When you are young so many things are difficult to believe, and yet the dullest people will tell you that they are true⁠—such things, for instance, as that the earth goes round the sun, and that it is not flat but round. But the things that seem really likely, like fairytales and magic, are, so say the grownups, not true at all. Yet they are so easy to believe, especially when you see them happening. And, as I am always telling you, the most wonderful things happen to all sorts of people, only you never hear about them because the people think that no one will believe their stories, and so they don’t tell them to anyone except me. And they tell me, because they know that I can believe anything.

When Jimmy had awakened the Sleeping Princess, and she had invited the three children to go with her to her palace and get something to eat, they all knew quite surely that they had come into a place of magic happenings. And they walked in a slow procession along the grass towards the castle. The Princess went first, and Kathleen carried her shining train; then came Jimmy, and Gerald came last. They were all quite sure that they had walked right into the middle of a fairytale, and they were the more ready to believe it because they were so tired and hungry. They were, in fact, so hungry and tired that they hardly noticed where they were going, or observed the beauties of the formal gardens through which the pink-silk Princess was leading them. They were in a sort of dream, from which they only partially awakened to find themselves in a big hail, with suits of armour and old flags round the walls, the skins of beasts on the floor, and heavy oak tables and benches ranged along it.

The Princess entered, slow and stately, but once inside she twitched her sheeny train out of Jimmy’s hand and turned to the three.

“You just wait here a minute,” she said, “and mind you don’t talk while I’m away. This castle is crammed with magic, and I don’t know what will happen if you talk.” And with that, picking up the thick goldy-pink folds under her arms, she ran out, as Jimmy said afterwards, “most unprincesslike,” showing as she ran black stockings and black strap shoes.

Jimmy wanted very much to say that he didn’t believe anything would happen, only he was afraid something would happen if he did, so he merely made a face and put out his tongue. The others pretended not to see this, which was much more crushing than anything they could have said. So they sat in silence, and Gerald ground the heel of his boot upon the marble floor. Then the Princess came back, very slowly and kicking her long skirts in front of her at every step. She could not hold them up now because of the tray she carried.

It was not a silver tray, as you might have expected, but an oblong tin one. She set it down noisily on the end of the long table and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh! it was heavy,” she said. I don’t know what fairy feast the children’s fancy had been busy with. Anyhow, this was nothing like it. The heavy tray held a loaf of bread, a lump of cheese, and a brown jug of water. The rest of its heaviness was just plates and mugs and knives.

“Come along,” said the Princess hospitably. “I couldn’t find anything but bread and cheese⁠—but it doesn’t matter, because everything’s magic here, and unless you have some dreadful secret fault the bread and cheese will turn into anything you like. What would you like?” she asked Kathleen.

“Roast chicken,” said Kathleen, without hesitation.

The pinky Princess cut a slice of bread and laid it on a dish.

“There you are,” she said, “roast chicken. Shall I carve it, or will you?”

“You, please,” said Kathleen, and received a piece of dry bread on a plate.

“Green peas?” asked the Princess, cut a piece of cheese and laid it beside the bread.

Kathleen began to eat the bread, cutting it up with knife and fork as you would eat chicken. It was no use owning that she didn’t see any chicken and peas, or anything but cheese and dry bread, because that would be owning that she had some dreadful secret fault.

“If I have, it is a secret, even from me,” she told herself.

The others asked for roast beef and cabbage and got it, she supposed, though to her it only looked like dry bread and Dutch cheese.

“I do wonder what my dreadful secret fault is,” she thought, as the Princess remarked that, as for her, she could fancy a slice of roast peacock. “This one,” she added, lifting a second mouthful of dry bread on her fork, “is quite delicious.”

“It’s a game, isn’t it?” asked Jimmy suddenly.

“What’s a game?” asked the Princess, frowning.

“Pretending it’s beef⁠—the bread and cheese, I mean.”

“A game? But it is beef. Look at it,” said the Princess, opening her eyes very wide.

