From Beryl Irving's

"The Dawnchild"

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1st ink illustration



ink and watercolour illustration

Mig Meets The Dawnchild

N THE window-sill something stirred.

Mig turned over in bed, but fell asleep again.

Something tapped at the window and called her name.

Mig started up at this and looked around.

Upon the yellow blinds she saw the shadows of the ivy-leaves and of what appeared to be an extraordinary bird seated on the sill.

For one second Mig gazed at the sleeping form by her side. Cousin Belinda was not beautiful - she had a hungry-looking beaky nose and it made her snore. She was very fast asleep, so Mig clambered silently out of bed, and ran across the room on tiptoe, but when she pushed aside the blind all that greeted her was a whirr of wings, and nothing to be seen.

Mig looked at the uncared for garden a long time, but nothing was changed. It still looked like a lost child, crying for the hands of its mother. The dew sparkled more every minute; she felt sure something ought to happen. The birds began a sleepy 'cheerup-cheerup', echoed gradually by all the others.

'Perhaps I'll see the grass turn into an army,' said Mig, hopefully hunting to the unknown. Then it happened. There was a shy squawk from the sycamore and apple-tree that grew closely together by the window, and there she saw five birds behaving in a very odd manner. The seemed to be bowing before some one very great; indeed the early autumn robin scraped his head on the branch each time, he bowed so low.

'It must be some one very great for him to keep doing that,' thought Mig. 'I banged my head once yesterday and cried.'

And now there appeared at the end of the branch the extraordinary bird whose shadow Mig had already seen. I must describe him, for he is very important, in fact he is the Prime Minister of the King of Dawnland.

His feathers looked very black and dowdy, until he ruffled them, when they shone green and purple. His eyes were full of wisdom. Truly he was a dear old bird, with kindly lines round the place whence his beak grew, and above each eye a white eyebrow, who-would-have-thought-of-meeting-you-here!'

He advanced slowly, in what he thought was a dignified manner, with a hop-hop-hop, lurching dangerously from side to side.

Every now and then he gave a sneeze.

Mig could not help laughing, but he turned and looked at her solemnly, then let out a peculiar chirrup, which sounded like 'curroutuwhee'.

'I beg your pardon!' said Mig politely.

'Comoutowe!' It sounded like a command. It was very awkward not being able to understand and she did not quite know what to do. It seemed so rude not to answer, so she said she was deaf.

'You're not!' said the Bird. 'I said "Come out to we."'

'Oh well,' said the little girl, who loved an argument, 'we is bad grammar.'

'And you've bad manners,' said the Bird 'to say you're deaf. You're no deafer than other humans who can't hear bird-language. Time upon time I've tried to talk to them,' he said aggrievedly, and ruffled his feathers until they shone green and violet and scarlet. 'Well, anyway, get dressed and come down. I've come to take you to Her, and to make you happy.'

For Mig was very unhappy. Her mother, Mrs.McArthur, had died two years before, leaving her all alone in the old grey house with cross old Belinda who had come to live there. Belinda had always been jealous of pretty Mrs. McArthur's good looks, never losing an opportunity of doing her some ill turn or another. But now Mrs. McArthur was dead, and it afforded Belinda much satisfaction to know that the child was in her power, a fact of which she took full advantage.

Mig dressed and went downstairs.

How gloomy the house was. A grey light filtered through the drawn blinds, but Mig was not afraid of it, nor of the dark, like other children. It was the days he feared, ruled by Cousin Belinda's sharp tongue and faultfinding ways. Cousin Belinda did not like noise; indeed after living with her for any length of time, no one felt happy enough to make a noise, and that was why, all through the day, an angry spirit seemed to be about, and the very air in the old house seemed to be rebelliously quiet, as though, when this cruel woman suddenly appeared, all the furniture was holding its breath in terror and rage. But at night and in the early morning when she slept, the house was quiet and peaceful; and once when Mig awoke in the middle of the night and Belinda's evil presence was not felt, she heard sounds downstairs as of the furniture dancing for joy - which was really the case.

And so she crept fearlessly down to the side door.

The bolts were stiff and rusty for her little fingers, and Mig grew scarlet in the face with exertion. Panting and struggling, she could not get it to move, and was giving it up in despair when she heard the Bir's voice outside:

'I am pushing a jar of grease under the door. Rub it on the bolt, and hurry up - I can't wait here all day.' By now Mig knew that in spite of his sternness, the Old Bird was really not a bad old fellow.

She bent down thankfully to look for the jar, but there was no sign of it on the dirty, unswept floor.

'Got it?' asked the Bird. 'Do hurry!'

'It's not here,' shrieked Mig in a stage-whisper.

'Don't be silly,' said the Bird wearily, 'I pushed a tremendous jar through!'

