Steep indeed it was. A kind of shaft, floored for the most part with slippery earth, but here and there with an irregular stairway of rock; and still at the lower end of the tunnel shone a faint light. I would have given worlds by this time to retrace my steps. A slight draught, blowing up the tunnel from my companion to me, bore the odour of death upwards under my nostrils; but this, while it dizzied and sickened me, seemed to clog my feet and take away all will to escape. I had nearly swooned, indeed, when my feet encountered level earth again, and she put out a hand to steady me.
“Is—is—this the end?”
“It goes down—down, little boy; but we need not follow it. See, there is light, to the left of you; light, and fresh air, and my pretty bower.”
I turned as her hand guided me. A puff of wind blew on my cheek, cold and infinitely pure. I stood blinking in a short gallery that ended suddenly in blue sky, and, staggering forward, I cast myself down on the brink.
It was as though I lay on the sill of a great open window. Below me—far below—waved great masses of forest, and beyond these—far beyond—shone the blue sea. I cannot say to what depth the cliff fell away below me. It was more than sheer—it was undercut. I lay as one suspended over the void.
“But see, pe-ritty boy! did I not promise you wonders?”
As I faced around to the darkness of the gallery, she held aloft something which, for the moment, I mistook for a great green snake with lines of fire running from scale to scale and sparkling as she waved it before me. I rolled over upon my elbow and stared. It was a rope of emeralds.
She flung an end over one shoulder and looped it low over her breast; then, passing the other end about her neck, she brought it forward over the same shoulder and let it dangle. It reached almost to her feet.
“Does it become me, little boy?” She made me a mock curtsey that set the gems dancing with fire. “Come and choose, then!” She put out both hands to the darkness by the wall, and a whole cascade of jewels came sliding down and poured themselves with a rush about her feet and across the floor of the gallery. She laughed and thrust her hands again into the heap.
“All these I found—I myself—and carried up here from the darkness. Take what you will, little boy, and run back to your ship. Is it diamonds you will choose, or rubies, or—see here—this chain of pearls? I do not like pearls, for my part; they mean sorrow. But—see here, again!—there were boxes and boxes, all heaped to the brim, and long robes sown all over with pearls. Take what you like— he will not know. He gives me diamonds sometimes. I adored them in the old days, in opera. And he remembers and gives me a stone from time to time, to keep me amused. I laugh to myself, then, when I think of the store I keep, here in my bower. And he so clever! But he does not guess. Ah, child, if I had had but these to wear when I used to sing Eurydice!”