Although her fingers were able to touch the sides and bottom, they couldn't reach the end of the mailbox where the gold beckoned. She pulled out her arm and looked in again. Yes, the gold circle still shone at the back. Susan went to the side of the mailbox and measured her arm against it. Her arm was longer. Why couldn't it reach the back, then? She hated things that didn't make sense.
"All right, mailbox, enough is enough."
Susan stepped up to the dark opening and put both of her arms in, wedging her elbows against the inner sides of the mailbox. Perfect. She'd learned this trick at rock-climbing camp. Climbers used it to pull themselves through narrow openings that provided no handholds or footholds. She put her head between her arms, pushed with her legs, pulled with her arms, and heaved herself into the mailbox. Only her legs stuck out. One more pull and a vigorous wriggle delivered her into the mailbox. But she still could not reach the end where the gold gleamed.
Then a marvelous thought struck her. Her aunt really was a witch, and this was a shortcut back to the mansion. That's why her aunt had sent her to the beach—to find the mailbox tunnel! The gold at the end of the tunnel was really the reflection from the gold shield in the hall. Wouldn't Aunt Camellia be surprised when she re-appeared in the house?
Susan discovered that the top of the mailbox was higher than she thought - high enough to allow her to get on her hands and knees and crawl towards the shield. She chuckled to herself at the thought of arriving just in time for dinner through the magic tunnel, which must end in the giant fireplace. The further Susan went, the brighter the golden light grew. The tunnel had now become high enough for her to stand up without bumping her head.
As she walked on, the golden light grew so bright she had to squint. When she reached the end of the tunnel, she found herself standing on a smooth floor. She didn't recall the bottom of her aunt's fireplace feeling like the marble floor of St. Peter's Cathedral, which she'd visited with Papa last Easter. But what did it matter, she shrugged, she'd got back through the secret tunnel.
"Aunt Camellia, I'm here! I found the tunnel!"
"Tunnel…tunnel…tunnel…" Her words echoed emptily and ever more faintly as if she were standing in a mountain pass. Susan shivered. Something was very wrong.