The Princess and Curdie
by George MacDonald
1 The Mountain
2 The White Pigeon
3 The Mistress of the Silver Moon
4 Curdie's Father and Mother
5 The Miners
6 The Emerald
7 What Is in a Name?
8 Curdie's Mission
10 The Heath
12 More Creatures
13 The Baker's Wife
14 The Dogs of Gwyntystorm
15 Derba and Barbara
16 The Mattock
17 The Wine Cellar
18 The King's Kitchen
19 The King's Chamber
21 The Loaf
22 The Lord Chamberlain
23 Dr Kelman
24 The Prophecy
25 The Avengers
26 The Vengeance
27 More Vengeance
28 The Preacher
31 The Sacrifice
32 The King's Army
33 The Battle
35 The End
Curdie was the son of Peter the miner. He lived with his father
and mother in a cottage built on a mountain, and he worked with his
father inside the mountain.
A mountain is a strange and awful thing. In old times, without
knowing so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people
were yet more afraid of mountains. But then somehow they had not
come to see how beautiful they are as well as awful, and they hated
them - and what people hate they must fear. Now that we have
learned to look at them with admiration, perhaps we do not feel
quite awe enough of them. To me they are beautiful terrors.
I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the
heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below,
and rushed up and out. For the heart of the earth is a great
wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals,
but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones. And as our hearts
keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it
is a huge power of buried sunlight - that is what it is.
Now think: out of that cauldron, where all the bubbles would be as
big as the Alps if it could get room for its boiling, certain
bubbles have bubbled out and escaped - up and away, and there they
stand in the cool, cold sky - mountains. Think of the change, and
you will no more wonder that there should be something awful about
the very look of a mountain: from the darkness - for where the
light has nothing to shine upon, much the same as darkness - from
the heat, from the endless tumult of boiling unrest - up, with a
sudden heavenward shoot, into the wind, and the cold, and the
starshine, and a cloak of snow that lies like ermine above the
blue-green mail of the glaciers; and the great sun, their
grandfather, up there in the sky; and their little old cold aunt,
the moon, that comes wandering about the house at night; and
everlasting stillness, except for the wind that turns the rocks and
caverns into a roaring organ for the young archangels that are
studying how to let out the pent-up praises of their hearts, and
the molten music of the streams, rushing ever from the bosoms of
the glaciers fresh born.
Think, too, of the change in their own substance - no longer molten
and soft, heaving and glowing, but hard and shining and cold.
Think of the creatures scampering over and burrowing in it, and the
birds building their nests upon it, and the trees growing out of
its sides, like hair to clothe it, and the lovely grass in the
valleys, and the gracious flowers even at the very edge of its
armour of ice, like the rich embroidery of the garment below, and
the rivers galloping down the valleys in a tumult of white and
green! And along with all these, think of the terrible precipices
down which the traveller may fall and be lost, and the frightful
gulfs of blue air cracked in the glaciers, and the dark profound
lakes, covered like little arctic oceans with floating lumps of
All this outside the mountain! But the inside, who shall tell what
lies there? Caverns of awfullest solitude, their walls miles
thick, sparkling with ores of gold or silver, copper or iron, tin
or mercury, studded perhaps with precious stones - perhaps a brook,
with eyeless fish in it, running, running ceaselessly, cold and
babbling, through banks crusted with carbuncles and golden topazes,
or over a gravel of which some of the stones arc rubies and
emeralds, perhaps diamonds and sapphires - who can tell? - and
whoever can't tell is free to think - all waiting to flash, waiting
for millions of ages - ever since the earth flew off from the sun,
a great blot of fire, and began to cool.
Then there are caverns full of water, numbingly cold, fiercely hot
- hotter than any boiling water. From some of these the water
cannot get out, and from others it runs in channels as the blood in
the body: little veins bring it down from the ice above into the
great caverns of the mountain's heart, whence the arteries let it
out again, gushing in pipes and clefts and ducts of all shapes and
kinds, through and through its bulk, until it springs newborn to
the light, and rushes down the Mountainside in torrents, and down
the valleys in rivers - down, down, rejoicing, to the mighty lungs
of the world, that is the sea, where it is tossed in storms and
cyclones, heaved up in billows, twisted in waterspouts, dashed to
mist upon rocks, beaten by millions of tails, and breathed by
millions of gills, whence at last, melted into vapour by the sun,
it is lifted up pure into the air, and borne by the servant winds
back to the mountaintops and the snow, the solid ice, and the
Well, when the heart of the earth has thus come rushing up among
her children, bringing with it gifts of all that she possesses,
then straightway into it rush her children to see what they can
find there. With pickaxe and spade and crowbar, with boring chisel
and blasting powder, they force their way back: is it to search for
what toys they may have left in their long-forgotten nurseries?
Hence the mountains that lift their heads into the clear air, and
are dotted over with the dwellings of men, are tunnelled and bored
in the darkness of their bosoms by the dwellers in the houses which
they hold up to the sun and air.
Curdie and his father were of these: their business was to bring to
light hidden things; they sought silver in the rock and found it,
and carried it out. Of the many other precious things in their
mountain they knew little or nothing. Silver ore was what they
were sent to find, and in darkness and danger they found it. But
oh, how sweet was the air on the mountain face when they came out
at sunset to go home to wife and mother! They did breathe deep
The mines belonged to the king of the country, and the miners were
his servants, working under his overseers and officers. He was a
real king - that is, one who ruled for the good of his people and
not to please himself, and he wanted the silver not to buy rich
things for himself, but to help him to govern the country, and pay
the ones that defended it from certain troublesome neighbours, and
the judges whom he set to portion out righteousness among the
people, that so they might learn it themselves, and come to do
without judges at all. Nothing that could be got from the heart of
the earth could have been put to better purposes than the silver
the king's miners got for him. There were people in the country
who, when it came into their hands, degraded it by locking it up in
a chest, and then it grew diseased and was called mammon, and bred
all sorts of quarrels; but when first it left the king's hands it
never made any but friends, and the air of the world kept it clean.
About a year before this story began, a series of very remarkable
events had just ended. I will narrate as much of them as will
serve to show the tops of the roots of my tree.
Upon the mountain, on one of its many claws, stood a grand old
house, half farmhouse, half castle, belonging to the king; and
there his only child, the Princess Irene, had been brought up till
she was nearly nine years old, and would doubtless have continued
much longer, but for the strange events to which I have referred.
At that time the hollow places of the mountain were inhabited by
creatures called goblins, who for various reasons and in various
ways made themselves troublesome to all, but to the little princess
dangerous. Mainly by the watchful devotion and energy of Curdie,
however, their designs had been utterly defeated, and made to
recoil upon themselves to their own destruction, so that now there
were very few of them left alive, and the miners did not believe
there was a single goblin remaining in the whole inside of the
The king had been so pleased with the boy - then approaching
thirteen years of age - that when he carried away his daughter he
asked him to accompany them; but he was still better pleased with
him when he found that he preferred staying with his father and
mother. He was a right good king and knew that the love of a boy
who would not leave his father and mother to be made a great man
was worth ten thousand offers to die for his sake, and would prove
so when the right time came. As for his father and mother, they
would have given him up without a grumble, for they were just as
good as the king, and he and they understood each other perfectly;
but in this matter, not seeing that he could do anything for the
king which one of his numerous attendants could not do as well,
Curdie felt that it was for him to decide. So the king took a kind
farewell of them all and rode away, with his daughter on his horse
A gloom fell upon the mountain and the miners when she was gone,
and Curdie did not whistle for a whole week. As for his verses,
there was no occasion to make any now. He had made them only to
drive away the goblins, and they were all gone - a good riddance -
only the princess was gone too! He would rather have had things as
they were, except for the princess's sake. But whoever is diligent
will soon be cheerful, and though the miners missed the household
of the castle, they yet managed to get on without them.
Peter and his wife, however, were troubled with the fancy that they
had stood in the way of their boy's good fortune. it would have
been such a fine thing for him and them, too, they thought, if he
had ridden with the good king's train. How beautiful he looked,
they said, when he rode the king's own horse through the river that
the goblins had sent out of the hill! He might soon have been a
captain, they did believe! The good, kind people did not reflect
that the road to the next duty is the only straight one, or that,
for their fancied good, we should never wish our children or
friends to do what we would not do ourselves if we were in their
position. We must accept righteous sacrifices as well as make
The White Pigeon
When in the winter they had had their supper and sat about the
fire, or when in the summer they lay on the border of the
rock-margined stream that ran through their little meadow close by
the door of their cottage, issuing from the far-up whiteness often
folded in clouds, Curdie's mother would not seldom lead the
conversation to one peculiar personage said and believed to have
been much concerned in the late issue of events.
That personage was the great-great-grandmother of the princess, of
whom the princess had often talked, but whom neither Curdie nor his
mother had ever seen. Curdie could indeed remember, although
already it looked more like a dream than he could account for if it
had really taken place, how the princess had once led him up many
stairs to what she called a beautiful room in the top of the tower,
where she went through all the - what should he call it? - the
behaviour of presenting him to her grandmother, talking now to her
and now to him, while all the time he saw nothing but a bare
garret, a heap of musty straw, a sunbeam, and a withered apple.
Lady, he would have declared before the king himself, young or old,
there was none, except the princess herself, who was certainly
vexed that he could not see what she at least believed she saw.
