After crawling over loose earth Grace scrambled through nettles, hedge parsley and giant hogweed and across a sodden ditch onto the rutted lane: where were the carts, horsemen, other passers-by? On the other side as far as she could see each way ran a high wall of yellow stone and over it hung here and there branches of ash and elm dragged down by clinging ivy. Along one there ran a red squirrel. It paused to look down at her, tail still waving from its headlong rush. Did it just blink or was it winking at her? No use talking to animals but so many strange things had happened, why not try?
‘Please, does this lane lead to the Rainbow?’ It looked alert and pointed a foreleg at the ditch. There, oddly clear among green surroundings, sat a fat emerald frog. Its wide-open mouth made it look too content to notice Grace. It hopped towards her as if it knew she’d something to say. Stooping down she asked respectfully: ‘Can you tell me the way to the Rainbow?’ Frogs are not polite. ‘Ask the Owl’, it croaked and jerked its broad head towards a thick cluster of ivy hanging from the wall. Grace felt she was being tossed rudely back and forth across the lane. And then she saw two eyes
The unhelpful, aloof owl
A trick of sunlight showed Grace a brass key hanging on a burnished hook high up one of the round posts, well beyond her reach. If she were lucky like Alice in Wonderland she might find magic liquid to make her grow. As it was she only just stopped herself from sitting down in despair, but then she looked at her stone, turning it over as if to ask its advice. For answer it slipped away into the long grass and landed - can you believe it? - beside a boy lying fast asleep in the wood-edge shadows. He was about her age but a lot taller. Perhaps he could reach the key, thought Grace, and knelt gently down to wake him. But he needed shaking! ‘What’s the matter? I’m not ready to wake up,’ he grumbled, his sleep-caked eyes tightly shut. ‘But it’s morning and I need your help now. A peddler and flowers and insects have helped me, won’t you?
I’m on my way to find out what lies within and beyond the rainbow. So would you try to reach that key up there and we can walk along green paths in the wonderful wood that lies beyond.’ All he’d heard so far was the word ‘key’. ‘What key? You must be seeing things!’ ‘Look! It’s up on that gate post.’ Grace longed for some lively flowers or insects with brains and eyes. But at least the boy leapt up and stared hard. ‘I see no key and no gate. What are you on about?’ ‘It’s the gate into that wood,’ insisted Grace. And he looked even more blank. ‘Wood? For miles around there’s nothing but windswept bushes.’ Now it was her turn to stare in disbelief. Might as well ask him his name, she thought. ‘I’m Donald, changed by grown-ups to Downcast Don, Don-in-the-Dumps or just Down-in-the-Dumps. The few friends I’ve got call me Doncas or Downer.
First sight of sleeping Don beside
The Wood That Is Not There
Perched on an overhanging bough of pale alder a dark brown song thrush piped some shrill phrases and paused to look down at Grace. ‘I’ll sing you to sleep if you like.’ She closed her eyes but then she seemed to see Downcast Don looking lost, and remembered how she’d promised to help him receive a gift of wonder like hers. Ways of doing such kindness should be found somewhere in this wood. She must be on her way. ‘My song!’ snapped the thrush. ‘Not good enough for you, I suppose!’ ‘I like every note,’ said Grace politely. ‘But I’m worried about a boy left outside the wood because he can’t see it. Please can you help me to find him a gift like this?’ She held up her glittering amethyst. The thrush ruffled his feathers and hardly turned his head. ‘No: I can’t! People mostly walk here alone. Now and again I see two who love each other.’
‘Ah well,’ sighed Grace. ‘I can’t say I love Downcast Don that much, but I’d still like him to see and explore the wood. He’s all alone.’ ‘Ask Water Lily.’ The thrush, tilted his head to look wise. The lily happened to catch his eye, and birds like to be ready with a quick answer. ‘She’s very proud but might be able to tell you.’ The lily floated so close below the bank Grace had not seen her white and gold splendour. And even if she’d heard all this, the idle plant took no notice. The thrush was right about her pride. She spent every day admiring herself in the water. Leaning over the edge of the pond Grace said: ‘Water Lily, how can a poor, ragged boy like Downcast Don enter the wood with no gift to guide him?’ The dazzling flower shuddered and seemed to speak to herself as she floated off, pushing aside pond mantel to show her disgust.
