Now, when the three travelers had received their presents, and had looked their last upon the shining face of the donor, they went out of the palace and through the golden gate of the wonderful city in which she dwelt, and so, once again, they came into the land which lies this side of the sun.Then their ordeal began; but, indeed, they saw no sirens or dragons or gorgons, but only people like themselves going and coming along the highways. Some of these people sauntered, some ran, some walked alone and pensively, others congregated in groups together and talked or laughed or shouted noisy songs. Under the pleasant trees on the greensward were pavilions, beautifully adorned; the sound of music issued from many of them, fair women danced there under the new-blossoming trees, tossing flowers into the air, and feasts were spread, wine flowed, and jewels glittered. And the music and the dancing women pleased the ear and eye of one of the three travelers, so that he turned aside from his companions to listen and to look. Then presently a group of youths and girls drew near and spoke to him. "It is our festival," they said; "we are worshippers of Queen Beauty; come and feast with us. The moon of May is rising; we shall dance all night in her beautiful soft beams." But he said, "I have just returned from a country the beauty of which far surpasses that of anything one can see here, and where there is a Princess so lovely and so stately that the greatest Queen of all your world is not fit to be her tiring maid." Then they said, "Where is that country of which you speak, and who is this wonderful Princess?" "It is the land beyond the sunset," he answered, "but the name of the Princess no man knows until she herself tells it him. And she will tell it only to the man whom she loves."At that they laughed and made mirth among themselves. "Your land is the land of dreams," they said; "we have heard all about it. Nothing there is real, and as for your Princess she is a mere shadow, a vision of your own creation, and no substantial being at all. The only real and true beauty is the beauty we see and touch and hear; the beauty which sense reveals to us, and which is present with us today." Then he answered, "I do not blame you at all, for you have never seen my Princess. But I have seen her, and heard her speak, and some day I hope to return to her. And when I came away she warned me that in this country I should be beset by all manner of strange and monstrous spectres, harpies, and sirens, eaters of men, whom I must bravely meet and overcome. I pray you tell me in what part of your land these dangers lie, that I may be on my guard against them."Thereat they laughed the more, and answered him, "Oh, foolish traveler, your head is certainly full of dreams! There are no such things as sirens; all that is an old Greek fable, a fairy tale with no meaning except for old Greeks and modern babies! You will never meet with any sirens or harpies, nor will you ever see again the Princess of whom you talk, unless, indeed, in your dreams. It is this country that is the only real one, there is nothing at all beyond the sunset."Now, all this time the little bird which the Princess had given to him was singing quite loudly under the folds of the traveler's cloak. And he took it out and showed it to the youths who spoke with him, and said, "This bird was given me by the Princess whom you declare to be a myth. How could a myth give me this living bird?" They answered, "You are surely a madman as well as a dreamer. Doubtless the bird flew into your chamber while you slept, and your dreaming fancy took advantage of the incident to frame this tale about the Princess and her gift. It is often so in dreams. The consciousness perceives things as it were through a cloud, and weaves fictions out of realities." Then he began to doubt, but still he held his ground, and said, "Yet hear how sweetly it sings! No wild, untaught bird of earth could sing like that." Whereat they were vastly merry, and one cried, Why, it is quite a common 'tweet-tweet!' It is no more than the chirp of a vulgar, everyday thrush or linnet!" And another, "Were I you, I would wring the bird's neck; it must be a terrible nuisance if it always makes such a noise!" And a third, "Let it fly, we cannot hear ourselves speaking for its screaming!" Then the traveler began to feel ashamed of his bird. "All that I say," he thought, "appears to them foolish, even the Princess's gift is, in their eyes, a common chirping chaffinch. What if indeed I have been dreaming; what if this, after all, should be the real world, and the other a mere fantasy?"The bird sang, "Away! away! or you will never see the Princess more! The real world lies beyond the gates of the sunset!"But when the traveler asked the youths what the bird sang, they answered that they had only heard "Tweet-tweet," and "Chirp-chirp." Then he was really angry, but not with them, as you would perhaps have thought. No, he was angry with the bird, and ashamed of it and of himself. And he threw it from him into the air, and clapped his hands to drive it away; and all the youths and girls that stood around him clapped theirs too. "Sh-shsh," they cried, "be off, you are a good-for-nothing hedge-finch, and may be thankful your neck has not been wrung to punish you for making such a noise!"So the bird flew away, away beyond the sunset, and I think it went back to the Princess and told her all that had happened. And the traveler went, and danced and sang and feasted to his heart's content with the worshippers of Queen Beauty, not knowing that he really had fallen among the sirens after all!