As for his mother, she had once seen, long before Curdie was born,
a certain mysterious light of the same description as one Irene
spoke of, calling it her grandmother's moon; and Curdie himself had
seen this same light, shining from above the castle, just as the
king and princess were taking their leave. Since that time neither
had seen or heard anything that could be supposed connected with
her. Strangely enough, however, nobody had seen her go away. if
she was such an old lady, she could hardly be supposed to have set
out alone and on foot when all the house was asleep. Still, away
she must have gone, for, of course, if she was so powerful, she
would always be about the princess to take care of her.
But as Curdie grew older, he doubted more and more whether Irene
had not been talking of some dream she had taken for reality: he
had heard it said that children could not always distinguish
betwixt dreams and actual events. At the same time there was his
mother's testimony: what was he to do with that? His mother,
through whom he had learned everything, could hardly be imagined by
her own dutiful son to have mistaken a dream for a fact of the
So he rather shrank from thinking about it, and the less he thought
about it, the less he was inclined to believe it when he did think
about it, and therefore, of course, the less inclined to talk about
it to his father and mother; for although his father was one of
those men who for one word they say think twenty thoughts, Curdie
was well assured that he would rather doubt his own eyes than his
There were no others to whom he could have talked about it. The
miners were a mingled company - some good, some not so good, some
rather bad - none of them so bad or so good as they might have
been; Curdie liked most of them, and was a favourite with all; but
they knew very little about the upper world, and what might or
might not take place there. They knew silver from copper ore; they
understood the underground ways of things, and they could look very
wise with their lanterns in their hands searching after this or
that sign of ore, or for some mark to guide their way in the
hollows of the earth; but as to great-great-grandmothers, they
would have mocked Curdie all the rest of his life for the absurdity
of not being absolutely certain that the solemn belief of his
father and mother was nothing but ridiculous nonsense. Why, to
them the very word 'great-great-grandmother' would have been a
week's laughter! I am not sure that they were able quite to
believe there were such persons as great-great-grandmothers; they
had never seen one. They were not companions to give the best of
help toward progress, and as Curdie grew, he grew at this time
faster in body than in mind - with the usual consequence, that he
was getting rather stupid - one of the chief signs of which was
that he believed less and less in things he had never seen. At the
same time I do not think he was ever so stupid as to imagine that
this was a sign of superior faculty and strength of mind. Still,
he was becoming more and more a miner, and less and less a man of
the upper world where the wind blew. On his way to and from the
mine he took less and less notice of bees and butterflies, moths
and dragonflies, the flowers and the brooks and the clouds. He was
gradually changing into a commonplace man.
There is this difference between the growth of some human beings
and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in
the other a continuous resurrection. One of the latter sort comes
at length to know at once whether a thing is true the moment it
comes before him; one of the former class grows more and more
afraid of being taken in, so afraid of it that he takes himself in
altogether, and comes at length to believe in nothing but his
dinner: to be sure of a thing with him is to have it between his
Curdie was not in a very good way, then, at that time. His father
and mother had, it is true, no fault to find with him and yet - and
yet - neither of them was ready to sing when the thought of him
came up. There must be something wrong when a mother catches
herself sighing over the time when her boy was in petticoats, or a
father looks sad when he thinks how he used to carry him on his
shoulder. The boy should enclose and keep, as his life, the old
child at the heart of him, and never let it go. He must still, to
be a right man, be his mother's darling, and more, his father's
pride, and more. The child is not meant to die, but to be forever
Curdie had made himself a bow and some arrows, and was teaching
himself to shoot with them. One evening in the early summer, as he
was walking home from the mine with them in his hand, a light
flashed across his eyes. He looked, and there was a snow-white
pigeon settling on a rock in front of him, in the red light of the
level sun. There it fell at once to work with one of its wings, in
which a feather or two had got some sprays twisted, causing a
certain roughness unpleasant to the fastidious creature of the air.
It was indeed a lovely being, and Curdie thought how happy it must
be flitting through the air with a flash - a live bolt of light.
For a moment he became so one with the bird that he seemed to feel
both its bill and its feathers, as the one adjusted the other to
fly again, and his heart swelled with the pleasure of its
involuntary sympathy. Another moment and it would have been aloft
in the waves of rosy light - it was just bending its little legs to
spring: that moment it fell on the path broken-winged and bleeding
from Curdie's cruel arrow.
With a gush of pride at his skill, and pleasure at his success, he
ran to pick up his prey. I must say for him he picked it up gently
- perhaps it was the beginning of his repentance. But when he had
the white thing in his hands its whiteness stained with another red
than that of the sunset flood in which it had been revelling - ah
God! who knows the joy of a bird, the ecstasy of a creature that
has neither storehouse nor barn! - when he held it, I say, in his
victorious hands, the winged thing looked up in his face - and with
such eyes! - asking what was the matter, and where the red sun had
gone, and the clouds, and the wind of its flight. Then they
closed, but to open again presently, with the same questions in
And as they closed and opened, their look was fixed on his. It did
not once flutter or try to get away; it only throbbed and bled and
looked at him. Curdie's heart began to grow very large in his
bosom. What could it mean? It was nothing but a pigeon, and why
should he not kill a pigeon? But the fact was that not till this
very moment had he ever known what a pigeon was. A good many
discoveries of a similar kind have to be made by most of us. Once
more it opened its eyes - then closed them again, and its throbbing
ceased. Curdie gave a sob: its last look reminded him of the
princess - he did not know why. He remembered how hard he had
laboured to set her beyond danger, and yet what dangers she had had
to encounter for his sake: they had been saviours to each other -
and what had he done now? He had stopped saving, and had begun
killing! What had he been sent into the world for? Surely not to
be a death to its joy and loveliness. He had done the thing that
was contrary to gladness; he was a destroyer! He was not the
Curdie he had been meant to be!
Then the underground waters gushed from the boy's heart. And with
the tears came the remembrance that a white pigeon, just before the
princess went away with her father, came from somewhere - yes, from
the grandmother's lamp, and flew round the king and Irene and
himself, and then flew away: this might be that very pigeon!
Horrible to think! And if it wasn't, yet it was a white pigeon,
the same as this. And if she kept a great Many pigeons - and white
ones, as Irene had told him, then whose pigeon could he have killed
but the grand old princess's?
Suddenly everything round about him seemed against him. The red
sunset stung him; the rocks frowned at him; the sweet wind that had
been laving his face as he walked up the hill dropped - as if he
wasn't fit to be kissed any more. Was the whole world going to
cast him out? Would he have to stand there forever, not knowing
what to do, with the dead pigeon in his hand? Things looked bad
indeed. Was the whole world going to make a work about a pigeon -
a white pigeon? The sun went down. Great clouds gathered over the
west, and shortened the twilight. The wind gave a howl, and then
lay down again. The clouds gathered thicker. Then came a
rumbling. He thought it was thunder. It was a rock that fell
inside the mountain. A goat ran past him down the hill, followed
by a dog sent to fetch him home. He thought they were goblin
creatures, and trembled. He used to despise them. And still he
held the dead pigeon tenderly in his hand.
It grew darker and darker. An evil something began to move in his
heart. 'What a fool I am!' he said to himself. Then he grew
angry, and was just going to throw the bird from him and whistle,
when a brightness shone all round him. He lifted his eyes, and saw
a great globe of light - like silver at the hottest heat: he had
once seen silver run from the furnace. It shone from somewhere
above the roofs of the castle: it must be the great old princess's
moon! How could she be there? Of course she was not there! He
had asked the whole household, and nobody knew anything about her
or her globe either. it couldn't be! And yet what did that
signify, when there was the white globe shining, and here was the
dead white bird in his hand? That moment the pigeon gave a little
flutter. 'It's not dead!' cried Curdie, almost with a shriek. The
same instant he was running full speed toward the castle, never
letting his heels down, lest he should shake the poor, wounded
The Mistress of the Silver Moon
When Curdie reached the castle, and ran into the little garden in
front of it, there stood the door wide open. This was as he had
hoped, for what could he have said if he had had to knock at it?
Those whose business it is to open doors, so often mistake and shut
them! But the woman now in charge often puzzled herself greatly to
account for the strange fact that however often she shut the door,
which, like the rest, she took a great deal of unnecessary trouble
to do, she was certain, the next time she went to it, to find it
open. I speak now of the great front door, of course: the back
door she as persistently kept wide: if people could only go in by
that, she said, she would then know what sort they were, and what
they wanted. But she would neither have known what sort Curdie
was, nor what he wanted, and would assuredly have denied him
admittance, for she knew nothing of who was in the tower. So the
front door was left open for him, and in he walked.
But where to go next he could not tell. It was not quite dark: a
dull, shineless twilight filled the place. All he knew was that he
must go up, and that proved enough for the present, for there he
saw the great staircase rising before him. When he reached the top
of it, he knew there must be more stairs yet, for he could not be
near the top of the tower. Indeed by the situation of the stairs,
he must be a good way from the tower itself. But those who work
well in the depths more easily understand the heights, for indeed
in their true nature they are one and the same; miners are in
mountains; and Curdie, from knowing the ways of the king's mines,
and being able to calculate his whereabouts in them, was now able
to find his way about the king's house. He knew its outside
perfectly, and now his business was to get his notion of the inside
right with the outside.
So he shut his eyes and made a picture of the outside of it in his
mind. Then he came in at the door of the picture, and yet kept the
picture before him all the time - for you can do that kind of thing
in your mind - and took every turn of the stair over again, always
watching to remember, every time he turned his face, how the tower
lay, and then when he came to himself at the top where he stood, he
knew exactly where it was, and walked at once in the right
On his way, however, he came to another stair, and up that he went,
of course, watching still at every turn how the tower must lie. At
the top of this stair was yet another - they were the stairs up
which the princess ran when first, without knowing it, she was on
her way to find her great-great-grandmother. At the top of the
second stair he could go no farther, and must therefore set out
again to find the tower, which, as it rose far above the rest of
the house, must have the last of its stairs inside itself.
