“If,” said Kathleen, sitting disconsolate in her marble, “if I am really a statue come alive, I wonder you’re not afraid of me.”

“I’ve got the ring,” said Mabel with decision. “Cheer up, dear! you will soon be better. Try not to think about it.”

She spoke as you speak to a child that has cut its finger, or fallen down on the garden path, and rises up with grazed knees to which gravel sticks intimately.

“I know,” Kathleen absently answered.

“And I’ve been thinking,” said Mabel brightly, “we might find out a lot about this magic place, if the other statues aren’t too proud to talk to us.”

“They aren’t,” Kathleen assured her; “at least, Phoebus wasn’t. He was most awfully polite and nice.”

“Where is he?” Mabel asked.

“In the lake⁠—he was,” said Kathleen.

“Then let’s go down there,” said Mabel. “Oh, Cathy! it is jolly being your own proper thickness again.” She jumped up, and the withered ferns and branches that had covered her long length and had been gathered closely upon her as she shrank to her proper size fell as forest leaves do when sudden storms tear them. But the white Kathleen did not move.

The two sat on the grey moonlit grass with the quiet of the night all about them. The great park was still as a painted picture; only the splash of the fountains and the far-off whistle of the Western express broke the silence, which, at the same time, then deepened.

“What cheer, little sister!” said a voice behind them a golden voice. They turned quick, startled heads, as birds, surprised, might turn. There in the moonlight stood Phoebus, dripping still from the lake, and smiling at them, very gentle, very friendly.

“Oh, it’s you!” said Kathleen.

“None other,” said Phoebus cheerfully. “Who is your friend, the earth-child?”

“This is Mabel,” said Kathleen.

Mabel got up and bowed, hesitated, and held out a hand.

“I am your slave, little lady,” said Phoebus, enclosing it in marble fingers. “But I fail to understand how you can see us, and why you do not fear.”

Mabel held up the hand that wore the ring.

“Quite sufficient explanation,” said Phoebus; “but since you have that, why retain your mottled earthy appearance? Become a statue, and swim with us in the lake.”

“I can’t swim,” said Mabel evasively.

“Nor yet me,” said Kathleen.

You can,” said Phoebus. “All statues that come to life are proficient in all athletic exercises. And you, child of the dark eyes and hair like night, wish yourself a statue and join our revels.”

“I’d rather not, if you will excuse me,” said Mabel cautiously. “You see⁠ ⁠… this ring⁠ ⁠… you wish for things, and you never know how long they’re going to last. It would be jolly and all that to be a statue now, but in the morning I should wish I hadn’t.”

“Earth-folk often do, they say,” mused Phoebus. “But, child, you seem ignorant of the powers of your ring. Wish exactly, and the ring will exactly perform. If you give no limit of time, strange enchantments woven by Arithmos the outcast god of numbers will creep in and spoil the spell. Say thus: ‘I wish that till the dawn I may be a statue of living marble, even as my child friend, and that after that time I may be as before Mabel of the dark eyes and night-coloured hair.’ ”

“Oh, yes, do, it would be so jolly!” cried Kathleen. “Do, Mabel! And if we’re both statues, shall we be afraid of the dinosaurus?”

“In the world of living marble fear is not,” said Phoebus. “Are we not brothers, we and the dinosaurus brethren alike wrought of stone and life?”

“And could I swim if I did?”

“Swim, and float, and dive⁠—and with the ladies of Olympus spread the nightly feast, eat of the food of the gods, drink their cup, listen to the song that is undying, and catch the laughter of immortal lips.”

“A feast!” said Kathleen. “Oh, Mabel, do! You would if you were as hungry as I am.”

“But it won’t be real food,” urged Mabel.

“It will be real to you, as to us,” said Phoebus; “there is no other realness even in your many-coloured world.”

Still Mabel hesitated. Then she looked at Kathleen’s legs and suddenly said: “Very well, I will. But first I’ll take off my shoes and stockings. Marble boots look simply awful⁠—especially the laces. And a marble stocking that’s coming down⁠—and mine do!”

She had pulled off shoes and stockings and pinafore. “Mabel has the sense of beauty,” said Phoebus approvingly. “Speak the spell, child, and I will lead you to the ladies of Olympus.”

Mabel, trembling a little, spoke it, and there were two little live statues in the moonlit glade. Tall Phoebus took a hand of each.

“Come⁠—run!” he cried. And they ran.

