278 THE SNOW QUEEN
my sweetheart, and here's a little loaf for you. She took it from the kitchen. There's plenty of bread there, and you must be hungry. You can't possibly get into the palace, for you are barefoot, and the guards in silver and the lackeys in gold would not allow it. But don't cry; you shall go up. My sweetheart knows a little back staircase that leads up to the bedroom, and she knows where she can get the key.'
And they went into the garden, into the great avenue, where one leaf was falling down after another ; and when the lights were extinguished in the palace one after the other, the Crow led Gerda to a back door, which stood ajar.
Oh, how Gerda's heart beat with fear and longing ! It was just as if she had been going to do something wicked ; and yet she only wanted to know if it was little Kay. Yes, it must be he. She thought so deeply of his clear eyes and his long hair, she could fancy she saw how he smiled as he had smiled at home when they sat among the roses. He would certainly be glad to see her ; to hear what a long distance she had come for his sake ; to know how sorry they had all been at home when he did not come back. Oh, what a fear and what a joy that was !
Now they were on the staircase. A little lamp was burning upon a cupboard, and in the middle of the floor stood the tame Crow turning her head on every side and looking at Gerda, who curtsied as her grandmother had taught her to do.
' My betrothed has spoken to me very favourably of you, my little lady,' said the tame Crow. : Your history, as it may be called, is very moving. Will you take the lamp ? then I will precede you. We will go the straight way, for we shall meet nobody.'
1 I feel as if some one were coming after us,' said Gerda, as something rushed by her : it seemed like shadows on the wall; horses with flying manes and thin legs, hunters, and ladies and gentlemen on horseback.
; These are only dreams,' said the Crow ; ' they are coming to carry the high masters' thoughts out hunting. That's all the better, for you may look at them the more closely, in bed. But I hope, when you come to honour and dignity, you will show a grateful heart.'