Having watched every turn to the very last, he still knew quite
well in what direction he must go to find it, so he left the stair
and went down a passage that led, if not exactly toward it, yet
nearer it. This passage was rather dark, for it was very long,
with only one window at the end, and although there were doors on
both sides of it, they were all shut. At the distant window
glimmered the chill east, with a few feeble stars in it, and its
like was dreary and old, growing brown, and looking as if it were
thinking about the day that was just gone. Presently he turned
into another passage, which also had a window at the end of it; and
in at that window shone all that was left of the sunset, just a few
ashes, with here and there a little touch of warmth: it was nearly
as sad as the east, only there was one difference - it was very
plainly thinking of tomorrow.
But at present Curdie had nothing to do with today or tomorrow; his
business was with the bird, and the tower where dwelt the grand old
princess to whom it belonged. So he kept on his way, still
eastward, and came to yet another passage, which brought him to a
door. He was afraid to open it without first knocking. He
knocked, but heard no answer. He was answered nevertheless; for
the door gently opened, and there was a narrow stair - and so steep
that, big lad as he was, he, too, like the Princess Irene before
him, found his hands needful for the climbing. And it was a long
climb, but he reached the top at last - a little landing, with a
door in front and one on each side. Which should he knock at?
As he hesitated, he heard the noise of a spinning wheel. He knew
it at once, because his mother's spinning wheel had been his
governess long ago, and still taught him things. It was the
spinning wheel that first taught him to make verses, and to sing,
and to think whether all was right inside him; or at least it had
helped him in all these things. Hence it was no wonder he should
know a spinning wheel when he heard it sing - even although as the
bird of paradise to other birds was the song of that wheel to the
song of his mother's.
He stood listening, so entranced that he forgot to knock, and the
wheel went on and on, spinning in his brain songs and tales and
rhymes, till he was almost asleep as well as dreaming, for sleep
does not always come first. But suddenly came the thought of the
poor bird, which had been lying motionless in his hand all the
time, and that woke him up, and at once he knocked.
'Come in, Curdie,' said a voice.
Curdie shook. It was getting rather awful. The heart that had
never much heeded an army of goblins trembled at the soft word of
invitation. But then there was the red-spotted white thing in his
hand! He dared not hesitate, though. Gently he opened the door
through which the sound came, and what did he see? Nothing at
first - except indeed a great sloping shaft of moonlight that came
in at a high window, and rested on the floor. He stood and stared
at it, forgetting to shut the door.
'Why don't you come in, Curdie?' said the voice. 'Did you never
see moonlight before?'
'Never without a moon,' answered Curdie, in a trembling tone, but
'Certainly not,' returned the voice, which was thin and quavering:
'I never saw moonlight without a moon.'
'But there's no moon outside,' said Curdie.
'Ah! but you're inside now,' said the voice.
The answer did not satisfy Curdie; but the voice went on.
'There are more moons than you know of, Curdie. Where there is one
sun there are many moons - and of many sorts. Come in and look out
of my window, and you will soon satisfy yourself that there is a
moon looking in at it.'
The gentleness of the voice made Curdie remember his manners. He
shut the door, and drew a step or two nearer to the moonlight.
All the time the sound of the spinning had been going on and on,
and Curdie now caught sight of the wheel. Oh, it was such a thin,
delicate thing - reminding him of a spider's web in a hedge. It
stood in the middle of the moonlight, and it seemed as if the
moonlight had nearly melted it away. A step nearer, he saw, with
a start, two little hands at work with it. And then at last, in
the shadow on the other side of the moonlight which came like
silver between, he saw the form to which the hands belonged: a
small withered creature, so old that no age would have seemed too
great to write under her picture, seated on a stool beyond the
spinning wheel, which looked very large beside her, but, as I said,
very thin, like a long-legged spider holding up its own web, which
was the round wheel itself She sat crumpled together, a filmy thing
that it seemed a puff would blow away, more like the body of a fly
the big spider had sucked empty and left hanging in his web, than
anything else I can think of.
When Curdie saw her, he stood still again, a good deal in wonder,
a very little in reverence, a little in doubt, and, I must add, a
little in amusement at the odd look of the old marvel. Her grey
hair mixed with the moonlight so that he could not tell where the
one began and the other ended. Her crooked back bent forward over
her chest, her shoulders nearly swallowed up her head between them,
and her two little hands were just like the grey claws of a hen,
scratching at the thread, which to Curdie was of course invisible
across the moonlight. Indeed Curdie laughed within himself, just
a little, at the sight; and when he thought of how the princess
used to talk about her huge, great, old grandmother, he laughed
more. But that moment the little lady leaned forward into the
moonlight, and Curdie caught a glimpse of her eyes, and all the
laugh went out of him.
'What do you come here for, Curdie?' she said, as gently as before.
Then Curdie remembered that he stood there as a culprit, and worst
of all, as one who had his confession yet to make. There was no
time to hesitate over it.
'Oh, ma'am! See here,' he said, and advanced a step or two,
holding out the pigeon.
'What have you got there?' she asked.
Again Curdie advanced a few steps, and held out his hand with the
pigeon, that she might see what it was, into the moonlight. The
moment the rays fell upon it the pigeon gave a faint flutter. The
old lady put out her old hands and took it, and held it to her
bosom, and rocked it, murmuring over it as if it were a sick baby.
When Curdie saw how distressed she was he grew sorrier still, and
'I didn't mean to do any harm, ma'am. I didn't think of its being
'Ah, Curdie! If it weren't mine, what would become of it now?' she
returned. 'You say you didn't mean any harm: did you mean any
'No,' answered Curdie.
'Remember, then, that whoever does not mean good is always in
danger of harm. But I try to give everybody fair play; and those
that are in the wrong are in far more need of it always than those
who are in the right: they can afford to do without it. Therefore
I say for you that when you shot that arrow you did not know what
a pigeon is. Now that you do know, you are sorry. It is very
dangerous to do things you don't know about.'
'But, please, ma'am - I don't mean to be rude or to contradict
you,' said Curdie, 'but if a body was never to do anything but what
he knew to be good, he would have to live half his time doing
'There you are much mistaken,' said the old quavering voice. 'How
little you must have thought! Why, you don't seem even to know the
good of the things you are constantly doing. Now don't mistake me.
I don't mean you are good for doing them. It is a good thing to
eat your breakfast, but you don't fancy it's very good of you to do
it. The thing is good, not you.'
'There are a great many more good things than bad things to do.
Now tell me what bad thing you have done today besides this sore
hurt to my little white friend.'
While she talked Curdie had sunk into a sort of reverie, in which
he hardly knew whether it was the old lady or his own heart that
spoke. And when she asked him that question, he was at first much
inclined to consider himself a very good fellow on the whole. 'I
really don't think I did anything else that was very bad all day,'
he said to himself. But at the same time he could not honestly
feel that he was worth standing up for. All at once a light seemed
to break in upon his mind, and he woke up and there was the
withered little atomy of the old lady on the other side of the
moonlight, and there was the spinning wheel singing on and on in
the middle of it!
'I know now, ma'am; I understand now,' he said. 'Thank you, ma'am,
for spinning it into me with your wheel. I see now that I have
been doing wrong the whole day, and such a many days besides!
Indeed, I don't know when I ever did right, and yet it seems as if
I had done right some time and had forgotten how. When I killed
your bird I did not know I was doing wrong, just because I was
always doing wrong, and the wrong had soaked all through me.'
'What wrong were you doing all day, Curdie? It is better to come
to the point, you know,' said the old lady, and her voice was
gentler even than before.
'I was doing the wrong of never wanting or trying to be better.
And now I see that I have been letting things go as they would for
a long time. Whatever came into my head I did, and whatever didn't
come into my head I didn't do. I never sent anything away, and
never looked out for anything to come. I haven't been attending to
my mother - or my father either. And now I think of it, I know I
have often seen them looking troubled, and I have never asked them
what was the matter. And now I see, too, that I did not ask
because I suspected it had something to do with me and my
behaviour, and didn't want to hear the truth. And I know I have
been grumbling at my work, and doing a hundred other things that
'You have got it, Curdie,' said the old lady, in a voice that
sounded almost as if she had been crying. 'When people don't care
to be better they must be doing everything wrong. I am so glad you
shot my bird!'
'Ma'am!' exclaimed Curdie. 'How can you be?'
'Because it has brought you to see what sort you were when you did
it, and what sort you will grow to be again, only worse, if you
don't mind. Now that you are sorry, my poor bird will be better.
Look up, my dovey.'
The pigeon gave a flutter, and spread out one of its red-spotted
wings across the old woman's bosom.
'I will mend the little angel,' she said, 'and in a week or two it
will be flying again. So you may ease your heart about the
'Oh, thank you! Thank you!' cried Curdie. 'I don't know how to
'Then I will tell you. There is only one way I care for. Do
better, and grow better, and be better. And never kill anything
without a good reason for it.'
'Ma'am, I will go and fetch my bow and arrows, and you shall burn
'I have no fire that would burn your bow and arrows, Curdie.'
'Then I promise you to burn them all under my mother's porridge pot
'No, no, Curdie. Keep them, and practice with them every day, and
grow a good shot. There are plenty of bad things that want
killing, and a day will come when they will prove useful. But I
must see first whether you will do as I tell you.'