“Oh⁠—it is jolly!” Mabel panted. “Look at my white feet in the grass! I thought it would feel stiff to be a statue, but it doesn’t.”

“There is no stiffness about the immortals,” laughed the Sun-god. “For tonight you are one of us.”

And with that they ran down the slope to the lake.

“Jump!” he cried, and they jumped, and the water splashed up round three white, gleaming shapes.

“Oh! I can swim!” breathed Kathleen.

“So can I,” said Mabel.

“Of course you can,” said Phoebus. “Now three times round the lake, and then make for the island.”

Side by side the three swam, Phoebus swimming gently to keep pace with the children. Their marble clothes did not seem to interfere at all with their swimming, as your clothes would if you suddenly jumped into the basin of the Trafalgar Square fountains and tried to swim there. And they swam most beautifully, with that perfect ease and absence of effort or tiredness which you must have noticed about your own swimming⁠—in dreams. And it was the most lovely place to swim in; the water-lilies, whose long, snaky stalks are so inconvenient to ordinary swimmers, did not in the least interfere with the movements of marble arms and legs. The moon was high in the clear sky-dome. The weeping willows, cypresses, temples, terraces, banks of trees and shrubs, and the wonderful old house, all added to the romantic charm of the scene.

“This is the nicest thing the ring has brought us yet,” said Mabel, through a languid but perfect sidestroke.

“I thought you’d enjoy it,” said Phoebus kindly; “now once more round, and then the island.”

They landed on the island amid a fringe of rushes, yarrow, willow-herb, loose-strife, and a few late, scented, powdery, creamy heads of meadow-sweet. The island was bigger than it looked from the bank, and it seemed covered with trees and shrubs. But when, Phoebus leading the way, they went into the shadow of these, they perceived that beyond the trees lay a light, much nearer to them than the other side of the island could possibly be. And almost at once they were through the belt of trees, and could see where the light came from. The trees they had just passed among made a dark circle round a big cleared space, standing up thick and dark, like a crowd round a football field, as Kathleen remarked.

First came a wide, smooth ring of lawn, then marble steps going down to a round pool, where there were no water-lilies, only gold and silver fish that darted here and there like flashes of quicksilver and dark flames. And the enclosed space of water and marble and grass was lighted with a clear, white, radiant light, seven times stronger than the whitest moonlight, and in the still waters of the pool seven moons lay reflected. One could see that they were only reflections by the way their shape broke and changed as the gold and silver fish rippled the water with moving fin and tail that steered.

The girls looked up at the sky, almost expecting to see seven moons there. But no, the old moon shone alone, as she had always shone on them.

“There are seven moons,” said Mabel blankly, and pointed, which is not manners.

“Of course,” said Phoebus kindly; “everything in our world is seven times as much so as in yours.”

“But there aren’t seven of you,” said Mabel.

“No, but I am seven times as much,” said the Sun-god. “You see, there’s numbers, and there’s quantity, to say nothing of quality. You see that, I’m sure.”

“Not quite,” said Kathleen.

“Explanations always weary me,” Phoebus interrupted. “Shall we join the ladies?”

On the further side of the pool was a large group, so white that it seemed to make a great white hole in the trees. Some twenty or thirty figures there were in the group⁠—all statues and all alive. Some were dipping their white feet among the gold and silver fish, and sending ripples across the faces of the seven moons. Some were pelting each other with roses⁠—roses so sweet that the girls could smell them even across the pool. Others were holding hands and dancing in a ring, and two were sitting on the steps playing cat’s-cradle⁠—which is a very ancient game indeed⁠—with a thread of white marble.

As the newcomers advanced a shout of greeting and gay laughter went up. “Late again, Phoebus!” someone called out. And another: “Did one of your horses cast a shoe?” And yet another called out something about laurels.

“I bring two guests,” said Phoebus, and instantly the statues crowded round, stroking the girls’ hair, patting their cheeks, and calling them the prettiest love-names.

“Are the wreaths ready, Hebe?” the tallest and most splendid of the ladies called out. “Make two more!”

And almost directly Hebe came down the steps, her round arms hung thick with rose-wreaths. There was one for each marble head.

Everyone now looked seven times more beautiful than before, which, in the case of the gods and goddesses, is saying a good deal. The children remembered how at the raspberry vinegar feast Mademoiselle had said that gods and goddesses always wore wreaths for meals.