“Yes, of course,” said Jimmy feebly. “I was only joking.”

Bread and cheese is not perhaps so good as roast beef or chicken or peacock (I’m not sure about the peacock. I never tasted peacock, did you?); but bread and cheese is, at any rate, very much better than nothing when you have gone on having nothing since breakfast (gooseberries and ginger-beer hardly count) and it is long past your proper dinnertime. Everyone ate and drank and felt much better.

“Now,” said the Princess, brushing the bread crumbs off her green silk lap, “if you’re sure you won’t have any more meat you can come and see my treasures. Sure you won’t take the least bit more chicken? No? Then follow me.”

She got up and they followed her down the long hall to the end where the great stone stairs ran up at each side and joined in a broad flight leading to the gallery above. Under the stairs was a hanging of tapestry.

“Beneath this arras,” said the Princess, “is the door leading to my private apartments.” She held the tapestry up with both hands, for it was heavy, and showed a little door that had been hidden by it.

“The key,” she said, “hangs above.”

And so it did, on a large rusty nail.

“Put it in,” said the Princess, “and turn it.” Gerald did so, and the great key creaked and grated in the lock.

“Now push,” she said; “push hard, all of you.” They pushed hard, all of them. The door gave way, and they fell over each other into the dark space beyond.

The Princess dropped the curtain and came after them, closing the door behind her.

“Look out!” she said; “look out! there are two steps down.”

“Thank you,” said Gerald, rubbing his knee at the bottom of the steps. “We found that out for ourselves.”

“I’m sorry,” said the Princess, “but you can’t have hurt yourselves much. Go straight on. There aren’t any more steps.”

They went straight on in the dark.

“When you come to the door just turn the handle and go in. Then stand still till I find the matches. I know where they are.”

“Did they have matches a hundred years ago?” asked Jimmy.

“I meant the tinderbox,” said the Princess quickly. “We always called it the matches. Don’t you? Here, let me go first.”

She did, and when they had reached the door she was waiting for them with a candle in her hand. She thrust it on Gerald.

“Hold it steady,” she said, and undid the shutters of a long window, so that first a yellow streak and then a blazing great oblong of light flashed at them and the room was full of sunshine.

“It makes the candle look quite silly,” said Jimmy. “So it does,” said the Princess, and blew out the candle. Then she took the key from the outside of the door, put it in the inside keyhole, and turned it.

The room they were in was small and high. Its domed ceiling was of deep blue with gold stars painted on it. The walls were of wood, panelled and carved, and there was no furniture in it whatever.

“This,” said the Princess, “is my treasure chamber.”

“But where,” asked Kathleen politely, “are the treasures?”

“Don’t you see them?” asked the Princess.

“No, we don’t,” said Jimmy bluntly. “You don’t come that bread-and-cheese game with me⁠—not twice over, you don’t!”

“If you really don’t see them,” said the Princess, “I suppose I shall have to say the charm. Shut your eyes, please. And give me your word of honour you won’t look till I tell you, and that you’ll never tell anyone what you’ve seen.”

Their words of honour were something that the children would rather not have given just then, but they gave them all the same, and shut their eyes tight.

“Wiggadil yougadoo begadee leegadeeve nowgadow?” said the Princess rapidly; and they heard the swish of her silk train moving across the room. Then there was a creaking, rustling noise.

“She’s locking us in!” cried Jimmy.

“Your word of honour,” gasped Gerald.

“Oh, do be quick!” moaned Kathleen.

“You may look,” said the voice of the Princess. And they looked. The room was not the same room, yet⁠—yes, the starry-vaulted blue ceiling was there, and below it half a dozen feet of the dark panelling, but below that the walls of the room blazed and sparkled with white and blue and red and green and gold and silver. Shelves ran round the room, and on them were gold cups and silver dishes, and platters and goblets set with gems, ornaments of gold and silver, tiaras of diamonds, necklaces of rubies, strings of emeralds and pearls, all set out in unimaginable splendour against a background of faded blue velvet. It was like the Crown jewels that you see when your kind uncle takes you to the Tower, only there seemed to be far more jewels than you or anyone else has ever seen together at the Tower or anywhere else.