'That I will!' said Curdie. 'What is it, ma'am?'
'Only something not to do,' answered the old lady; 'if you should
hear anyone speak about me, never to laugh or make fun of me.'
'Oh, ma'am!' exclaimed Curdie, shocked that she should think such
a request needful.
'Stop, stop,' she went on. 'People hereabout sometimes tell very
odd and in fact ridiculous stories of an old woman who watches what
is going on, and occasionally interferes. They mean me, though
what they say is often great nonsense. Now what I want of you is
not to laugh, or side with them in any way; because they will take
that to mean that you don't believe there is any such person a bit
more than they do. Now that would not be the case - would it,
'No, indeed, ma'am. I've seen you.'
The old woman smiled very oddly.
'Yes, you've seen me,' she said. 'But mind,' she continued, 'I
don't want you to say anything - only to hold your tongue, and not
seem to side with them.'
'That will be easy,'said Curdie,'now that I've seen you with my
very own eyes, ma'am.'
'Not so easy as you think, perhaps,' said the old lady, with
another curious smile. 'I want to be your friend,' she added after
a little pause, 'but I don't quite know yet whether you will let
'Indeed I will, ma'am,' said Curdie.
'That is for me to find out,' she rejoined, with yet another
strange smile. 'in the meantime all I can say is, come to me again
when you find yourself in any trouble, and I will see what I can do
for you - only the canning depends on yourself. I am greatly
pleased with you for bringing me my pigeon, doing your best to set
right what you had set wrong.'
As she spoke she held out her hand to him, and when he took it she
made use of his to help herself up from her stool, and - when or
how it came about, Curdie could not tell - the same instant she
stood before him a tall, strong woman - plainly very old, but as
grand as she was old, and only rather severe-looking. Every trace
of the decrepitude and witheredness she showed as she hovered like
a film about her wheel, had vanished. Her hair was very white, but
it hung about her head in great plenty, and shone like silver in
the moonlight. Straight as a pillar she stood before the
astonished boy, and the wounded bird had now spread out both its
wings across her bosom, like some great mystical ornament of
'Oh, now I can never forget you!' cried Curdie. 'I see now what
you really are!'
'Did I not tell you the truth when I sat at my wheel?' said the old
'Yes, ma'am,' answered Curdie.
'I can do no more than tell you the truth now,' she rejoined. 'It
is a bad thing indeed to forget one who has told us the truth. Now
Curdie obeyed, and took a few steps toward the door. 'Please,
ma'am - what am I to call you?' he was going to say; but when he
turned to speak, he saw nobody. Whether she was there or not he
could not tell, however, for the moonlight had vanished, and the
room was utterly dark. A great fear, such as he had never before
known, came upon him, and almost overwhelmed him. He groped his
way to the door, and crawled down the stair - in doubt and anxiety
as to how he should find his way out of the house in the dark. And
the stair seemed ever so much longer than when he came up. Nor was
that any wonder, for down and down he went, until at length his
foot struck a door, and when he rose and opened it, he found
himself under the starry, moonless sky at the foot of the tower.
He soon discovered the way out of the garden, with which he had
some acquaintance already, and in a few minutes was climbing the
mountain with a solemn and cheerful heart. It was rather dark, but
he knew the way well. As he passed the rock from which the poor
pigeon fell wounded with his arrow, a great joy filled his heart at
the thought that he was delivered from the blood of the little
bird, and he ran the next hundred yards at full speed up the hill.
Some dark shadows passed him: he did not even care to think what
they were, but let them run. When he reached home, he found his
father and mother waiting supper for him.
Curdie's Father and Mother
The eyes of the fathers and mothers are quick to read their
children's looks, and when Curdie entered the cottage, his parents
saw at once that something unusual had taken place. When he said
to his mother, 'I beg your pardon for being so late,' there was
something in the tone beyond the politeness that went to her heart,
for it seemed to come from the place where all lovely things were
born before they began to grow in this world. When he set his
father's chair to the table, an attention he had not shown him for
a long time, Peter thanked him with more gratitude than the boy had
ever yet felt in all his life. It was a small thing to do for the
man who had been serving him since ever he was born, but I suspect
there is nothing a man can be so grateful for as that to which he
has the most right.
There was a change upon Curdie, and father and mother felt there
must be something to account for it, and therefore were pretty sure
he had something to tell them. For when a child's heart is all
right, it is not likely he will want to keep anything from his
parents. But the story of the evening was too solemn for Curdie to
come out with all at once. He must wait until they had had their
porridge, and the affairs of this world were over for the day.
But when they were seated on the grassy bank of the brook that went
so sweetly blundering over the great stones of its rocky channel,
for the whole meadow lay on the top of a huge rock, then he felt
that the right hour had come for sharing with them the wonderful
things that had come to him. It was perhaps the loveliest of all
hours in the year. The summer was young and soft, and this was the
warmest evening they had yet had - dusky, dark even below, while
above, the stars were bright and large and sharp in the blackest
blue sky. The night came close around them, clasping them in one
universal arm of love, and although it neither spoke nor smiled,
seemed all eye and ear, seemed to see and hear and know everything
they said and did. It is a way the night has sometimes, and there
is a reason for it. The only sound was that of the brook, for
there was no wind, and no trees for it to make its music upon if
there had been, for the cottage was high up on the mountain, on a
great shoulder of stone where trees would not grow.
There, to the accompaniment of the water, as it hurried down to the
valley and the sea, talking busily of a thousand true things which
it could not understand, Curdie told his tale, outside and in, to
his father and mother. What a world had slipped in between the
mouth of the mine and his mother's cottage! Neither of them said
a word until he had ended.
'Now what am I to make of it, Mother? it's so strange!' he said,
'It's easy enough to see what Curdie has got to make of it, isn't
it, Peter?' said the good woman, turning her face toward all she
could see of her husband's.
'it seems so to me,' answered Peter, with a smile which only the
night saw, but his wife felt in the tone of his words. They were
the happiest couple in that country, because they always understood
each other, and that was because they always meant the same thing,
and that was because they always loved what was fair and true and
right better, not than anything else, but than everything else put
'Then will you tell Curdie?' said she.
'You can talk best, Joan,' said he. 'You tell him, and I will
listen - and learn how to say what I think,' he added.
'I,' said Curdie, 'don't know what to think.'
'it does not matter so much,' said his mother. 'If only you know
what to make of a thing, you'll know soon enough what to think of
it. Now I needn't tell you, surely, Curdie, what you've got to do
'I suppose you mean, Mother,' answered Curdie, 'that I must do as
the old lady told me?'
'That is what I mean: what else could it be? Am I not right,
'Quite right, Joan,' answered Peter, 'so far as my judgement goes.
It is a very strange story, but you see the question is not about
believing it, for Curdie knows what came to him.'
'And you remember, Curdie,' said his mother, 'that when the
princess took you up that tower once before, and there talked to
her great-great-grandmother, you came home quite angry with her,
and said there was nothing in the place but an old tub, a heap of
straw - oh, I remember your inventory quite well! - an old tub, a
heap of straw, a withered apple, and a sunbeam. According to your
eyes, that was all there was in the great, old, musty garret. But
now you have had a glimpse of the old princess herself!'
'Yes, Mother, I did see her - or if I didn't -' said Curdie very
thoughtfully - then began again. 'The hardest thing to believe,
though I saw it with my own eyes, was when the thin, filmy creature
that seemed almost to float about in the moonlight like a bit of
the silver paper they put over pictures, or like a handkerchief
made of spider threads, took my hand, and rose up. She was taller
and stronger than you, Mother, ever so much! - at least, she looked
'And most certainly was so, Curdie, if she looked so,' said Mrs
'Well, I confess,' returned her son, 'that one thing, if there were
no other, would make me doubt whether I was not dreaming, after
all, wide awake though I fancied myself to be.'
'Of course,' answered his mother, 'it is not for me to say whether
you were dreaming or not if you are doubtful of it yourself; but it
doesn't make me think I am dreaming when in the summer I hold in my
hand the bunch of sweet peas that make my heart glad with their
colour and scent, and remember the dry, withered-looking little
thing I dibbled into the hole in the same spot in the spring. I
only think how wonderful and lovely it all is. It seems just as
full of reason as it is of wonder. How it is done I can't tell,
only there it is! And there is this in it, too, Curdie - of which
you would not be so ready to think - that when you come home to
your father and mother, and they find you behaving more like a
dear, good son than you have behaved for a long time, they at least
are not likely to think you were only dreaming.'
'Still,' said Curdie, looking a little ashamed, 'I might have
dreamed my duty.'
'Then dream often, my son; for there must then be more truth in
your dreams than in your waking thoughts. But however any of these
things may be, this one point remains certain: there can be no harm
in doing as she told you. And, indeed, until you are sure there is
no such person, you are bound to do it, for you promised.'
'it seems to me,' said his father, 'that if a lady comes to you in
a dream, Curdie, and tells you not to talk about her when you wake,
the least you can do is to hold your tongue.'
'True, Father! Yes, Mother, I'll do it,' said Curdie.
Then they went to bed, and sleep, which is the night of the soul,
next took them in its arms and made them well.