Hebe herself arranged the roses on the girls’ heads⁠—and Aphrodite Urania, the dearest lady in the world, with a voice like mother’s at those moments when you love her most, took them by the hands and said:

“Come, we must get the feast ready. Eros⁠—Psyche⁠—Hebe⁠—Ganymede⁠—all you young people can arrange the fruit.”

“I don’t see any fruit,” said Kathleen, as four slender forms disengaged themselves from the white crowd and came towards them.

“You will though,” said Eros, a really nice boy, as the girls instantly agreed; “you’ve only got to pick it.”

“Like this,” said Psyche, lifting her marble arms to a willow branch. She reached out her hand to the children⁠—it held a ripe pomegranate.

“I see,” said Mabel. “You just⁠—” She laid her fingers to the willow branch and the firm softness of a big peach was within them.

“Yes, just that,” laughed Psyche, who was a darling, as anyone could see.

After this Hebe gathered a few silver baskets from a convenient alder, and the four picked fruit industriously. Meanwhile the elder statues were busy plucking golden goblets and jugs and dishes from the branches of ash-trees and young oaks and filling them with everything nice to eat and drink that anyone could possibly want, and these were spread on the steps. It was a celestial picnic. Then everyone sat or lay down and the feast began. And oh! the taste of the food served on those dishes, the sweet wonder of the drink that melted from those gold cups on the white lips of the company! And the fruit⁠—there is no fruit like it grown on earth, just as there is no laughter like the laughter of those lips, no songs like the songs that stirred the silence of that night of wonder.

“Oh!” cried Kathleen, and through her fingers the juice of her third peach fell like tears on the marble steps. “I do wish the boys were here!”

“I do wonder what they’re doing,” said Mabel.

“At this moment,” said Hermes, who had just made a wide ring of flight, as a pigeon does, and come back into the circle⁠—“at this moment they are wandering desolately near the home of the dinosaurus, having escaped from their home by a window, in search of you. They fear that you have perished, and they would weep if they did not know that tears do not become a man, however youthful.”

Kathleen stood up and brushed the crumbs of ambrosia from her marble lap.

“Thank you all very much,” she said. “It was very kind of you to have us, and we’ve enjoyed ourselves very much, but I think we ought to go now, please.”

“If it is anxiety about your brothers,” said Phoebus obligingly, “it is the easiest thing in the world for them to join you. Lend me your ring a moment.”

He took it from Kathleen’s half-reluctant hand, dipped it in the reflection of one of the seven moons, and gave it back. She clutched it. “Now,” said the Sun-god, “wish for them that which Mabel wished for herself. Say⁠—”

“I know,” Kathleen interrupted. “I wish that the boys may be statues of living marble like Mabel and me till dawn, and afterwards be like they are now.”

“If you hadn’t interrupted,” said Phoebus⁠—“but there, we can’t expect old heads on shoulders of young marble. You should have wished them here⁠—and⁠—but no matter. Hermes, old chap, cut across and fetch them, and explain things as you come.”

He dipped the ring again in one of the reflected moons before he gave it back to Kathleen.

“There,” he said, “now it’s washed clean ready for the next magic.”

“It is not our custom to question guests,” said Hera the queen, turning her great eyes on the children; “but that ring excites, I am sure, the interest of us all.”

“It is the ring,” said Phoebus.

“That, of course,” said Hera; “but if it were not inhospitable to ask questions I should ask, How came it into the hands of these earth-children?”

“That,” said Phoebus, “is a long tale. After the feast the story, and after the story the song.”

Hermes seemed to have “explained everything” quite fully; for when Gerald and Jimmy in marble whiteness arrived, each clinging to one of the god’s winged feet, and so borne through the air, they were certainly quite at ease. They made their best bows to the goddesses and took their places as unembarrassed as though they had had Olympian suppers every night of their lives. Hebe had woven wreaths of roses ready for them, and as Kathleen watched them eating and drinking, perfectly at home in their marble, she was very glad that amid the welling springs of immortal peach-juice she had not forgotten her brothers.

“And now,” said Hera, when the boys had been supplied with everything they could possibly desire, and more than they could eat⁠—“now for the story.”

“Yes,” said Mabel intensely; and Kathleen said, “Oh yes; now for the story. How splendid!”

“The story,” said Phoebus unexpectedly, “will be told by our guests.”

“Oh no!” said Kathleen, shrinking.