The three children remained breathless, open-mouthed, staring at the sparkling splendours all about them, while the Princess stood, her arm stretched out in a gesture of command, and a proud smile on her lips.

“My word!” said Gerald, in a low whisper. But no one spoke out loud. They waited as if spellbound for the Princess to speak.

She spoke.

“What price bread-and-cheese games now?” she asked triumphantly. “Can I do magic, or can’t I?”

“You can; oh, you can!” said Kathleen.

“May we⁠—may we touch?” asked Gerald.

“All that’s mine is yours,” said the Princess, with a generous wave of her brown hand, and added quickly, “Only, of course, you mustn’t take anything away with you.”

“We’re not thieves!” said Jimmy. The others were already turning over the wonderful things on the blue velvet shelves.

“Perhaps not,” said the Princess, “but you’re a very unbelieving little boy. You think I can’t see inside you, but I can. I know what you’ve been thinking.”

“What?” asked Jimmy.

“Oh, you know well enough,” said the Princess. “You’re thinking about the bread and cheese that I changed into beef, and about your secret fault. I say, let’s all dress up and you be princes and princesses too.”

“To crown our hero,” said Gerald, lifting a gold crown with a cross on the top, “was the work of a moment.” He put the crown on his head, and added a collar of S.S. and a zone of sparkling emeralds, which would not quite meet round his middle. He turned from fixing it by an ingenious adaptation of his belt to find the others already decked with diadems, necklaces, and rings.

“How splendid you look!” said the Princess, “and how I wish your clothes were prettier. What ugly clothes people wear nowadays! A hundred years ago⁠—”

Kathleen stood quite still with a diamond bracelet raised in her hand.

“I say,” she said. “The King and Queen?”

What King and Queen?” asked the Princess.

“Your father and mother,” your sorrowing parents, said Kathleen. “They’ll have waked up by now. Won’t they be wanting to see you, after a hundred years, you know?”

“Oh⁠—ah⁠—yes,” said the Princess slowly. “I embraced my rejoicing parents when I got the bread and cheese. They’re having their dinner. They won’t expect me yet. Here,” she added, hastily putting a ruby bracelet on Kathleen’s arm, “see how splendid that is!”

Kathleen would have been quite content to go on all day trying on different jewels and looking at herself in the little silver-framed mirror that the Princess took from one of the shelves, but the boys were soon weary of this amusement.

“Look here,” said Gerald, “if you’re sure your father and mother won’t want you, let’s go out and have a jolly good game of something. You could play besieged castles awfully well in that maze⁠—unless you can do any more magic tricks.”

“You forget,” said the Princess, “I’m grown up. I don’t play games. And I don’t like to do too much magic at a time, it’s so tiring. Besides, it’ll take us ever so long to put all these things back in their proper places.”

It did. The children would have laid the jewels just anywhere; but the Princess showed them that every necklace, or ring, or bracelet had its own home on the velvet⁠—a slight hollowing in the shelf beneath, so that each stone fitted into its own little nest.

As Kathleen was fitting the last shining ornament into its proper place, she saw that part of the shelf near it held, not bright jewels, but rings and brooches and chains, as well as queer things that she did not know the names of, and all were of dull metal and odd shapes.

“What’s all this rubbish?” she asked.

“Rubbish, indeed!” said the Princess. “Why those are all magic things! This bracelet⁠—anyone who wears it has got to speak the truth. This chain makes you as strong as ten men; if you wear this spur your horse will go a mile a minute; or if you’re walking it’s the same as seven-league boots.”

“What does this brooch do?” asked Kathleen, reaching out her hand. The princess caught her by the wrist.

