John Derringham knew now that he was dreaming—or drunk with some nectar which was not of earth. And still she led him on, and then pointed to the old bench which he could just see.
“We shall sit here,” she said, “and Aphrodite shall tell us your future—for see, she, too, loves the night and comes here with me.”
And to his intense astonishment, as he peered on to the table, he saw a misty mass of folds of silk, and there lay the goddess’s head, that Halcyone had shown to him that day in the long gallery more than a month ago.
He was so petrified with surprise at the whole thing that he had ceased to reason. Everything came now as a matter of course, like the preposterous sequence of events in a dream. The Aphrodite lay, as a woman caressed, half buried in her silken folds, but Halcyone lifted her up and propped her against a stone vase which was near, letting the silk fall so that the broken neck did not show, and it seemed as if a living woman’s face gazed down upon them.
John Derringham’s eyes were growing more accustomed to the darkness, or Halcyone really had some magic power, for it seemed to him that he could see the divine features quite clearly.
“She is saying,” the soft voice of his companion whispered in his ear, “that all the things you will grasp with your hands are but dreams—and the things that you now believe to be dreams are all real.”
“And are you a dream, you sweet?” asked John Derringham. “Or are you tangible, and must I drink the poison cup, after all?”
“I would give you no noxious wine,” she answered. “If you were strong and wise and true, only the fire which I have stolen from heaven could come to you.”
“Long ago,” he said, “you gave me an oak-leaf, dryad, and I have kept it still. What now will you grant to me?”
“Nothing, since you fear—” and she drew back.
“I do not fear,” he answered wildly. “Halcyone!—sweetheart! I want you—here—next my heart. Give me—yourself!”
Then he stretched out his arms and drew her to him, all soft and loving and unresisting, and he pressed his lips to her pure and tender lips. And it seemed as if the heavens opened, and the Night poured down all that was divine of bliss.
But before he could be sure that indeed he held her safely in his arms, she started forward, releasing herself. Then, clasping Aphrodite and her silken folds, with a bound she was far beyond him, and had disappeared in the shadow of the archway, on whose curve the last rays of moonlight played, so that he saw it outlined and clear.
He strode forward to follow her, but to his amazement, when he reached the place, she seemed to vanish absolutely in front of his eyes, and although he lit a match and searched everywhere, not the slightest trace of her could he find, and there was no opening or possible corner into which she could have disappeared.
Absolutely dumbfounded, he groped his way back to the bench, and sitting down buried his head in his hands. Surely it was all a dream, then, and he had been drunk—with the Professor’s Falernian wine—and had wandered here and slept. But, God of all the nights, what an exquisite dream!