“The lads, maybe, are bolder,” said Zeus the king, taking off his rose-wreath, which was a little tight, and rubbing his compressed ears.

“I really can’t,” said Gerald; “besides, I don’t know any stories.”

“Nor yet me,” said Jimmy.

“It’s the story of how we got the ring that they want,” said Mabel in a hurry. “I’ll tell it if you like, Once upon a time there was a little girl called Mabel,” she added yet more hastily, and went on with the tale⁠—all the tale of the enchanted castle, or almost all, that you have read in these pages. The marble Olympians listened enchanted⁠—almost as enchanted as the castle itself, and the soft moonlit moments fell past like pearls dropping into a deep pool.

“And so,” Mabel ended abruptly, “Kathleen wished for the boys and the Lord Hermes fetched them and here we all are.”

A burst of interested comment and question blossomed out round the end of the story, suddenly broken off short by Mabel.

“But,” said she, brushing it aside, as it grew thinner, “now we want you to tell us.”

“To tell you⁠—?”

“How you come to be alive, and how you know about the ring⁠—and everything you do know.”

“Everything I know?” Phoebus laughed⁠—it was to him that she had spoken⁠—and not his lips only but all the white lips curled in laughter. “The span of your life, my earth-child, would not contain the words I should speak, to tell you all I know.”

“Well, about the ring anyhow, and how you come alive,” said Gerald; “you see, it’s very puzzling to us.”

“Tell them, Phoebus,” said the dearest lady in the world; “don’t tease the children.”

So Phoebus, leaning back against a heap of leopard-skins that Dionysus had lavishly plucked from a spruce fir, told.

“All statues,” he said, “can come alive when the moon shines, if they so choose. But statues that are placed in ugly cities do not choose. Why should they weary themselves with the contemplation of the hideous?”

“Quite so,” said Gerald politely, to fill the pause.

“In your beautiful temples,” the Sun-god went on, “the images of your priests and of your warriors who lie cross-legged on their tombs come alive and walk in their marble about their temples, and through the woods and fields. But only on one night in all the year can any see them. You have beheld us because you held the ring, and are of one brotherhood with us in your marble, but on that one night all may behold us.”

“And when is that?” Gerald asked, again polite, in a pause.

“At the festival of the harvest,” said Phoebes. “On that night as the moon rises it strikes one beam of perfect light on to the altar in certain temples. One of these temples is in Hellas, buried under the fall of a mountain which Zeus, being angry, hurled down upon it. One is in this land; it is in this great garden.”

“Then,” said Gerald, much interested, “if we were to come up to that temple on that night, we could see you, even without being statues or having the ring?”

“Even so,” said Phoebus. “More, any question asked by a mortal we are on that night bound to answer.”

“And the night is⁠—when?”

“Ah!” said Phoebus, and laughed. “Wouldn’t you like to know!”

Then the great marble King of the Gods yawned, stroked his long beard, and said: “Enough of stories, Phoebus. Tune your lyre.”

“But the ring,” said Mabel in a whisper, as the Sun-god tuned the white strings of a sort of marble harp that lay at his feet⁠—“about how you know all about the ring?”

“Presently,” the Sun-god whispered back. “Zeus must be obeyed; but ask me again before dawn, and I will tell you all I know of it.” Mabel drew back, and leaned against the comfortable knees of one Demeter⁠—Kathleen and Psyche sat holding hands. Gerald and Jimmy lay at full length, chins on elbows, gazing at the Sun-god; and even as he held the lyre, before ever his fingers began to sweep the strings, the spirit of music hung in the air, enchanting, enslaving, silencing all thought but the thought of itself, all desire but the desire to listen to it.

Then Phoebus struck the strings and softly plucked melody from them, and all the beautiful dreams of all the world came fluttering close with wings like doves’ wings; and all the lovely thoughts that sometimes hover near, but not so near that you can catch them, now came home as to their nests in the hearts of those who listened. And those who listened forgot time and space, and how to be sad, and how to be naughty, and it seemed that the whole world lay like a magic apple in the hand of each listener, and that the whole world was good and beautiful.

And then, suddenly, the spell was shattered. Phoebus struck a broken chord, followed by an instant of silence; then he sprang up, crying, “The dawn! the dawn! To your pedestals, O gods!”

In an instant the whole crowd of beautiful marble people had leaped to its feet, had rushed through the belt of wood that cracked and rustled as they went, and the children heard them splash, in the water beyond. They heard, too, the gurgling breathing of a great beast, and knew that the dinosaurus, too, was returning to his own place.

