In a letter to Mr. St. John, dated February 4, 1923, Barbara asks: “Did you know that I have been writing a story, started long, long ago? I will tell you about it. It is about a little girl named Eepersip who lived on top of a mountain, Mount Varcrobis, and was so lonely that she went away to live wild.”
Just how long “long, long ago” equals I don’t know. In his “Historical Note” (which was published in Knopf’s 1927 edition of The House Without Windows but is missing in the recent Hamish Hamilton/Penguin edition), my grandfather wrote that Barbara began The Adventures of Eepersip in January 1923, which doesn’t sound “long, long ago” to me, but I suppose it’s possible. Regardless, I think Evandine might have been the inspiration for The Adventures of Eepersip, which Barbara gave to her mother a few days after her ninth birthday, early in March 1923.
It was in May when little Evandine woke early one morning. She was very tired and cross to think that she had waked so early, and then—she jumped out of bed and ran to the window. She opened it and looked out. A fairy came drifting in, and touched her, muttering strange charms. Evandine, or Eezanne for short, saw the sun rising slowly producing wonderful colors on the horizon. Far off was the sea with the clear colors of the sunrise reflected in its smooth, blue-green surface. Eezanne dressed in her prettiest little dress. It was yellow with a sash crossing in front and tied behind in a big yellow bow which resembled a butterfly. Then she tied a broad piece of black velvet around her head, holding back her dark brown curly hair.
She flitted down-stairs in her little soft black shoes and out into the garden. She skipped merrily along the path. Here were great colurna [?] flowers on a bush, white, and just the size and shape of a cup. There some tiny yellow flowers were sprinkled through the rapidly greening grass. Once in a while a butterfly fluttered across her path and sometimes a lively bee or dragonfly buzzed before her. She went on and on through the many kinds of bright and lovely flowers.
She began to hop and skip along the path. Higher and higher she went, leaping so high as to be surprised. At last, she gave a tremendous leap, and, partly by its own power, and partly because of the charms which the fairy had muttered over her, she was sent sailing into the air fully five feet, and went gliding forwards a long way, at last alighting gently. She kept giving leaps and went higher and higher and farther and farther with each leap.
Once she went way up, and could not get down, though she wriggled and wriggled. But then she learned something very helpful. She found that the more she wriggled the higher she would go, and it was only by holding oneself stock still that she could glide gently downwards. She went faster, farther, higher. Up and up she went, way above the tops of the trees, then down, down again, coming to rest on the high limb of a maple.
She looked like a little fairy there, perched on the limb swinging her legs, in her little gauzy yellow dress. After taking quite a rest she stood up on the limb and went sailing merrily down-wards head-first, for the fairies had taken every particle of fear from her mind. As she neared the ground, like a shooting star, she righted herself in mid-air, landing lightly on her feet.
When, looking around her from high in the air, she saw a brook and wished to drink she would swoop head-first downwards, landing slowly with her mouth in the stream. Then she would sweep upwards again.
To hold her self still in mid-air she would move her arms and legs a tiny bit, and to go down she would hold herself stock-still, usually going head-first, righting herself near the ground. To go up I have never learned her secret. She would hold herself still as if she was going down, but still in a different way some-how. All I know is that the slightest push from the ground would send her into the air, but she had a different way from that. By some mysterious power she could really walk if she wanted to, but, after she learned the delightful secret of flying she never walked again. Also, strange as it may seem, she could go upwards in still another way, being that she wriggled furiously. But she hardly ever did that. It was not at all graceful, and beside, it took away her breath frightfully.
One of the things she loved most to do was to skim the ground like a swallow, about an inch from it. Another was to dart downwards head-first, from a stand-still, as if she was going to dash her head against the ground, but when there was just time to right herself and swoop upwards again.
But, of course, such happy things cannot go on forever without interruption. While she was swooping and swerving and having the time of her life, let us return to Eezanne’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Foresteen. Naturally they missed her. She was usually up early anyhow, and they were surprised not to find her up and down-stairs. So, after waiting a little while, Mrs. Foresteen went up to her room to see what was going on there.
A cry of terror escaped her lips. “Charles,” she cried, “Charles—she is not here!”
“Not here?” said Mr. Foresteen aghast, coming into the room.
“NO,” she said. “I’ve searched everywhere—and I’ve looked down in the garden, and she isn’t—she isn’t.”
A sound like the call of a bird was heard and, a moment later, Eezanne rushed by the window, laughing.
“Oh,” said Mrs. Foresteen. “Oh, Eezanne, come here, my child! How do you do it?”
