Lightly and swiftly they skimmed over the ground, and I could not in
the least understand how it was I kept up with them so easily. But the
unsolved problem did not worry me so much as at another time it might
have done, there were so many other things to attend to.
The old Beggar must have been very deaf, as he paid no attention
whatever to Bruno’s eager shouting, but trudged wearily on, never
pausing until the child got in front of him and held up the slice of
cake. The poor little fellow was quite out of breath, and could only
utter the one word “Cake!” not with the gloomy decision with which Her
Excellency had so lately pronounced it, but with a sweet childish
timidity, looking up into the old man’s face with eyes that loved
‘all things both great and small.’
The old man snatched it from him, and devoured it greedily, as some
hungry wild beast might have done, but never a word of thanks did he
give his little benefactor–only growled “More, more!” and glared at
the half-frightened children.
“There is no more!”, Sylvie said with tears in her eyes.
“I’d eaten mine. It was a shame to let you be turned away like that.
I’m very sorry–”
I lost the rest of the sentence, for my mind had recurred, with a great
shock of surprise, to Lady Muriel Orme, who had so lately uttered these
very words of Sylvie’s–yes, and in Sylvie’s own voice, and with
Sylvie’s gentle pleading eyes!
“Follow me!” were the next words I heard, as the old man waved his
hand, with a dignified grace that ill suited his ragged dress, over a
bush, that stood by the road side, which began instantly to sink into
the earth. At another time I might have doubted the evidence of my
eyes, or at least have felt some astonishment: but, in this strange
scene, my whole being seemed absorbed in strong curiosity as to what
would happen next.
When the bush had sunk quite out of our sight, marble steps were seen,
leading downwards into darkness. The old man led the way, and we
The staircase was so dark, at first, that I could only just see the
forms of the children, as, hand-in-hand, they groped their way down
after their guide: but it got lighter every moment, with a strange
silvery brightness, that seemed to exist in the air, as there were no
lamps visible; and, when at last we reached a level floor, the room,
in which we found ourselves, was almost as light as day.
It was eight-sided, having in each angle a slender pillar, round which
silken draperies were twined. The wall between the pillars was entirely
covered, to the height of six or seven feet, with creepers, from which
hung quantities of ripe fruit and of brilliant flowers, that almost hid
the leaves. In another place, perchance, I might have wondered to see
fruit and flowers growing together: here, my chief wonder was that
neither fruit nor flowers were such as I had ever seen before.
Higher up, each wall contained a circular window of coloured glass;
and over all was an arched roof, that seemed to be spangled all over
With hardly less wonder, I turned this way and that, trying to make out
how in the world we had come in: for there was no door: and all the
walls were thickly covered with the lovely creepers.
“We are safe here, my darlings!” said the old man, laying a hand on
Sylvie’s shoulder, and bending down to kiss her. Sylvie drew back
hastily, with an offended air: but in another moment, with a glad cry
of “Why, it’s Father!”, she had run into his arms.
[Image…A beggar’s palace]
“Father! Father!” Bruno repeated: and, while the happy children
were being hugged and kissed, I could but rub my eyes and say
“Where, then, are the rags gone to?”; for the old man was now dressed
in royal robes that glittered with jewels and gold embroidery,
and wore a circlet of gold around his head.
THE MAGIC LOCKET.
“Where are we, father?” Sylvie whispered, with her arms twined closely