THAT NIGHT 275
the night-gowns lady Mara had put on them, but they could not; and in the morning not one of them had a scratch. Through the dark suddenly, came the only sound they heard the night long —the far-off howl of the huge great-grandmother-cat in the desert: she must have been calling her little ones, they thought, for that instant the cats stopped, and all was still. Once more they fell fast asleep, and did not wake till the sun was rising.
Such was the account the children gave of their experiences. But I was with the veiled woman and the princess all through the night: something of what took place I saw; much I only felt; and there was more which eye could not see, and heart only could in a measure understand.
As soon as Mara left the room with the children, my eyes fell on the white leopardess: I thought we had left her behind us, but there she was, cowering in a corner. Apparently she was in mortal terror of what she might see. A lamp stood on the high chimney-piece, and sometimes the room seemed full of lamp-shadows, sometimes of cloudy forms. The princess lay on the settle by the wall, and seemed never to have moved hand or foot. It was a fearsome waiting.
When Mara returned, she drew the settle with Lilith upon it to the middle of the room, then sat down opposite me, at the other side of the hearth. Between us burned a small fire.
Something terrible was on its way! The cloudy presences flickered and shook. A silvery creature like a slowworm came crawling out from among them, slowrly crossed the clay floor, and crept into the fire. We sat motionless. The something came nearer.