It much increased Curdie's feeling of the strangeness of the whole
affair, that, the next morning, when they were at work in the mine,
the party of which he and his father were two, just as if they had
known what had happened to him the night before, began talking
about all manner of wonderful tales that were abroad in the
country, chiefly, of course, those connected with the mines, and
the mountains in which they lay. Their wives and mothers and
grandmothers were their chief authorities. For when they sat by
their firesides they heard their wives telling their children the
selfsame tales, with little differences, and here and there one
they had not heard before, which they had heard their mothers and
grandmothers tell in one or other of the same cottages.
At length they came to speak of a certain strange being they called
Old Mother Wotherwop. Some said their wives had seen her. It
appeared as they talked that not one had seen her more than once.
Some of their mothers and grandmothers, however, had seen her also,
and they all had told them tales about her when they were children.
They said she could take any shape she liked, but that in reality
she was a withered old woman, so old and so withered that she was
as thin as a sieve with a lamp behind it; that she was never seen
except at night, and when something terrible had taken place, or
was going to take place - such as the falling in of the roof of a
mine, or the breaking out of water in it.
She had more than once been seen - it was always at night - beside
some well, sitting on the brink of it, and leaning over and
stirring it with her forefinger, which was six times as long as any
of the rest. And whoever for months after drank of that well was
sure to be ill. To this, one of them, however, added that he
remembered his mother saying that whoever in bad health drank of
the well was sure to get better. But the majority agreed that the
former was the right version of the story- for was she not a witch,
an old hating witch, whose delight was to do mischief? One said he
had heard that she took the shape of a young woman sometimes, as
beautiful as an angel, and then was most dangerous of all, for she
struck every man who looked upon her stone-blind.
Peter ventured the question whether she might not as likely be an
angel that took the form of an old woman, as an old woman that took
the form of an angel. But nobody except Curdie, who was holding
his peace with all his might, saw any sense in the question. They
said an old woman might be very glad to make herself look like a
young one, but who ever heard of a young and beautiful one making
herself look old and ugly?
Peter asked why they were so much more ready to believe the bad
that was said of her than the good. They answered, because she was
bad. He asked why they believed her to be bad, and they answered,
because she did bad things. When he asked how they knew that, they
said, because she was a bad creature. Even if they didn't know it,
they said, a woman like that was so much more likely to be bad than
good. Why did she go about at night? Why did she appear only now
and then, and on such occasions? One went on to tell how one night
when his grandfather had been having a jolly time of it with his
friends in the market town, she had served him so upon his way home
that the poor man never drank a drop of anything stronger than
water after it to the day of his death. She dragged him into a
bog, and tumbled him up and down in it till he was nearly dead.
'I suppose that was her way of teaching him what a good thing water
was,' said Peter; but the man, who liked strong drink, did not see
'They do say,' said another, 'that she has lived in the old house
over there ever since the little princess left it. They say too
that the housekeeper knows all about it, and is hand and glove with
the old witch. I don't doubt they have many a nice airing together
on broomsticks. But I don't doubt either it's all nonsense, and
there's no such person at all.'
'When our cow died,' said another, 'she was seen going round and
round the cowhouse the same night. To be sure she left a fine calf
behind her - I mean the cow did, not the witch. I wonder she
didn't kill that, too, for she'll be a far finer cow than ever her
'My old woman came upon her one night, not long before the water
broke out in the mine, sitting on a stone on the hillside with a
whole congregation of cobs about her. When they saw my wife they
all scampered off as fast as they could run, and where the witch
was sitting there was nothing to be seen but a withered bracken
bush. I made no doubt myself she was putting them up to it.'
And so they went on with one foolish tale after another, while
Peter put in a word now and then, and Curdie diligently held his
peace. But his silence at last drew attention upon it, and one of
'Come, young Curdie, what are you thinking of?'
'How do you know I'm thinking of anything?' asked Curdie.
'Because you're not saying anything.'
'Does it follow then that, as you are saying so much, you're not
thinking at all?' said Curdie.
'I know what he's thinking,' said one who had not yet spoken; 'he's
thinking what a set of fools you are to talk such rubbish; as if
ever there was or could be such an old woman as you say! I'm sure
Curdie knows better than all that comes to.'
'I think,' said Curdie, 'it would be better that he who says
anything about her should be quite sure it is true, lest she should
hear him, and not like to be slandered.'
'But would she like it any better if it were true?' said the same
man. 'If she is What they say - I don't know - but I never knew a
man that wouldn't go in a rage to be called the very thing he was.'
'if bad things were true of her, and I knew it,' said Curdie, 'I
would not hesitate to say them, for I will never give in to being
afraid of anything that's bad. I suspect that the things they
tell, however, if we knew all about them, would turn out to have
nothing but good in them; and I won't say a word more for fear I
should say something that mightn't be to her mind.'
They all burst into a loud laugh.
'Hear the parson!' they cried. 'He believes in the witch! Ha!
'He's afraid of her!'
'And says all she does is good!'
'He wants to make friends with her, that she may help him to find
the silver ore.'
'Give me my own eyes and a good divining rod before all the witches
in the world! And so I'd advise you too, Master Curdie; that is,
when your eyes have grown to be worth anything, and you have
learned to cut the hazel fork.'
Thus they all mocked and jeered at him, but he did his best to keep
his temper and go quietly on with his work. He got as close to his
father as he could, however, for that helped him to bear it. As
soon as they were tired of laughing and mocking, Curdie was
friendly with them, and long before their midday meal all between
them was as it had been.
But when the evening came, Peter and Curdie felt that they would
rather walk home together without other company, and therefore
lingered behind when the rest of the men left the mine.
Father and son had seated themselves on a projecting piece of rock
at a corner where three galleries met - the one they had come along
from their work, one to the right leading out of the mountain, and
the other to the left leading far into a portion of it which had
been long disused. Since the inundation caused by the goblins, it
had indeed been rendered impassable by the settlement of a quantity
of the water, forming a small but very deep lake, in a part where
there was a considerable descent.
They had just risen and were turning to the right, when a gleam
caught their eyes, and made them look along the whole gallery. Far
up they saw a pale green light, whence issuing they could not tell,
about halfway between floor and roof of the passage. They saw
nothing but the light, which was like a large star, with a point of
darker colour yet brighter radiance in the heart of it, whence the
rest of the light shot out in rays that faded toward the ends until
they vanished. It shed hardly any light around it, although in
itself it was so bright as to sting the eyes that beheld it.
Wonderful stories had from ages gone been current in the mines
about certain magic gems which gave out light of themselves, and
this light looked just like what might be supposed to shoot from
the heart of such a gem.
They went up the old gallery to find out what it could be. To
their surprise they found, however, that, after going some
distance, they were no nearer to it, so far as they could judge,
than when they started. It did not seem to move, and yet they
moving did not approach it. Still they persevered, for it was far
too wonderful a thing to lose sight of, so long as they could keep
it. At length they drew near the hollow where the water lay, and
still were no nearer the light. Where they expected to be stopped
by the water, however, water was none: something had taken place in
some part of the mine that had drained it off, and the gallery lay
open as in former times.
And now, to their surprise, the light, instead of being in front of
them, was shining at the same distance to the right, where they did
not know there was any passage at all. Then they discovered, by
the light of the lanterns they carried, that there the water had
broken through, and made an entrance to a part of the mountain of
which Peter knew nothing. But they were hardly well into it, still
following the light, before Curdie thought he recognized some of
the passages he had so often gone through when he was watching the
After they had advanced a long way, with many turnings, now to the
right, now to the left, all at once their eyes seemed to come
suddenly to themselves, and they became aware that the light which
they had taken to be a great way from them was in reality almost
within reach of their hands.
The same instant it began to grow larger and thinner, the point of
light grew dim as it spread, the greenness melted away, and in a
moment or two, instead of the star, a dark, dark and yet luminous
face was looking at them with living eyes. And Curdie felt a great
awe swell up in his heart, for he thought he had seen those eyes
'I see you know me, Curdie,' said a voice.
'if your eyes are you, ma'am, then I know you,' said Curdie. 'But
I never saw your face before.'
'Yes, you have seen it, Curdie,' said the voice. And with that the
darkness of its complexion melted away, and down from the face
dawned out the form that belonged to it, until at last Curdie and
his father beheld a lady, beautiful exceedingly, dressed in
something pale green, like velvet, over which her hair fell in
cataracts of a rich golden colour. it looked as if it were pouring
down from her head, and, like the water of the Dustbrook, vanishing
in a golden vapour ere it reached the floor. It came flowing from
under the edge of a coronet of gold, set with alternated pearls and
emeralds. In front of the crown was a great emerald, which looked
somehow as if out of it had come the light they had followed.
There was no ornament else about her, except on her slippers, which
were one mass of gleaming emeralds, of various shades of green, all
mingling lovelily like the waving of grass in the wind and sun.
She looked about five-and-twenty years old. And for all the
difference, Curdie knew somehow or other, he could not have told
how, that the face before him was that of the old princess, Irene's
By this time all around them had grown light, and now first they
could see where they were. They stood in a great splendid cavern,
which Curdie recognized as that in which the goblins held their
state assemblies. But, strange to tell, the light by which they
saw came streaming, sparkling, and shooting from stones of many
colours in the sides and roof and floor of the cavern - stones of
all the colours of the rainbow, and many more. It was a glorious
sight - the whole rugged place flashing with colours - in one spot
a great light of deep carbuncular red, in another of sapphirine
blue, in another of topaz yellow; while here and there were groups
of stones of all hues and sizes, and again nebulous spaces of
thousands of tiniest spots of brilliancy of every conceivable
shade. Sometimes the colours ran together, and made a little river
or lake of lambent, interfusing, and changing tints, which, by
their variegation, seemed to imitate the flowing of water, or waves
made by the wind.