Only Hermes had time, since one flies more swiftly than one swims, to hover above them for one moment, and to whisper with a mischievous laugh:

“In fourteen days from now, at the Temple of Strange Stones.”

“What’s the secret of the ring?” gasped Mabel.

“The ring is the heart of the magic,” said Hermes. “Ask at the moonrise on the fourteenth day, and you shall know all.”

With that he waved the snowy caduceus and rose in the air supported by his winged feet. And as he went the seven reflected moons died out and a chill wind began to blow, a grey light grew and grew, the birds stirred and twittered, and the marble slipped away from the children like a skin that shrivels in fire, and they were statues no more, but flesh and blood children as they used to be, standing knee-deep in brambles and long coarse grass. There was no smooth lawn, no marble steps, no seven-mooned fishpond. The dew lay thick on the grass and the brambles, and it was very cold.

“We ought to have gone with them,” said Mabel with chattering teeth. “We can’t swim now we’re not marble. And I suppose this is the island?”

It was⁠—and they couldn’t swim.

They knew it. One always knows those sort of things somehow without trying. For instance, you know perfectly that you can’t fly. There are some things that there is no mistake about.

The dawn grew brighter and the outlook more black every moment.

“There isn’t a boat, I suppose?” Jimmy asked.

“No,” said Mabel, “not on this side of the lake; there’s one in the boathouse, of course if you could swim there.”

“You know I can’t,” said Jimmy.

“Can’t anyone think of anything?” Gerald asked, shivering.

“When they find we’ve disappeared they’ll drag all the water for miles round,” said Jimmy hopefully, “in case we’ve fallen in and sunk to the bottom. When they come to drag this we can yell and be rescued.”

“Yes, dear, that will be nice,” was Gerald’s bitter comment.

“Don’t be so disagreeable,” said Mabel with a tone so strangely cheerful that the rest stared at her in amazement.

“The ring,” she said. “Of course we’ve only got to wish ourselves home with it. Phoebus washed it in the moon ready for the next wish.”

“You didn’t tell us about that,” said Gerald in accents of perfect good temper. “Never mind. Where is the ring?”

You had it,” Mabel reminded Kathleen.

“I know I had,” said that child in stricken tones, “but I gave it to Psyche to look at⁠—and⁠—and she’s got it on her finger!”

Everyone tried not to be angry with Kathleen. All partly succeeded.

“If we ever get off this beastly island,” said Gerald, “I suppose you can find Psyche’s statue and get it off again?”

“No I can’t,” Mabel moaned. “I don’t know where the statue is. I’ve never seen it. It may be in Hellas, wherever that is⁠—or anywhere, for anything I know.”

No one had anything kind to say, and it is pleasant to record that nobody said anything. And now it was grey daylight, and the sky to the north was flushing in pale pink and lavender.

The boys stood moodily, hands in pockets. Mabel and Kathleen seemed to find it impossible not to cling together, and all about their legs the long grass was icy with dew.

A faint sniff and a caught breath broke the silence. “Now, look here,” said Gerald briskly, “I won’t have it. Do you hear? Snivelling’s no good at all. No, I’m not a pig. It’s for your own good. Let’s make a tour of the island. Perhaps there’s a boat hidden somewhere among the overhanging boughs.”

“How could there be?” Mabel asked.

“Someone might have left it there, I suppose,” said Gerald.

“But how would they have got off the island?”

“In another boat, of course,” said Gerald; “come on.” Downheartedly, and quite sure that there wasn’t and couldn’t be any boat, the four children started to explore the island. How often each one of them had dreamed of islands, how often wished to be stranded on one! Well, now they were. Reality is sometimes quite different from dreams, and not half so nice. It was worst of all for Mabel, whose shoes and stockings were far away on the mainland. The coarse grass and brambles were very cruel to bare legs and feet.

They stumbled through the wood to the edge of the water, but it was impossible to keep close to the edge of the island, the branches grew too thickly. There was a narrow, grassy path that wound in and out among the trees, and this they followed, dejected and mournful. Every moment made it less possible for them to hope to get back to the schoolhouse unnoticed. And if they were missed and beds found in their present unslept-in state⁠—well, there would be a row of some sort, and, as Gerald said, “Farewell to liberty!”