“You mustn’t touch,” she said; “if anyone but me touches them all the magic goes out at once and never comes back. That brooch will give you any wish you like.”

“And this ring?” Jimmy pointed.

“Oh, that makes you invisible.”

“What’s this?” asked Gerald, showing a curious buckle.

“Oh, that undoes the effect of all the other charms.”

“Do you mean really?” Jimmy asked. “You’re not just kidding?”

“Kidding indeed!” repeated the Princess scornfully. “I should have thought I’d shown you enough magic to prevent you speaking to a Princess like that!”

“I say,” said Gerald, visibly excited. “You might show us how some of the things act. Couldn’t you give us each a wish?”

The Princess did not at once answer. And the minds of the three played with granted wishes⁠—brilliant yet thoroughly reasonable⁠—the kind of wish that never seems to occur to people in fairytales when they suddenly get a chance to have their three wishes granted.

“No,” said the Princess suddenly, “no; I can’t give wishes to you, it only gives me wishes. But I’ll let you see the ring make me invisible. Only you must shut your eyes while I do it.”

They shut them.

“Count fifty,” said the Princess, “and then you may look. And then you must shut them again, and count fifty, and I’ll reappear.”

Gerald counted, aloud. Through the counting one could hear a creaking, rustling sound.

“Forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty!” said Gerald, and they opened their eyes.

They were alone in the room. The jewels had vanished and so had the Princess.

“She’s gone out by the door, of course,” said Jimmy, but the door was locked.

“That is magic,” said Kathleen breathlessly.

“Maskelyne and Devant can do that trick,” said Jimmy. “And I want my tea.”

“Your tea!” Gerald’s tone was full of contempt. “The lovely Princess,” he went on, “reappeared as soon as our hero had finished counting fifty. One, two, three, four⁠—”

Gerald and Kathleen had both closed their eyes. But somehow Jimmy hadn’t. He didn’t mean to cheat, he just forgot. And as Gerald’s count reached twenty he saw a panel under the window open slowly.

“Her,” he said to himself. “I knew it was a trick!” and at once shut his eyes, like an honourable little boy.

On the word “fifty” six eyes opened. And the panel was closed and there was no Princess.

“She hasn’t pulled it off this time,” said Gerald.

“Perhaps you’d better count again,” said Kathleen.

“I believe there’s a cupboard under the window,” said Jimmy, “and she’s hidden in it. Secret panel, you know.”

“You looked! That’s cheating,” said the voice of the Princess so close to his ear that he quite jumped.

“I didn’t cheat.”

“Where on earth⁠—What ever⁠—” said all three together. For still there was no Princess to be seen.

“Come back visible, Princess dear,” said Kathleen. “Shall we shut our eyes and count again?”

“Don’t be silly!” said the voice of the Princess, and it sounded very cross.

“We’re not silly,” said Jimmy, and his voice was cross too. “Why can’t you come back and have done with it? You know you’re only hiding.”

“Don’t!” said Kathleen gently. “She is invisible, you know.”

“So should I be if I got into the cupboard,” said Jimmy.

“Oh yes,” said the sneering tone of the Princess, “you think yourselves very clever, I dare say. But I don’t mind. We’ll play that you can’t see me, if you like.”

“Well, but we can’t,” said Gerald. “It’s no use getting in a wax. If you’re hiding, as Jimmy says, you’d better come out. If you’ve really turned invisible, you’d better make yourself visible again.”

“Do you really mean,” asked a voice quite changed, but still the Princess’s, “that you can’t see me?”

“Can’t you see we can’t?” asked Jimmy rather unreasonably.

The sun was blazing in at the window; the eight-sided room was very hot, and everyone was getting cross.

“You can’t see me?” There was the sound of a sob in the voice of the invisible Princess.

No, I tell you,” said Jimmy, “and I want my tea and⁠—”

What he was saying was broken off short, as one might break a stick of sealing wax. And then in the golden afternoon a really quite horrid thing happened: Jimmy suddenly leaned backwards, then forwards, his eyes opened wide and his mouth too. Backward and forward he went, very quickly and abruptly, then stood still.