Curdie would have gazed entranced, but that all the beauty of the
cavern, yes, of all he knew of the whole creation, seemed gathered
in one centre of harmony and loveliness in the person of the
ancient lady who stood before him in the very summer of beauty and
strength. Turning from the first glance at the circuadjacent
splendour, it dwindled into nothing as he looked again at the lady.
Nothing flashed or glowed or shone about her, and yet it was with
a prevision of the truth that he said,
'I was here once before, ma'am.'
'I know that, Curdie,' she replied.
'The place was full of torches, and the walls gleamed, but nothing
as they do now, and there is no light in the place.'
'You want to know where the light comes from?' she said, smiling.
'Then see: I will go out of the cavern. Do not be afraid, but
She went slowly out. The moment she turned her back to go, the
light began to pale and fade; the moment she was out of their sight
the place was black as night, save that now the smoky yellow-red of
their lamps, which they thought had gone out long ago, cast a dusky
glimmer around them.
What Is in a Name?
For a time that seemed to them long, the two men stood waiting,
while still the Mother of Light did not return. So long was she
absent that they began to grow anxious: how were they to find their
way from the natural hollows of the mountain crossed by goblin
paths, if their lamps should go out? To spend the night there
would mean to sit and wait until an earthquake rent the mountain,
or the earth herself fell back into the smelting furnace of the sun
whence she had issued - for it was all night and no faintest dawn
in the bosom of the world.
So long did they wait unrevisited, that, had there not been two of
them, either would at length have concluded the vision a home-born
product of his own seething brain. And their lamps were going out,
for they grew redder and smokier! But they did not lose courage,
for there is a kind of capillary attraction in the facing of two
souls, that lifts faith quite beyond the level to which either
could raise it alone: they knew that they had seen the lady of
emeralds, and it was to give them their own desire that she had
gone from them, and neither would yield for a moment to the half
doubts and half dreads that awoke in his heart.
And still she who with her absence darkened their air did not
return. They grew weary, and sat down on the rocky floor, for wait
they would - indeed, wait they must. Each set his lamp by his
knee, and watched it die. Slowly it sank, dulled, looked lazy and
stupid. But ever as it sank and dulled, the image in his mind of
the Lady of Light grew stronger and clearer. Together the two
lamps panted and shuddered. First one, then the other went out,
leaving for a moment a great, red, evil-smelling snuff. Then all
was the blackness of darkness up to their very hearts and
everywhere around them. Was it? No. Far away - it looked miles
away - shone one minute faint point of green light - where, who
could tell? They only knew that it shone. it grew larger, and
seemed to draw nearer, until at last, as they watched with
speechless delight and expectation, it seemed once more within
reach of an outstretched hand. Then it spread and melted away as
before, and there were eyes - and a face - and a lovely form - and
lo! the whole cavern blazing with lights innumerable, and gorgeous,
yet soft and interfused - so blended, indeed, that the eye had to
search and see in order to separate distinct spots of special
The moment they saw the speck in the vast distance they had risen
and stood on their feet. When it came nearer they bowed their
heads. Yet now they looked with fearless eyes, for the woman that
was old yet young was a joy to see, and filled their hearts with
reverent delight. She turned first to Peter.
'I have known you long,' she said. 'I have met you going to and
from the mine, and seen you working in it for the last forty
'How should it be, madam, that a grand lady like you should take
notice of a poor man like me?' said Peter, humbly,
but more foolishly than he could then have understood.
'I am poor as well as rich,' said she. 'I, too, work for my bread,
and I show myself no favour when I pay myself my own wages. Last
night when you sat by the brook, and Curdie told you about my
pigeon, and my spinning, and wondered whether he could believe that
he had actually seen me, I heard what you said to each other. I am
always about, as the miners said the other night when they talked
of me as Old Mother Wotherwop.'
The lovely lady laughed, and her laugh was a lightning of delight
in their souls.
'Yes,' she went on, 'you have got to thank me that you are so poor,
Peter. I have seen to that, and it has done well for both you and
me, my friend. Things come to the poor that can't get in at the
door of the rich. Their money somehow blocks it up. It is a great
privilege to be poor, Peter - one that no man ever coveted, and but
a very few have sought to retain, but one that yet many have
learned to prize. You must not mistake, however, and imagine it a
virtue; it is but a privilege, and one also that, like other
privileges, may be terribly misused. Had you been rich, my Peter,
you would not have been so good as some rich men I know. And now
I am going to tell you what no one knows but myself: you, Peter,
and your wife both have the blood of the royal family in your
veins. I have been trying to cultivate your family tree, every
branch of which is known to me, and I expect Curdie to turn out a
blossom on it. Therefore I have been training him for a work that
must soon be done. I was near losing him, and had to send my
pigeon. Had he not shot it, that would have been better; but he
repented, and that shall be as good in the end.'
She turned to Curdie and smiled.
'Ma'am,' said Curdie, 'may I ask questions?'
'Why not, Curdie?'
'Because I have been told, ma'am, that nobody must ask the king
'The king never made that law,' she answered, with some
displeasure. 'You may ask me as many as you please - that is, so
long as they are sensible. Only I may take a few thousand years to
answer some of them. But that's nothing. Of all things time is
'Then would you mind telling me now, ma'am, for I feel very
confused about it - are you the Lady of the Silver Moon?'
'Yes, Curdie; you may call me that if you like. What it means is
'And now I see you dark, and clothed in green, and the mother of
all the light that dwells in the stones of the earth! And up there
they call you Old Mother Wotherwop! And the Princess Irene told me
you were her great-great-grandmother! And you spin the spider
threads, and take care of a whole people of pigeons; and you are
worn to a pale shadow with old age; and are as young as anybody can
be, not to be too young; and as strong, I do believe, as I am.'
The lady stooped toward a large green stone bedded in the rock of
the floor, and looking like a well of grassy light in it. She laid
hold of it with her fingers, broke it out, and gave it to Peter.
'There!' cried Curdie. 'I told you so. Twenty men could not have
done that. And your fingers are white and smooth as any lady's in
the land. I don't know what to make of it.'
'I could give you twenty names more to call me, Curdie, and not one
of them would be a false one. What does it matter how many names
if the person is one?'
'Ah! But it is not names only, ma'am. Look at what you were like
last night, and what I see you now!'
'Shapes are only dresses, Curdie, and dresses are only names. That
which is inside is the same all the time.'
'But then how can all the shapes speak the truth?'
'it would want thousands more to speak the truth, Curdie; and then
they could not. But there is a point I must not let you mistake
about. It is one thing the shape I choose to put on, and quite
another the shape that foolish talk and nursery tale may please to
put upon me. Also, it is one thing what you or your father may
think about me, and quite another what a foolish or bad man may see
in me. For instance, if a thief were to come in here just now, he
would think he saw the demon of the mine, all in green flames, come
to protect her treasure, and would run like a hunted wild goat. I
should be all the same, but his evil eyes would see me as I was
'I think I understand,' said Curdie.
'Peter,' said the lady, turning then to him, 'you will have to give
up Curdie for a little while.'
'So long as he loves us, ma'am, that will not matter - much.'
'Ah! you are right there, my friend,' said the beautiful princess.
And as she said it she put out her hand, and took the hard, horny
hand of the miner in it, and held it for a moment lovingly.
'I need say no more,' she added, 'for we understand each other -
you and I, Peter.'
The tears came into Peter's eyes. He bowed his head in
thankfulness, and his heart was much too full to speak.
Then the great old, young, beautiful princess turned to Curdie.
'Now, Curdie, are you ready?' she said.
'Yes, ma'am,' answered Curdie.
'You do not know what for.'
'You do, ma'am. That is enough.'
'You could not have given me a better answer, or done more to
prepare yourself, Curdie,' she returned, with one of her radiant
smiles. 'Do you think you will know me again?'
'I think so. But how can I tell what you may look like next?'
'Ah, that indeed! How can you tell? Or how could I expect you
should? But those who know me well, know me whatever new dress or
shape or name I may be in; and by and by you will have learned to
do so too.'
'But if you want me to know you again, ma'am, for certain sure,'
said Curdie, 'could you not give me some sign, or tell me something
about you that never changes - or some other way to know you, or
thing to know you by?'
'No, Curdie; that would be to keep you from knowing me. You must
know me in quite another way from that. It would not be the least
use to you or me either if I were to make you know me in that way.
It would be but to know the sign of Me - not to know me myself. it
would be no better than if I were to take this emerald out of my
crown and give it to you to take home with you, and you were to
call it me, and talk to it as if it heard and saw and loved you.
Much good that would do you, Curdie! No; you must do what you can
to know me, and if you do, you will. You shall see me again in
very different circumstances from these, and, I will tell you so
much, it may be in a very different shape. But come now, I will
lead you out of this cavern; my good Joan will be getting too
anxious about you. One word more: you will allow that the men knew
little what they were talking about this morning, when they told
all those tales of Old Mother Wotherwop; but did it occur to you to
think how it was they fell to talking about me at all? It was
because I came to them; I was beside them all the time they were
talking about me, though they were far enough from knowing it, and
had very little besides foolishness to say.'
As she spoke she turned and led the way from the cavern, which, as
if a door had been closed, sank into absolute blackness behind
them. And now they saw nothing more of the lady except the green
star, which again seemed a good distance in front of them, and to
which they came no nearer, although following it at a quick pace
through the mountain. Such was their confidence in her guidance,
however, and so fearless were they in consequence, that they felt
their way neither with hand nor foot, but walked straight on
through the pitch-dark galleries. When at length the night of the
upper world looked in at the mouth of the mine, the green light
seemed to lose its way among the stars, and they saw it no more.
