, Jerry’s kite had not been trained to be a comet, and it takes a good deal of steering to get through the countries of the sky without any problems.
The sun was shining brightly, and the birds were singing, and the children were laughing on their way to school, when Jerry and Chloe at last reached home on the biggest kite in the village.
“Oh, oh!” cried all the boys and girls, rushing up to them in great excitement. “Here’s Jerry and Chloe, they have been sailing about on the biggest kite in the village! Where have you been, Jerry?”
Jerry smiled and waved them all back with his hand.
“Where do you think?” he asked. “Didn’t I tell you my kite was going to the moon?”
Then Jerry went home for breakfast; but Jerry’s kite sailed back to the countries of the sky, and it has been a comet ever since.