“Oh, he’s in a fit! Oh, Jimmy, dear Jimmy!” cried Kathleen, hurrying to him. “What is it, dear, what is it?”

“It’s not a fit,” gasped Jimmy angrily. “She shook me.”

“Yes,” said the voice of the Princess, “and I’ll shake him again if he keeps on saying he can’t see me.”

“You’d better shake me,” said Gerald angrily. “I’m nearer your own size.”

And instantly she did. But not for long. The moment Gerald felt hands on his shoulders he put up his own and caught those other hands by the wrists. And there he was, holding wrists that he couldn’t see. It was a dreadful sensation. An invisible kick made him wince, but he held tight to the wrists.

“Cathy,” he cried, “come and hold her legs; she’s kicking me.”

“Where?” cried Kathleen, anxious to help. “I don’t see any legs.”

“This is her hands I’ve got,” cried Gerald. “She is invisible right enough. Get hold of this hand, and then you can feel your way down to her legs.”

Kathleen did so. I wish I could make you understand how very, very uncomfortable and frightening it is to feel, in broad daylight, hands and arms that you can’t see.

“I won’t have you hold my legs,” said the invisible Princess, struggling violently.

“What are you so cross about?” Gerald was quite calm. “You said you’d be invisible and you are.”

“I’m not.”

“You are really. Look in the glass.”

“I’m not; I can’t be.”

“Look in the glass,” Gerald repeated, quite unmoved.

“Let go, then,” she said.

Gerald did, and the moment he had done so he found it impossible to believe that he really had been holding invisible hands.

“You’re just pretending not to see me,” said the Princess anxiously, “aren’t you? Do say you are. You’ve had your joke with me. Don’t keep it up. I don’t like it.”

“On our sacred word of honour,” said Gerald, “you’re still invisible.”

There was a silence. Then, “Come,” said the Princess. “I’ll let you out, and you can go. I’m tired of playing with you.”

They followed her voice to the door, and through it, and along the little passage into the hall. No one said anything. Everyone felt very uncomfortable.

“Let’s get out of this,” whispered Jimmy as they got to the end of the hall.

But the voice of the Princess said: “Come out this way; it’s quicker. I think you’re perfectly hateful. I’m sorry I ever played with you. Mother always told me not to play with strange children.”

A door abruptly opened, though no hand was seen to touch it. “Come through, can’t you!” said the voice of the Princess.

It was a little anteroom, with long, narrow mirrors between its long, narrow windows.

“Goodbye,” said Gerald. “Thanks for giving us such a jolly time. Let’s part friends,” he added, holding out his hand.

An unseen hand was slowly put in his, which closed on it, vice-like.

“Now,” he said, “you’ve jolly well got to look in the glass and own that we’re not liars.”

He led the invisible Princess to one of the mirrors, and held her in front of it by the shoulders.

“Now,” he said, “you just look for yourself.” There was a silence, and then a cry of despair rang through the room.

“Oh⁠—oh⁠—oh! I am invisible. Whatever shall I do?”

“Take the ring off,” said Kathleen, suddenly practical.

Another silence.

“I can’t!” cried the Princess. “It won’t come off. But it can’t be the ring; rings don’t make you invisible.”

“You said this one did,” said Kathleen, “and it has.”

“But it can’t,” said the Princess. “I was only playing at magic. I just hid in the secret cupboard⁠—it was only a game. Oh, whatever shall I do?”

“A game?” said Gerald slowly; “but you can do magic⁠—the invisible jewels, and you made them come visible.”

“Oh, it’s only a secret spring and the panelling slides up. Oh, what am I to do?”

Kathleen moved towards the voice and gropingly got her arms round a pink-silk waist that she couldn’t see. Invisible arms clasped her, a hot invisible cheek was laid against hers, and warm invisible tears lay wet between the two faces.

