I accompanied them without any feeling of false delicacy. The world, as known to me, was spread with food each several mid-day, and the particular table one sat at seemed a matter of no importance. The palace was very sumptuous and beautiful, just what a palace ought to be; and we were met by a stately lady, rather more grown-up than the Princess—apparently her mother. My friend the Man was very kind, and introduced me as the Captain, saying I had just run down from Aldershot. I didn’t know where Aldershot was, but I had no manner of doubt that he was perfectly right. As a rule, indeed, grown-up people are fairly[62] correct on matters of fact; it is in the higher gift of imagination that they are so sadly to seek.

The lunch was excellent and varied. Another gentleman in beautiful clothes—a lord presumably—lifted me into a high carved chair, and stood behind it, brooding over me like a Providence. I endeavoured to explain who I was and where I had come from, and to impress the company with my own toothbrush and Harold’s tables; but either they were stupid—or is it a characteristic of Fairyland that every one laughs at the most ordinary remarks? My friend the Man said good-naturedly, ‘All right, Water-baby; you came up the stream, and that’s good enough for us.’ The lord—a reserved sort of man, I thought—took no share in the conversation.

After lunch I walked on the terrace with the Princess and my friend the Man, and was very proud. And I told him what I was going to be, and he told me what he was going to be; and then I remarked, ‘I suppose you two are going to get married?’ He only laughed, after[63] the Fairy fashion. ‘Because if you aren’t,’ I added, ‘you really ought to’: meaning only that a man who discovered a Princess, living in the right sort of Palace like this, and didn’t marry her there and then, was false to all recognised tradition.

They laughed again, and my friend suggested I should go down to the pond and look at the gold-fish, while they went for a stroll. I was sleepy, and assented; but before they left me, the grown-up man put two half-crowns in my hand, for the purpose, he explained, of treating the other water-babies. I was so touched by this crowning mark of friendship that I nearly cried; and I thought much more of his generosity than of the fact that the Princess, ere she moved away, stooped down and kissed me.