A laugh like the tinkling of bells was the answer, and an armful of strange-smelling, beautiful flowers glided down through the window from nowhere. She was not seen again, but at frequent intervals that strange cry was heard.
Mr. and Mrs. Foresteen could do nothing but gaze at each other. Mrs. Foresteen’s gentle face was full of love and delight, but that of her husband was full of anger.
“How dare she,” he said angrily, “how dare she? The impudent rascal.”
“No, no,” said Mary (Mrs. Foresteen). “Do not take her away. The fairies have touched her. She has doings with Nature, and she will stay about the house, or at least visit us occasionally, and cheer us. But no, we must not touch her. We must not take from her her happy life with Nature and with the fairies. But goodness, Charles, how lovely she is. Did you see how gracefully she swooped about?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Foresteen, still angrily. “Lovely she may be. But this cannot go on. She cannot stay. Think of cold nights, and cold days, and—er… er—snowstorms, and all else. And, dearest, her party dress. And, no education, and—er—starvation and—and death!”
“Yes, Charles,” answered Mrs. Foresteen, “but dearest, she has been touched by the fairies to keep her from cold nights and cold days and snowstorms, together with all dangers such as starvation and death. And—er—education? What of that? What is education compared with such a sacred life with Nature and the fairies, and the butterflies and bees (which are Nature) and all the other lovely things which she now has? Think how much happier she now is than she would be with school-teachers, lead-pencils, other school-children, arithmetic, French, history? I have always wondered what to do with her. I have always hated to send her to school, for she is not the kind of child for school. Here it is decided for me. Here I have a splendid opportunity to let my child have all the loveliest things. Shall I let it go by? Certainly not! Is that quite clear to you, Charles?”
“I—I guess so, Mary.”
“Then, are we at peace with each other.”
“Heaven grant it true.”
Eezanne was swooping around merrily. It was a warm, bright day, when the sky is bright blue and in which silver clouds are circling like gigantic birds or ships. Above, far above there seemed to be a terrific wind, but down low, where Eezanne was gliding about, there was only a slight refreshing breeze. She was circling about a huge rhododendron bush. It was in full flower, growing great blossoms of white, lavender, and bright red. There were bees in great clusters clinging to the fragrant blossoms, searching for the fragrant pollen. There were butterflies there, too—white ones and yellow ones, and great yellow swallowtails, heavily marked with broad bands of glossy black. They, too, were feasting on the delicious honey.
Eezanne was gliding silently from flower to flower, sometimes sucking a little of the golden honey herself, but mostly watching the inhabitants of the big blossoms. From blossom to blossom she went happily humming a little tune. Occasionally she would disappear in a big cluster of blossoms, emerging considerably yellow with pollen.
In this particular spot were bushes of many kinds, flowering with blossoms of all colors. It was certainly a grand rendez-vous of birds, butterflies, and other small insects. It was the corner of the neighbor’s garden.
As I said before, Eezanne was playing around happily. But at last she got tired of playing in that particular place and swooped up to see what else there was to do. She flew slowly around to her house, and looked in to see what was going on inside. She saw her mother, in a bright red dress, with her dark brown hair curling daintily over her forehead, sitting before a small, cozy fire in the living-room. Eezanne called loudly and Mrs. Foresteen came out into the garden.
There she sat down on a small wooden bench, and watched Eezanne play and fly about over her head, singing pretty little songs. At last, after having collected some bright red flowers and dropping them in Mrs. Foresteen’s lap, she swooped off.
That night Eezanne slept amidst the budding emerald leaves of a gigantic maple. The stars shone brightly against the dark, blue-black night sky. They gleamed with all their magical colors: red, blue, violet, orange, and Mars, flaring like Nod’s Wonderstone.*
* See Walter de la Mare’s “The Three Mulla-Mullgars”. [That’s Barbara’s footnote, not mine.]
The next morning she dipped down into a little rushing brooklet, drank deeply, and swerved upwards sharply. Up and up she went until, at last, miles away spread out the deep blue-green waters of the ocean. She gazed for about half an hour on that entrancing spectacle. At last, as the sun shot up above the hills, Eezanne pushed off from the great bough with a mighty kick. She danced lightly through the air, swooping and swerving in wide zig-zagging circles. A great flock of glistening purple-green starlings flew near and nearer. Eezanne flew amongst them at her fastest speed, but was soon left behind.
But this time she was right over the ocean, but in her delight at everything around her, she had failed to notice it. But now looking down she saw it, all blue, green, and silver, with the sun dancing on its smooth yet wavy surface.
“Oh, Mother,” she called loudly.
But the charm was broken. Down, down she fell, and in her alarm she tried to swerve up again. But, in great surprise, she forgot how. Before another thought had time to cross her puzzled mind she was in the ocean, sleeping.
