"When I was a child," she said, "I used to think that by opening a door I could step into an enchanted realm like this. Only I could never find the door. Perhaps," she added, gayly pursuing the conceit, "it was because you had the key, and I didn't know you in those days." She gave him a swift, searching look, smiling, whimsical yet startled,--so elusive that the memory of it afterwards was wont to come and go like a flash of light. "Who are you?" she asked.
His blood leaped, but he smiled in delighted understanding of her mood. Sarah Austen had brought just such a magic touch to an excursion, and even at that moment Austen found himself marvelling a little at the strange resemblance between the two.
"I am a plain person whose ancestors came from a village called Camden Street," he replied. "Camden Street is there, on a shelf of the hills, and through the arch of its elms you can look off over the forests of the lowlands until they end in the blue reaches of the ocean,--if you could see far enough."
"If you could see far enough," said Victoria, unconsciously repeating his words. "But that doesn't explain you," she exclaimed: "You are like nobody I ever met, and you have a supernatural faculty of appearing suddenly, from nowhere, and whisking me away like the lady in the fable, out of myself and the world I live in. If I become so inordinately grateful as to talk nonsense, you mustn't blame me. Try not to think of the number of times I've seen you, or when it was we first met."
"I believe," said Austen, gravely, "it was when a mammoth beast had his cave on Holdfast, and the valleys were covered with cocoanut-palms."
"And you appeared suddenly then, too, and rescued me. You have always been uniformly kind," she said, "but--a little intangible."
"A myth," he suggested, "with neither height, breadth, nor thickness."
"You have height and breadth," she answered, measuring him swiftly with her eye; "I am not sure about the thickness. Perhaps. What I mean to say is, that you seem to be a person in the world, but not of it. Your exits and entrances are too mysterious, and then you carry me out of it,- -although I invite myself, which is not at all proper."