He does prefer lost to found, birds to men, and wild to tame but he can’t stay out of towns because that is where the town games are. This child runs the streets all day, but is seen best right after supper when the sunbeams split up and choose teams. He joins both sides: the golds and the mauves.
He plays town games and will come to your house. Town games, unlike country games, are full of rules, and rules about rules, and hat deep in the rules is where the fun begins. But I’m getting ahead. I’ll tell you how his favorite games play, but don’t try too hard to memorize, and forget about taking notes. The best rules grow too fast to write down.
You were a boy once. Right after supper, I say, when the light is right, the boys begin to run in packs like labrador retrievers. Maybe you didn’t play the doorbell game, but I did, and it’s a favorite. There is a town child; he is somewhere among the pack who rings doorbells and runs away at the porch light hour.
When he selects a house he returns, time after time, until he finds someone to play or gives up.
Answer the door every time. At the beginning, there will be a long time between his visits, so you’ll have forgotten the last prank. Gradually, he’ll ring more often, till you recognize you’re being teased. At this point most people stop leaving supper to answer the door and he stops ringing, since he doesn’t want to bother anyone who doesn’t want to play.
So answer every time, day or night. When you have found an empty porch return gently to your bed or table and think no more of it. Do not try to learn anything or notice patterns. There is nothing in this event which will help you the next time.
Don’t bother to hide near the door. Some try this; when he rings they throw open the door, leap off the porch and run across the lawn to where they think he’s hiding.
He’s never there; he moves like a hummingbird.
Here is the principle: he must find, he cannot be found. If you learn this you’ll not only guide yourself in a hundred uncertain moments, but you’ll also settle your soul to rest.
One day he’ll be standing on your front porch. You cannot, at first, tell him by his appearance. Like many children, he enjoys dressing up so the first countless times he is disguised. You will know it is him because he will ask you a riddle.
You may ask yourself why, it being your front porch, he should ask you a riddle. As you take four seconds to wonder this, he will run away. If you say or think anything at all except the riddle’s answer, he runs away. Anytime he runs away, he is a long time returning.
The only way to respond to the riddle is to say the first thing you think of when you hear it. But, of course, if you answer wrong, he runs away.There is no exact right answer to the riddle, which he formulates especially for you and especially for that day. The right answer is whatever you happen to think — but this doesn’t mean the riddle has a casual answer. Your answer will be wrong if your thoughts are wrong.
How will your thoughts be right? Have a friend who has talked with the child. If, when the doorbell rings, you’ve been talking all evening with your friend about the child and His Father; talking all through supper and after, when the dishes are put back in the cupboard, when the fireplace has been lit and the ardent talk has been moved to the club chairs; if you get up and back up to the door still talking and listening, and then, turning and opening the door while mulling your next reply to your friend — then, he hits you in the face with a disguise and a riddle, let the riddle and the paused conversation mix in your mind — that thought, that new one, will be right.
His disguise is as much for you as for him. He likes to distract you with, say, a surprising mask (never ugly) so you will stumble for a second, miss the riddle, and — he runs away. He isn’t cruel, he just enjoys challenging you and watching you cope with the distraction.