The fairies had decreed that the minute she should call the sea her Mother, the charm of her ability to fly would be broken, perhaps forever. She should fall into the sea in a swoon. But she should wake again and live in the sea and play there, until the fairies should choose to let her fly once more.
— — — — — — — — — — — —
Where—where is Eezanne?
Mrs. Foresteen, gazing from her window, had seen Eezanne swoop off to the sea, and had seen far in the distance how she had fallen into it. And she thought that Eezanne was gone from her forever, guided by the fairies. But something told her that Eezanne was not lost forever—told her that Eezanne would not come back to her house, but that she must go to where Eezanne is.
And she went. She told Mr. Foresteen, and they deserted their small farm and their lovely garden in exchange for a tiny cottage down at the sea. They moved in as soon as possible. They arrived there late one night, and slept there, listening to the unaccustomed noise of the tides going in and out, and of the waves rolling.
The next morning they looked out over the water, and they beheld a flock of gulls swooping about, uttering strange cries. They also saw the marvellous blue ocean, calm and peaceful, with the sun shining on it and making it sparkle and ripple. Then they saw Eezanne. But how she had changed! For she had no longer her little yellow dress, the fairies having knitted her one of sea-weed of brown and green. Her dark brown hair was crowned with sea-weed.
Mrs. Foresteen uttered a cry of joy when she saw her, but, as before, Mr. Foresteen looked angry.
“Look at her, as if she really ought to,” he exclaimed, “draped with that foolish stuff. Ugh, I wouldn’t have it touching my skin. Oop, look out, she’s going against that rock as sure as you live. No, she isn’t either. Look at her swerve aside, will you?”
“Goodness,” cried Mrs. Foresteen, “she never before swam a stroke!”
“Look at her shoot up that wave!”
The waves were coming up now rapidly, and they were tremendous. Over fifty feet high they towered, fashing [sic; lashing?] her about in them. Up, up she would go, seated quite comfortably. Then down, down again, being quite covered with the next breaker. Then she would take a breathing space as the big wave went past, and climb rapidly to the top of the next one, disappearing in a cloud of spray. Then, as the wave went past she would shoot down into the green depths beyond.
Sometimes, when she got to the top of a wave, she would stand up on it and allow herself to be carried along quite a way, finally diving from its high top, and plunging down, head-first, deeper, darker, danker, coming into a great cavern, and then, as her breath came to an end would shoot up again into the light and the air. Once, as her parents were watching her, seated on the beach, she climbed a tremendous one, and let herself be carried right in to shore on it, light as a feather. And indeed, her gift was such that she rode on the water without sinking down or disturbing the surface at all.
Her parents watched her with delighted faces, for hours. And for hours she played there in the waves. Up and down, up and down. Her parents could not get tired of watching her. She became more and more excited with the waves. But, at last, as the gale ceased, she, too, became more and more peaceful, and, at last, as the waves calmed themselves entirely, she lay on her back in the sparkling, dancing waters, to rest.
Wings again! Wings again! That was what Eezanne called all day and all night. The sea was nice, the sea was wonderful, but Eezanne, with sadness in her heart, remembered the time when she could fly, when she could swoop through the air like a swallow. Her sea-weeds looked more and more bedraggled. She ceased to play with the big waves. She lay stretched out in all the beauty around. She liked to watch the gulls circling above her head, yet it only made her sadder. She tried to forget it, but could not.
There were a few mischievous fairies that did not wish her to fly again. These were the fairies of the sea. They wanted little Eezanne to stay with them and be happy. She stayed with them, but was not happy. At last the air fairies took great pity on her, and the sea fairies saw that it was necessary to let her go. And so they released their tight grip on her, and one beautiful day she rose from the waves, shook herself clear of the flying spray, and sailed out through the sky, dressed in rose-petals of pink and white.
After this she spent all her time in the air, even sleeping, with nothing under. Some say she never touched the ground again. This I cannot say, but I know that she was happy all the rest of her life. Perhaps she turned into a sea-gull.
* * *
Fitterveen au Ilern
Flitterveen, little Flitterveen au Ilern
Flying, swooping, swirling through space.
She swoops, she dashes reckless into the spray.
Swooping, darting, pivoting, she dashes away.
In the sea,
She rides, plays, climbs the waves.
And then, one day,
She swoops, she dashes,
She darts away.
In the sea she plays, she lives.
But, one day,
She rises from the sea clothed in rose petals,
And two strong, white wings.
Like a moth from a cocoon,
She wakes from a life in the sea,
Into the air again.