Grace beside the pool in the
Wood That Is Not There
Intent on this and now further from the firelight she nearly fell over Smith who always at sat cross-legged on the floor to do minute work. He was far too bulky to sit at a bench. First she noticed his great red and gold beard, so furnace-like it could be on fire, and seemed to cover his face like a balaclava. Then she saw his long, surprisingly slender fingers and sensed their cleverness. Across them lay a garland, woven from finest metals, glinted sunlight yet gleamed with subtle moonlight, and when Smith lifted it the silver celandines, buttercups and primroses crackled and rustled like shaken leaves. His task was over, and to Grace’s disappointment, he tucked it away in a deep pocket, took off the woollen cap he wore to hold in his wild hair, bowed and got up so slowly and was so huge she began to wonder if he would ever stand up straight in this cavern.
His eyes reminded Grace of giant-oak Woodmaster: they took note of her slowly and kindly, made her feel at ease despite his overwhelming size, even when she gave him her hand in greeting and saw it vanish as if never to be returned. ‘Rare to see a lady here!’ He laughed so loudly it sounded like a horse-drawn coach racing over cobbles. ‘So what can I of all folk do for you?’ Grace looked all the way up to his scruffy, questioning face, and felt calm and confident, somehow feeling sure he’d understand her need: ‘I’ve been told to ask for a silver spade. Downcast Don has never learned to wonder, or had a gift like my stone.’ (She opened her palm and it shone so brightly Smith raised his eyebrows!) ‘Heartsease, my guide, says he’d dig and dig and discover so much to wonder about he’d want to find and cross the Rainbow, just like I do.’
Grace meets The Smith
Grace being lifted back up the well-shaft after her visit to The Smith with her various gifts and most important the silver spade for Don.
So she followed the sandy track that twisted through ever taller, thicker and darker fir trees, glad of her jewelled belt and wondershine shoes that surrounded her steps with a cheering glow, until at last a waxing half-moon’s gleaming leaf showed above a distant hill. It seemed to smile in welcome, and though it had little to spare scattered patches of glitter across her lonely path. To her delight they fell as luminous strips of silk and she could lay them out in countless patterns. And then, as if it sprang from this game there before her was the castle, its towers, turrets, leaden roofs, spy-vents shining as if painted in silver. The walls were blocks of pure moonlight and latticed windows sparkled like precious gems. Suppose the moon was hidden: would it be no more? Soft, low clouds drifted about it to show this was well and truly a castle in the air. For a long while Grace was spellbound.
No wonder a trotting horse startled her! Who could be riding up the fir-lined track towards her? A pure-white steed with flowing mane and tail outshone the moon. As Grace knew from picture histories its rider was a knight at arms clad from head to foot in silvery steel armour. His milky helmet plume waved to and fro in time with tail and mane. When he drew nearer she thought his suit of armour was made of moonlight, perhaps the very same one Round-Eyes were working at in Smith’s forge, where the fire gave it a pale blue light. So perhaps this was Sir Cloudy Lost-Heart, or should she call him Sir Substantial? Round-Eye-One made him sound old, kind but rather crazy like Alice’s White Knight in Through The Looking Glass. But off came the helmet to reveal piercing, lively eyes and golden hair thick and well-groomed.
Grace meets Sir Cloudy Lost-Heart
Illustrated Excerpts from
Smith placed the weightless present around her waist
and buckled it as if he were threading a needle.
Then he took both her hands in his and bowed
while the one-eyed dwarfs removed their work caps
scraping the forge floor one after the other.
So Grace left carrying a wonder gift blessed
with powers to start Don on his own journey,
at least as long as hers, though never quite the same.
Her belt lit up the winding passages
and led her to the rocky quay beside the spring
at the bottom of the well vent. Suppose
her friends above had given up and left her
with a damp basket and heavy spade to shout
up the shaft like an unanswered echo.
The willow bucket seat was at least hanging ready,
its four twig ropes going up and up until
they vanished towards the far-off, invisible
daylight and the woodlands she longed to see.
If she climbed in and made the spade secure,
the green spear folk might be aware of her.
And at once there was a sudden twitch through
the ropes; they took the strain and up she went slowly
but surely. How about that waiting tadpole, she wondered.
It was a frog now and leapt off the ledge
into the basket without a by-your-leave
but it had lost the squeaky, skittish tadpole talk.
‘Heavy to carry, that spade!’ ‘It’s not for me
but for a friend in need,’ said Grace and told
the tale of how Downcast Don longed to wonder.
That impressed the frog who promised to help the boy.
‘I’ll surprise him with a thing or two. I’ve a list
of wonders as long as all my legs put together.
He’ll turn these up with his spade once he’s learnt
to trust what Dame Nature says, like it or not.’
They were almost up. The frog had had his say,
hopped onto the rocky parapet and vanished.