“Of course we can get off all right,” said Gerald. “Just all shout when we see a gardener or a keeper on the mainland. But if we do, concealment is at an end and all is absolutely up!”

“Yes,” said everyone gloomily.

“Come, buck up!” said Gerald, the spirit of the born general beginning to reawaken in him. “We shall get out of this scrape all right, as we’ve got out of others; you know we shall. See, the sun’s coming out. You feel all right and jolly now, don’t you?”

“Yes, oh yes!” said everyone, in tones of unmixed misery.

The sun was now risen, and through a deep cleft in the hills it sent a strong shaft of light straight at the island. The yellow light, almost level, struck through the stems of the trees and dazzled the children’s eyes. This, with the fact that he was not looking where he was going, as Jimmy did not fail to point out later, was enough to account for what now happened to Gerald, who was leading the melancholy little procession. He stumbled, clutched at a tree-trunk, missed his clutch, and disappeared, with a yell and a clatter; and Mabel, who came next, only pulled herself up just in time not to fall down a steep flight of moss-grown steps that seemed to open suddenly in the ground at her feet.

“Oh, Gerald!” she called down the steps; “are you hurt?”

“No,” said Gerald, out of sight and crossly, for he was hurt, rather severely; “it’s steps, and there’s a passage.”

“There always is,” said Jimmy.

“I knew there was a passage,” said Mabel; “it goes under the water and comes out at the Temple of Flora. Even the gardeners know that, but they won’t go down, for fear of snakes.”

“Then we can get out that way⁠—I do think you might have said so,” Gerald’s voice came up to say.

“I didn’t think of it,” said Mabel. “At least⁠—And I suppose it goes past the place where the Ugly-Wugly found its good hotel.”

“I’m not going,” said Kathleen positively, “not in the dark, I’m not. So I tell you!”

“Very well, baby,” said Gerald sternly, and his head appeared from below very suddenly through interlacing brambles. “No one asked you to go in the dark. We’ll leave you here if you like, and return and rescue you with a boat. Jimmy, the bicycle lamp!” He reached up a hand for it.

Jimmy produced from his bosom, the place where lamps are always kept in fairy stories⁠—see Aladdin and others⁠—a bicycle lamp.

“We brought it,” he explained, “so as not to break our shins over bits of long Mabel among the rhododendrons.”

“Now,” said Gerald very firmly, striking a match and opening the thick, rounded glass front of the bicycle lamp, “I don’t know what the rest of you are going to do, but I’m going down these steps and along this passage. If we find the good hotel⁠—well, a good hotel never hurt anyone yet.”

“It’s no good, you know,” said Jimmy weakly; “you know jolly well you can’t get out of that Temple of Flora door, even if you get to it.”

“I don’t know,” said Gerald, still brisk and commander-like; “there’s a secret spring inside that door most likely. We hadn’t a lamp last time to look for it, remember.”

“If there’s one thing I do hate it’s undergroundness,” said Mabel.

You’re not a coward,” said Gerald, with what is known as diplomacy. “You’re brave, Mabel. Don’t I know it! You hold Jimmy’s hand and I’ll hold Cathy’s. Now then.”

“I won’t have my hand held,” said Jimmy, of course. “I’m not a kid.”

“Well, Cathy will. Poor little Cathy! Nice brother Jerry’ll hold poor Cathy’s hand.”

Gerald’s bitter sarcasm missed fire here, for Cathy gratefully caught the hand he held out in mockery. She was too miserable to read his mood, as she mostly did. “Oh, thank you, Jerry dear,” she said gratefully; “you are a dear, and I will try not to be frightened.” And for quite a minute Gerald shamedly felt that he had not been quite, quite kind.

So now, leaving the growing goldness of the sunrise, the four went down the stone steps that led to the underground and underwater passage, and everything seemed to grow dark and then to grow into a poor pretence of light again, as the splendour of dawn gave place to the small dogged lighting of the bicycle lamp. The steps did indeed lead to a passage, the beginnings of it choked with the drifted dead leaves of many old autumns. But presently the passage took a turn, there were more steps, down, down, and then the passage was empty and straight⁠—lined above and below and on each side with slabs of marble, very clear and clean. Gerald held Cathy’s hand with more of kindness and less of exasperation than he had supposed possible.

And Cathy, on her part, was surprised to find it possible to be so much less frightened than she expected.