Mig, feeling anxiously in the dust, knocked a little lump of hard dust away. It rolled into a corner, glimmering strangely. It was the jar! But such a wee little thing - this tremendous jar! -no bigger than a boot-button, with a shining golden lid on which was inscribed very small and neatly:


'I've got it,' cried Mig, frowning and trying to read the lettering.

She rubbed some on the bolt.

'Hurry up,' said the Bird, 'otherwise She may go.'

Mig wondered who She was, but now the grease had made the bolt move easily, and she passed out into the early morning mist.

'Come, let us hurry. I must take you to Her.'

With these words the Bird set off down the path which led through long, rough grass to a small wood at the end of the lawn. The tall sunflowers on either side of them nodded graciously to Mig, with sleepy, half-shut eyes, for it was very early, and the sun was still hidden behind banks of clouds. She never remembered seeing the flowers bowing before, or seeing the Old Bird, but they seemed to know him quite well. Her heart beat fast at the thought of the thrilling adventures that might await her, and all around the dew glittered on the long grass, on the fruit-laden trees, and beside her trotted her strange companion with a hop, hop, hop, a lurch and a sneeze.



Figure: In sheer joy she gave a little skip and sprang into the air,
catching at a tall willowy spike of plums that grew up from a tree beside her.

In sheer joy she gave a little skip and sprang into the air, catching at a tall willowy spike of plums that grew up from a tree beside her. Of course a shower of dew fell on her, drenching her hair, and two over-ripe plums bounced off her forehead, but she only laughed.

'That's right,' said the Bird, and he sounded very kind, 'that's the first time we've seen you happy for many a long day.'

'Oh, you know me then?' asked the child, balancing on the cobbles that still untidily edged the flower-beds.

'Know you? But of course,' said the Bird, turning his half-surprised, humorous-looking eyes towards her.

As they walked still further Mig saw the hilly meadow, far away on her left. It was damp

and green; at the top seven elm-trees loomed through the mist, waving blobby arms like tremendous giants. Everything looked adventurous.

'Something exciting is now going to take place,' announced the Bird in solemn, majestic tones.

'What? What?' shrieked Mig, and would have sprung ten feet into the air if she had been able. As it was, she only managed six inches, and touching a bough, brought another shower of rich autumn fruit and dew around them. The Bird sneezed and said angrily:

'I wish you wouldn't do that - you've simply soaked my new feathers!'

Mig forgot to answer, for the feeling was very strong on her again that something was gong to happen - very soon - in fact, now.

The dew sparkled more brightly, as though a diamond necklace had been broken and scattered around; leaves started quivering, apples and plums grew slowly more golden and purple, and in a rhododendron bush where one or two out-of-season blossoms still lingered, a thrush set up the most heart-stirring song.

Never had Mig heard such a wonderful melody as that which came pouring happily from all the tiny bird-throats, hidden in the bushes and trees around.

'The Dawnchild is coming,' sang a pigeon, flying by flapping its tail in Mig's face.

'The Dawnchlid is coming,' cried the Old Bird, excitedly sneezing.

From the ground, which became more springy every minute, Mig raised her eyes to the air and was fascinated to see the wreathing shapes of the morning mist. Separating, disappearing, floating together again, faster and faster it twirled, and now it began to sparkle really strangely.

The sun appeared slowly from behind a grey bank of cloud at the side of the houses, and a ray, finding its way through the branches of the old sycamore, pierced the whirling mist before her. On all sides the voices sang of the Dawnchld as the golden shimmering vapour floated a little further off, then gradually sank to the ground in a shower of separate pieces of light some distance from Mig and the Bird, where it disappeared in the long, wet grass.

Forgetting the Bird who now looked rather bored as though he had seen this sort of thing before, Mig ran forward to the spot where the golden shower had fallen, thinking that perhaps she might pick some of it up.

And now she could catch glimpses of it - yes, there it was - she could see it - how it glittered! She sped towards it still more quickly and pulled up with a jerk. At her feet it lay, a shining heap of light.


Figure: There lay a child of about her own age,
peacefully sleeping right in the middle of the light

She gave a little cry of delight, and falling on her knees, gingerly touched it, but could not feel it at all. So, growing bolder, she scooped up a handful, and never noticed that at each touch of her human fingers the fairy light disappeared, for she was so amazed at what lay beneath.

Amazement is hardly the word for Mig's feelings as she gazed at the wonderful surprise.

There lay a child of about her own age, peacefully sleeping, right in the middle of the light. Fair to behold, with shining golden curls and the very faintest golden tint in her white skin, at Mig's cry of joy the child awoke, and sitting up smiled sweetly.

The sun burst out and shone on everything because the Dawnchld was awake. Mig dare not speak lest the child should melt away, as show now perceived the light to have done. They looked at each other in a friendly way.

'Well, Mig,' said the Dawnchild at last, 'how are you?'

Mig could only stammer shyly, 'How wonderful your eyes are - they look sort of silver!' And that is what they were, silver like the garments the lovely child wore.

The Dawnchild laughed and sprang gracefully to her feet.

