There was a boy who used to sit in the twilight and listen to his great-aunt’s stories.
She told him that if he could reach the place where the end of the rainbow stands he would find there a golden key.
“And what is the key for?” the boy would ask. “What is it the key of? What will it open?”
“That nobody knows,” his aunt would reply. “He has to find that out.”
“I suppose, being gold,” the boy once said, thoughtfully, “that I could get a good deal of money for it if I sold it.”
“Better never find it than sell it,” returned his aunt. And then the boy went to bed and dreamed about the golden key.
Now, all that his great-aunt told the boy about the golden key would have been nonsense, had it not been that their little house stood on the borders of Fairyland. For it is perfectly well known that out of Fairyland nobody ever can find where the rainbow stands. The creature takes such good care of its golden key, always flitting from place to place, lest anyone should find it! But in Fairyland it is quite different. Things that look real in this country look very thin indeed in Fairyland, while some of the things that here cannot stand still for a moment, will not move there. So it was not in the least absurd of the old lady to tell her nephew such things about the golden key.
“Did you ever know anybody find it?” he asked one evening.
“Yes. Your father, I believe, found it.”
“And what did he do with it, can you tell me?”
“He never told me.”
“What was it like?”
“He never showed it to me.”
“How does a new key come there always?”
“I don’t know. There it is.”
“Perhaps it is the rainbow’s egg.”
“Perhaps it is. You will be a happy boy if you find the nest.”
“Perhaps it comes tumbling down the rainbow from the sky.”
“Perhaps it does.”
One evening, in summer, he went into his own room, and stood at the lattice-window, and gazed into the forest which fringed the outskirts of Fairyland. It came close up to his great-aunt’s garden, and, indeed, sent some straggling trees into it. The forest lay to the east, and the sun, which was setting behind the cottage, looked straight into the dark wood with his level red eye. The trees were all old, and had few branches below, so that the sun could see a great way into the forest; and the boy, being keen-sighted, could see almost as far as the sun. The trunks stood like rows of red columns in the shine of the red sun, and he could see down aisle after aisle in the vanishing distance. And as he gazed into the forest he began to feel as if the trees were all waiting for him, and had something they could not go on with till he came to them. But he was hungry, and wanted his supper. So he lingered.
Suddenly, far among the trees, as far as the sun could shine, he saw a glorious thing. It was the end of a rainbow, large and brilliant. He could count all the seven colours, and could see shade after shade beyond the violet; while before the red stood a colour more gorgeous and mysterious still. It was a colour he had never seen before. Only the spring of the rainbow-arch was visible. He could see nothing of it above the trees.
“The golden key!” he said to himself, and darted out of the house, and into the wood.
He had not gone far before the sun set. But the rainbow only glowed the brighter: for the rainbow of Fairyland is not dependent upon the sun as ours is. The trees welcomed him. The bushes made way for him. The rainbow grew larger and brighter; and at length he found himself within two trees of it.