Out they came into the cool, blessed night. It was very late, and
only starlight. To their surprise, three paces away they saw,
seated upon a stone, an old country-woman, in a cloak which they
took for black. When they came close up to it, they saw it was
'Good evening!' said Peter.
'Good evening!' returned the old woman, in a voice as old as
But Curdie took off his cap and said:
'I am your servant, Princess.'
The old woman replied:
'Come to me in the dove tower tomorrow night, Curdie - alone.'
'I will, ma'am,' said Curdie.
So they parted, and father and son went home to wife and mother -
two persons in one rich, happy woman.
The next night Curdie went home from the mine a little earlier than
usual, to make himself tidy before going to the dove tower. The
princess had not appointed an exact time for him to be there; he
would go as near the time he had gone first as he could. On his
way to the bottom of the hill, he met his father coming up. The
sun was then down, and the warm first of the twilight filled the
evening. He came rather wearily up the hill: the road, he thought,
must have grown steeper in parts since he was Curdie's age. His
back was to the light of the sunset, which closed him all round in
a beautiful setting, and Curdie thought what a grand-looking man
his father was, even when he was tired. It is greed and laziness
and selfishness, not hunger or weariness or cold, that take the
dignity out of a man, and make him look mean.
'Ah, Curdie! There you are!' he said, seeing his son come bounding
along as if it were morning with him and not evening.
'You look tired, Father,' said Curdie.
'Yes, my boy. I'm not so young as you.'
'Nor so old as the princess,' said Curdie.
'Tell me this,' said Peter, 'why do people talk about going
downhill when they begin to get old? It seems to me that then
first they begin to go uphill.'
'You looked to me, Father, when I caught sight of you, as if you
had been climbing the hill all your life, and were soon to get to
'Nobody can tell when that will be,' returned Peter. 'We're so
ready to think we're just at the top when it lies miles away. But
I must not keep you, my boy, for you are wanted; and we shall be
anxious to know what the princess says to you- that is, if she will
allow you to tell us.'
'I think she will, for she knows there is nobody more to be trusted
than my father and mother,' said Curdie, with
And away he shot, and ran, and jumped, and seemed almost to fly
down the long, winding, steep path, until he came to the gate of
the king's house.
There he met an unexpected obstruction: in the open door stood the
housekeeper, and she seemed to broaden herself out until she almost
filled the doorway.
'So!' she said, 'it's you, is it, young man? You are the person
that comes in and goes out when he pleases, and keeps running up
and down my stairs without ever saying by your leave, or even
wiping his shoes, and always leaves the door open! Don't you know
this is my house?'
'No, I do not,' returned Curdie respectfully. 'You forget, ma'am,
that it is the king's house.'
'That is all the same. The king left it to me to take care of -
and that you shall know!'
'Is the king dead, ma'am, that he has left it to you?' asked
Curdie, half in doubt from the self-assertion of the woman.
'Insolent fellow!' exclaimed the housekeeper. 'Don't you see by my
dress that I am in the king's service?'
'And am I not one of his miners?'
'Ah! that goes for nothing. I am one of his household. You are an
out-of-doors labourer. You are a nobody. You carry a pickaxe. I
carry the keys at my girdle. See!'
'But you must not call one a nobody to whom the king has spoken,'
'Go along with you!' cried the housekeeper, and would have shut the
door in his face, had she not been afraid that when she stepped
back he would step in ere she could get it in motion, for it was
very heavy and always seemed unwilling to shut. Curdie came a pace
nearer. She lifted the great house key from her side, and
threatened to strike him down with it, calling aloud on Mar and
Whelk and Plout, the menservants under her, to come and help her.
Ere one of them could answer, however, she gave a great shriek and
turned and fled, leaving the door wide open.
Curdie looked behind him, and saw an animal whose gruesome oddity
even he, who knew so many of the strange creatures, two of which
were never the same, that used to live inside the mountain with
their masters the goblins, had never seen equalled. Its eyes were
flaming with anger, but it seemed to be at the housekeeper, for it
came cowering and creeping up and laid its head on the ground at
Curdie's feet. Curdie hardly waited to look at it, however, but
ran into the house, eager to get up the stairs before any of the
men should come to annoy - he had no fear of their preventing him.
Without halt or hindrance, though the passages were nearly dark, he
reached the door of the princess's workroom, and knocked.
'Come in,' said the voice of the princess.
Curdie opened the door - but, to his astonishment, saw no room
there. Could he have opened a wrong door? There was the great
sky, and the stars, and beneath he could see nothing only darkness!
But what was that in the sky, straight in front of him? A great
wheel of fire, turning and turning, and flashing out blue lights!
'Come in, Curdie,' said the voice again.
'I would at once, ma'am,' said Curdie, 'if I were sure I was
standing at your door.'
'Why should you doubt it, Curdie?'
'Because I see neither walls nor floor, only darkness and the great
'That is all right, Curdie. Come in.'
Curdie stepped forward at once. He was indeed, for the very crumb
of a moment, tempted to feel before him with his foot; but he saw
that would be to distrust the princess, and a greater rudeness he
could not offer her. So he stepped straight in - I will not say
without a little tremble at the thought of finding no floor beneath
his foot. But that which had need of the floor found it, and his
foot was satisfied.
No sooner was he in than he saw that the great revolving wheel in
the sky was the princess's spinning wheel, near the other end of
the room, turning very fast. He could see no sky or stars any
more, but the wheel was flashing out blue - oh, such lovely
sky-blue light! - and behind it of course sat the princess, but
whether an old woman as thin as a skeleton leaf, or a glorious lady
as young as perfection, he could not tell for the turning and
flashing of the wheel.
'Listen to the wheel,' said the voice which had already grown dear
to Curdie: its very tone was precious like a jewel, not as a jewel,
for no jewel could compare with it in preciousness.
And Curdie listened and listened.
'What is it saying?' asked the voice.
'It is singing,' answered Curdie.
'What is it singing?'
Curdie tried to make out, but thought he could not; for no sooner
had he got hold of something than it vanished again.
Yet he listened, and listened, entranced with delight.
'Thank you, Curdie, said the voice.
'Ma'am,' said Curdie, 'I did try hard for a while, but I could not
make anything of it.'
'Oh yes, you did, and you have been telling it to me! Shall I tell
you again what I told my wheel, and my wheel told you, and you have
just told me without knowing it?'
Then the lady began to sing, and her wheel spun an accompaniment to
her song, and the music of the wheel was like the music of an
Aeolian harp blown upon by the wind that bloweth where it listeth.
Oh, the sweet sounds of that spinning wheel! Now they were gold,
now silver, now grass, now palm trees, now ancient cities, now
rubies, now mountain brooks, now peacock's feathers, now clouds,
now snowdrops, and now mid-sea islands. But for the voice that
sang through it all, about that I have no words to tell. It would
make you weep if I were able to tell you what that was like, it was
so beautiful and true and lovely. But this is something like the
words of its song:
The stars are spinning their threads, And the clouds are the dust
that flies, And the suns are weaving them up For the time when the
sleepers shall rise.
The ocean in music rolls, And gems are turning to eyes, And the
trees are gathering souls For the day when the sleepers shall rise.
The weepers are learning to smile, And laughter to glean the sighs;
Burn and bury the care and guile, For the day when the sleepers
oh, the dews and the moths and the daisy red, The larks and the
glimmers and flows! The lilies and sparrows and daily bread, And
the something that nobody knows!
The princess stopped, her wheel stopped, and she laughed. And her
laugh was sweeter than song and wheel; sweeter than running brook
and silver bell; sweeter than joy itself, for the heart of the
laugh was love.
'Come now, Curdie, to this side of my wheel, and you will find me,'
she said; and her laugh seemed sounding on still in the words, as
if they were made of breath that had laughed.
Curdie obeyed, and passed the wheel, and there she stood to receive
him! - fairer than when he saw her last, a little younger still,
and dressed not in green and emeralds, but in pale blue, with a
coronet of silver set with pearls, and slippers covered with opals
that gleamed every colour of the rainbow. It was some time before
Curdie could take his eyes from the marvel of her loveliness.
Fearing at last that he was rude, he turned them away; and, behold,
he was in a room that was for beauty marvellous! The lofty ceiling
was all a golden vine, Whose great clusters of carbuncles, rubies,
and chrysoberyls hung down like the bosses of groined arches, and
in its centre hung the most glorious lamp that human eyes ever saw
- the Silver Moon itself, a globe of silver, as it seemed, with a
heart of light so wondrous potent that it rendered the mass
translucent, and altogether radiant.
The room was so large that, looking back, he could scarcely see the
end at which he entered; but the other was only a few yards from
him - and there he saw another wonder: on a huge hearth a great
fire was burning, and the fire was a huge heap of roses, and yet it
was fire. The smell of the roses filled the air, and the heat of
the flames of them glowed upon his face. He turned an inquiring
look upon the lady, and saw that she was now seated in an ancient
chair, the legs of which were crusted with gems, but the upper part
like a nest of daisies and moss and green grass.
'Curdie,' she said in answer to his eyes, 'you have stood more than
one trial already, and have stood them well: now I am going to put
you to a harder. Do you think you are prepared for it?'
'How can I tell, ma'am,' he returned, 'seeing I do not know what it
is, or what preparation it needs? Judge me yourself, ma'am.'