'I'd rather have grey like yours,' she declared, and flung her arms round Mig's neck.

It was good indeed to feel loving arms again, for Cousin Belinda's were never near her, unless the hands on the end of them were slapping her, or administering medicine.

'Oh, who are you?' cried Mig.

The Dawnchld laughed.

'You ought to know me - I've often lain across the sky in the east, watching you,' she said, still holding Mig's hand.

'Of course she doesn't!' said the Bird irritably, who had been asleep for the last few minutes. 'All humans are blind.'

'You're always saying that, Old Bird, but anyway we're going to teach Mignonette not to be blind,' said the Dawnchild, and turning to Mig she asked, 'Are you happy with Cousin Belinda?'

'No, no,' said Mig quickly.

'I'm awfully glad you're not,' answered the Dawnchild, 'because father's given me leave to bring you to our Court, if you aren't happy.'

'Oh, how lovely,!' cried Mig. 'Who are you? Do tell me?'

'I am the Dawnchild, and I am the daughter of the Sky and the Sea,' said the child.

'Then' said Mig 'you must be a fairy!'

'A fairy? I suppose I am! I never thought about it before. Now listen to me, Mig. Once a year, my father, who is King of a beautiful land, gives me and my sisters permission to fetch any earth-child who is unhappy and bring her to our land to live there for ever and ever.'

'Oh, let's start at once,' said Mig, hopping up and down. The Old Bird, who was just near her feet, flew hastily to a tree, where he showed his disgust by sneezing loudly.

The Dawnchild looked at Mig. 'I hope you've plenty of pluck,' she said slowly; 'it's a long journey to our land, and it depends a lot on you as to whether you ever get there. We have lots of enemies who are always waiting to get hold of the earth-child we are bringing, but if you do everything I tell you, you will be safe, and also if you are as good as possible.'

Mig looked rather blank - she did not think she had ever been good in her life. The Dawnchild seemed to know what she was thinking.

'Cheer up - I expect you'll be all right, but you see I had to tell you to be good because if you do anything really wicked, I may be lost to you for ever, and - however -' She would say no more.

The sun was well risen, and the Dawnchild told Mig to return to the house in case Cousin Belinda should suspect anything.

Aren't you going to take me now?' asked Mig disappointedly. 'It's long past breakfast-time, and Cousin Belinda will be so angry.'

'Can't be done,' interrupted the Old Bird, awkwardly alighting himself beside her, 'the journey mayn't start for a week.'

'But, never mind - we'll see Cousin Belinda doesn't hurt you,' said the Dawnchild, 'and meanwhile -' She flung a piece of fairy light from her hair into the air, and waited, frowning.

'The Noseyface is a long time coming,' she said.

There was a crackling laugh and they all wheeled round. There, on the path seated in a tiny cart drawn by a caterpillar, they saw the funniest little sight. A very old nosey-faced man, reading deep in a book. It was he who had laughed.

'Really, you are too bad,' cried the Dawnchld, stamping her foot; 'why didn't you come at once?'

'I was reading such a nice book,' he answered.

'Who is he?' whispered Mig.

'Here, Noseyface,' cried her new friend, 'this is the new little girl.'

The old man shut the book carefully, placed it under one arm, then drove up to Mig's foot and jumping out of the cart held out one foot.

'How are you?' he said genially.

'Quite well, thank you,' said Mig rather timidly.

'Have you hurt your foot?'

'Ah'm, ahem!' coughed the Bird, and said, behind one claw, 'He always shakes feet, instead of hands, and he gets awfully angry if you don't understand. Rather weak brain, you know!'


Figure: Noseyface reading a book sitting in his cart

Mig gripped the foot hastily, just as the little man was withdrawing it offendedly, and at once a pleased smile spread over his face as he said 'I hope we shall like one another.'

'Yes,' said Mig; 'please Dawnchild, what will he do for me?'

'He plays jokes on every one, you know,' said the Dawnchild. 'I thought you might like to have him about the house, till we fetch you. He will report to us if Belinda is very unkind to you, and punish her by playing tricks on her. He's quite invisible. And now, good-bye for a week.'

'Shan't I see you till then? How shall I know when you're coming?' asked Mig, who did not want to part with her new friends.

'Silly child,' muttered the Old Bird, 'you'll know right enough when we're there!'

'Yes,' said the Dawnchild, floating up into the sky, 'you'll know. We'll fetch you,' and laughing gaily she flew still higher with the Old Bird, and they suddenly vanished.

Mig turned round in a bewildered way but the Noseyface was gone too. She might have dreamt it all.

'Mig, Mig!' came a voice from the house, 'where is the little brat? Mig! Mig!'

'Coming,' said Mig dolefully, and ran up the garden path to the house, saying to herself as she ran, 'I believe I imagined it all.'

The Dawnchild © Parforce UK Ltd 2004 dba Focal Point Publications

Scan courtesy of Annette Julia Gregg