“Don’t cry, dear,” said Kathleen; “let me go and tell the King and Queen.”


“Your royal father and mother.”

“Oh, don’t mock me!” said the poor Princess. “You know that was only a game, too, like⁠—”

“Like the bread and cheese,” said Jimmy triumphantly. “I knew that was!”

“But your dress and being asleep in the maze, and⁠—”

“Oh, I dressed up for fun, because everyone’s away at the fair, and I put the clue just to make it all more real. I was playing at Fair Rosamond first, and then I heard you talking in the maze, and I thought what fun; and now I’m invisible, and I shall never come right again, never⁠—I know I shan’t! It serves me right for lying, but I didn’t really think you’d believe it⁠—not more than half, that is,” she added hastily, trying to be truthful.

“But if you’re not the Princess, who are you?” asked Kathleen, still embracing the unseen.

“I’m⁠—my aunt lives here,” said the invisible Princess. “She may be home any time. Oh, what shall I do?”

“Perhaps she knows some charm⁠—”

“Oh, nonsense!” said the voice sharply; “she doesn’t believe in charms. She would be so vexed. Oh, I daren’t let her see me like this!” she added wildly. “And all of you here, too. She’d be so dreadfully cross.”

The beautiful magic castle that the children had believed in now felt as though it were tumbling about their ears. All that was left was the invisibleness of the Princess. But that, you will own, was a good deal.

“I just said it,” moaned the voice, “and it came true. I wish I’d never played at magic⁠—I wish I’d never played at anything at all.”

“Oh, don’t say that,” Gerald said kindly. “Let’s go out into the garden, near the lake, where it’s cool, and we’ll hold a solemn council. You’ll like that, won’t you?”

“Oh!” cried Kathleen suddenly, “the buckle; that makes magic come undone!”

“It doesn’t really,” murmured the voice that seemed to speak without lips. “I only just said that.”

“You only ‘just said’ about the ring,” said Gerald. “Anyhow, let’s try.”

“Not you⁠—me,” said the voice. “You go down to the Temple of Flora, by the lake. I’ll go back to the jewel-room by myself. Aunt might see you.”

“She won’t see you,” said Jimmy.

“Don’t rub it in,” said Gerald. “Where is the Temple of Flora?”

“That’s the way,” the voice said; “down those steps and along the winding path through the shrubbery. You can’t miss it. It’s white marble, with a statue goddess inside.”

The three children went down to the white marble Temple of Flora that stood close against the side of the little hill, and sat down in its shadowy inside. It had arches all round except against the hill behind the statue, and it was cool and restful.

They had not been there five minutes before the feet of a runner sounded loud on the gravel. A shadow, very black and distinct, fell on the white marble floor.

“Your shadow’s not invisible, anyhow,” said Jimmy.

“Oh, bother my shadow!” the voice of the Princess replied. “We left the key inside the door, and it’s shut itself with the wind, and it’s a spring lock!”

There was a heartfelt pause.

Then Gerald said, in his most businesslike manner: “Sit down, Princess, and we’ll have a thorough good palaver about it.”

“I shouldn’t wonder,” said Jimmy, “if we was to wake up and find it was dreams.”

“No such luck,” said the voice.

“Well,” said Gerald, “first of all, what’s your name, and if you’re not a Princess, who are you?”

“I’m⁠—I’m,” said a voice broken with sobs, “I’m the⁠—housekeeper’s⁠—niece⁠—at⁠—the⁠—castle⁠—and my name’s Mabel Prowse.”

“That’s exactly what I thought,” said Jimmy, without a shadow of truth, because how could he? The others were silent. It was a moment full of agitation and confused ideas.

“Well, anyhow,” said Gerald, “you belong here.”

“Yes,” said the voice, and it came from the floor, as though its owner had flung herself down in the madness of despair. “Oh yes, I belong here right enough, but what’s the use of belonging anywhere if you’re invisible?”