The flame of the bull’s-eye threw ahead a soft circle of misty light⁠—the children followed it silently. Till, silently and suddenly, the light of the bull’s-eye behaved as the flame of a candle does when you take it out into the sunlight to light a bonfire, or explode a train of gunpowder, or whatnot. Because now, with feelings mixed indeed, of wonder, and interest, and awe, but no fear, the children found themselves in a great hall, whose arched roof was held up by two rows of round pillars, and whose every corner was filled with a soft, searching, lovely light, filling every cranny, as water fills the rocky secrecies of hidden sea-caves.

“How beautiful!” Kathleen whispered, breathing hard into the tickled ear of her brother, and Mabel caught the hand of Jimmy and whispered, “I must hold your hand⁠—I must hold on to something silly, or I shan’t believe it’s real.”

For this hall in which the children found themselves was the most beautiful place in the world. I won’t describe it, because it does not look the same to any two people, and you wouldn’t understand me if I tried to tell you how it looked to any one of these four. But to each it seemed the most perfect thing possible. I will only say that all round it were great arches. Kathleen saw them as Moorish, Mabel as Tudor, Gerald as Norman, and Jimmy as Churchwarden Gothic. (If you don’t know what these are, ask your uncle who collects brasses, and he will explain, or perhaps Mr. Millar will draw the different kinds of arches for you.) And through these arches one could see many things⁠—oh! but many things. Through one appeared an olive garden, and in it two lovers who held each other’s hands, under an Italian moon; through another a wild sea, and a ship to whom the wild, racing sea was slave. A third showed a king on his throne, his courtiers obsequious about him; and yet a fourth showed a really good hotel, with the respectable Ugly-Wugly sunning himself on the front doorsteps. There was a mother, bending over a wooden cradle. There was an artist gazing entranced on the picture his wet brush seemed to have that moment completed, a general dying on a field where Victory had planted the standard he loved, and these things were not pictures, but the truest truths, alive, and, as anyone could see, immortal.

Many other pictures there were that these arches framed. And all showed some moment when life had sprung to fire and flower⁠—the best that the soul of man could ask or man’s destiny grant. And the really good hotel had its place here too, because there are some souls that ask no higher thing of life than “a really good hotel.”

“Oh, I am glad we came; I am, I am!” Kathleen murmured, and held fast to her brother’s hand.

They went slowly up the hall, the ineffectual bull’s-eye, held by Jimmy, very crooked indeed, showing almost as a shadow in this big, glorious light.

And then, when the hall’s end was almost reached, the children saw where the light came from. It glowed and spread itself from one place, and in that place stood the one statue that Mabel “did not know where to find”⁠—the statue of Psyche. They went on, slowly, quite happy, quite bewildered. And when they came close to Psyche they saw that on her raised hand the ring showed dark.

Gerald let go Kathleen’s hand, put his foot on the pediment, his knee on the pedestal. He stood up, dark and human, beside the white girl with the butterfly wings.

“I do hope you don’t mind,” he said, and drew the ring off very gently. Then, as he dropped to the ground, “Not here,” he said. “I don’t know why, but not here.”

And they all passed behind the white Psyche, and once more the bicycle lamp seemed suddenly to come to life again as Gerald held it in front of him, to be the pioneer in the dark passage that led from the Hall of ⸻, but they did not know, then, what it was the Hall of.

Then, as the twisting passage shut in on them with a darkness that pressed close against the little light of the bicycle lamp, Kathleen said, “Give me the ring. I know exactly what to say.”

Gerald gave it with not extreme readiness.

“I wish,” said Kathleen slowly, “that no one at home may know that we’ve been out tonight, and I wish we were safe in our own beds, undressed, and in our nightgowns, and asleep.”

And the next thing any of them knew, it was good, strong, ordinary daylight⁠—not just sunrise, but the kind of daylight you are used to being called in, and all were in their own beds. Kathleen had framed the wish most sensibly. The only mistake had been in saying “in our own beds” because, of course, Mabel’s own bed was at Yalding Towers, and to this day Mabel’s drab-haired aunt cannot understand how Mabel, who was staying the night with that child in the town she was so taken up with, hadn’t come home at eleven, when the aunt locked up, and yet she was in her bed in the morning. For though not a clever woman, she was not stupid enough to be able to believe any one of the eleven fancy explanations which the distracted Mabel offered in the course of the morning. The first (which makes twelve) of these explanations was the truth, and of course the aunt was far too clever to believe that!