'It needs only trust and obedience,' answered the lady.
'I dare not say anything, ma'am. If you think me fit, command me.'
'it will hurt you terribly, Curdie, but that will be all; no real
hurt but much good will come to you from it.'
Curdie made no answer but stood gazing with parted lips in the
'Go and thrust both your hands into that fire,' she said quickly,
Curdie dared not stop to think. It was much too terrible to think
about. He rushed to the fire, and thrust both of his hands right
into the middle of the heap of flaming roses, and his arms halfway
up to the elbows. And it did hurt! But he did not draw them back.
He held the pain as if it were a thing that would kill him if he
let it go - as indeed it would have done. He was in terrible fear
lest it should conquer him.
But when it had risen to the pitch that he thought he could bear it
no longer, it began to fall again, and went on growing less and
less until by contrast with its former severity it had become
rather pleasant. At last it ceased altogether, and Curdie thought
his hands must be burned to cinders if not ashes, for he did not
feel them at all. The princess told him to take them out and look
at them. He did so, and found that all that was gone of them was
the rough, hard skin; they were white and smooth like the
'Come to me,' she said.
He obeyed and saw, to his surprise, that her face looked as if she
had been weeping.
'Oh, Princess! What is the matter?' he cried. 'Did I make a noise
and vex you?'
'No, Curdie, she answered; 'but it was very bad.'
'Did you feel it too then?'
'Of course I did. But now it is over, and all is well. Would you
like to know why I made You put your hands in the fire?'
Curdie looked at them again - then said:
'To take the marks of the work off them and make them fit for the
king's court, I suppose.'
'No, Curdie,' answered the princess, shaking her head, for she was
not pleased with the answer. 'It would be a poor way of making
your hands fit for the king's court to take off them signs of his
service. There is a far greater difference on them than that. Do
you feel none?'
'You will, though, by and by, when the time comes. But perhaps
even then you might not know what had been given you, therefore I
will tell you. Have you ever heard what some philosophers say -
that men were all animals once?'
'it is of no consequence. But there is another thing that is of
the greatest consequence - this: that all men, if they do not take
care, go down the hill to the animals' country; that many men are
actually, all their lives, going to be beasts. People knew it
once, but it is long since they forgot it.'
'I am not surprised to hear it, ma'am, when I think of some of our
'Ah! But you must beware, Curdie, how you say of this man or that
man that he is travelling beastward. There are not nearly so many
going that way as at first sight you might think. When you met
your father on the hill tonight, you stood and spoke together on
the same spot; and although one of you was going up and the other
coming down, at a little distance no one could have told which was
bound in the one direction and which in the other. just so two
people may be at the same spot in manners and behaviour, and yet
one may be getting better and the other worse, which is just the
greatest of all differences that could possibly exist between
'But ma'am,' said Curdie, 'where is the good of knowing that there
is such a difference, if you can never know where it is?'
'Now, Curdie, you must mind exactly what words I use, because
although the right words cannot do exactly what I want them to do,
the wrong words will certainly do what I do not want them to do.
I did not say you can never know. When there is a necessity for
your knowing, when you have to do important business with this or
that man, there is always a way of knowing enough to keep you from
any great blunder. And as you will have important business to do
by and by, and that with people of whom you yet know nothing, it
will be necessary that you should have some better means than usual
of learning the nature of them.
'Now listen. Since it is always what they do, whether in their
minds or their bodies, that makes men go down to be less than men,
that is, beasts, the change always comes first in their hands - and
first of all in the inside hands, to which the outside ones are but
as the gloves. They do not know it of course; for a beast does not
know that he is a beast, and the nearer a man gets to being a beast
the less he knows it. Neither can their best friends, or their
worst enemies indeed, see any difference in their hands, for they
see only the living gloves of them. But there are not a few who
feel a vague something repulsive in the hand of a man who is
growing a beast.
'Now here is what the rose-fire has done for you: it has made your
hands so knowing and wise, it has brought your real hands so near
the outside of your flesh gloves, that you will henceforth be able
to know at once the hand of a man who is growing into a beast; nay,
more - you will at once feel the foot of the beast he is growing,
just as if there were no glove made like a man's hand between you
'Hence of course it follows that you will be able often, and with
further education in zoology, will be able always to tell, not only
when a man is growing a beast, but what beast he is growing to, for
you will know the foot - what it is and what beast's it is.
According, then, to your knowledge of that beast will be your
knowledge of the man you have to do with. Only there is one
beautiful and awful thing about it, that if any one gifted with
this perception once uses it for his own ends, it is taken from
him, and then, not knowing that it is gone, he is in a far worse
condition than before, for he trusts to what he has not got.'
'How dreadful!' Said Curdie. 'I must mind what I am about.'
'Yes, indeed, Curdie.'
'But may not one sometimes make a mistake without being able to
'Yes. But so long as he is not after his own ends, he will never
make a serious mistake.'
'I suppose you want me, ma'am, to warn every one whose hand tells
me that he is growing a beast - because, as you say, he does not
know it himself.'
The princess smiled.
'Much good that would do, Curdie! I don't say there are no cases
in which it would be of use, but they are very rare and peculiar
cases, and if such come you will know them. To such a person there
is in general no insult like the truth. He cannot endure it, not
because he is growing a beast, but because he is ceasing to be a
man. It is the dying man in him that it makes uncomfortable, and
he trots, or creeps, or swims, or flutters out of its way - calls
it a foolish feeling, a whim, an old wives' fable, a bit of
priests' humbug, an effete superstition, and so on.'
'And is there no hope for him? Can nothing be done? It's so awful
to think of going down, down, down like that!'
'Even when it's with his own will?'
'That's what seems to me to make it worst of all,' said Curdie.
'You are right,' answered the princess, nodding her head; 'but
there is this amount of excuse to make for all such, remember -
that they do not know what or how horrid their coming fate is.
Many a lady, so delicate and nice that she can bear nothing coarser
than the finest linen to touch her body, if she had a mirror that
could show her the animal she is growing to, as it lies waiting
within the fair skin and the fine linen and the silk and the
jewels, would receive a shock that might possibly wake her up.'
'Why then, ma'am, shouldn't she have it?'
The princess held her peace.
'Come here, Lina,' she said after a long pause.
From somewhere behind Curdie, crept forward the same hideous animal
which had fawned at his feet at the door, and which, without his
knowing it, had followed him every step up the dove tower. She ran
to the princess, and lay down flat at her feet, looking up at her
with an expression so pitiful that in Curdie's heart it overcame
all the ludicrousness of her horrible mass of incongruities. She
had a very short body, and very long legs made like an elephant's,
so that in lying down she kneeled with both pairs. Her tail, which
dragged on the floor behind her, was twice as long and quite as
thick as her body. Her head was something between that of a polar
bear and a snake. Her eyes were dark green, with a yellow light in
them. Her under teeth came up like a fringe of icicles, only very
white, outside of her upper lip. Her throat looked as if the hair
had been plucked off. it showed a skin white and smooth.
'Give Curdie a paw, Lina,' said the princess.
The creature rose, and, lifting a long foreleg, held up a great
doglike paw to Curdie. He took it gently. But what a shudder, as
of terrified delight, ran through him, when, instead of the paw of
a dog, such as it seemed to his eyes, he clasped in his great
mining fist the soft, neat little hand of a child! He took it in
both of his, and held it as if he could not let it go. The green
eyes stared at him with their yellow light, and the mouth was
turned up toward him with its constant half grin; but here was the
child's hand! If he could but pull the child out of the beast!
His eyes sought the princess. She was watching him with evident
'Ma'am, here is a child's hand!' said Curdie.
'Your gift does more for you than it promised. It is yet better to
perceive a hidden good than a hidden evil.'
'But,' began Curdie.
'I am not going to answer any more questions this evening,'
interrupted the princess. 'You have not half got to the bottom of
the answers I have already given you. That paw in your hand now
might almost teach you the whole science of natural history - the
heavenly sort, I mean.'
'I will think,' said Curdie. 'But oh! please! one word more: may
I tell my father and mother all about it?'
'Certainly - though perhaps now it may be their turn to find it a
little difficult to believe that things went just as you must tell
'They shall see that I believe it all this time,' said Curdie.
'Tell them that tomorrow morning you must set out for the court -
not like a great man, but just as poor as you are. They had better
not speak about it. Tell them also that it will be a long time
before they hear of you again, but they must not lose heart. And
tell your father to lay that stone I gave him at night in a safe
place - not because of the greatness of its price, although it is
such an emerald as no prince has in his crown, but because it will
be a news-bearer between you and him. As often as he gets at all
anxious about you, he must take it and lay it in the fire, and
leave it there when he goes to bed. In the morning he must find it
in the ashes, and if it be as green as ever, then all goes well
with you; if it have lost colour, things go ill with you; but if it
be very pale indeed, then you are in great danger, and he must come
'Yes, ma'am,' said Curdie. 'Please, am I to go now?'
'Yes,' answered the princess, and held out her hand to him.
Curdie took it, trembling with joy. It was a very beautiful hand
- not small, very smooth, but not very soft - and just the same to
his fire-taught touch that it was to his eyes. He would have stood
there all night holding it if she had not gently withdrawn it.
'I will provide you a servant,' she said, 'for your journey and to
wait upon you afterward.'
'But where am I to go, ma'am, and what am I to do? You have given
me no message to carry, neither have you said what I am wanted for.
I go without a notion whether I am to walk this way or that, or
what I am to do when I get I don't know where.'
'Curdie!' said the princess, and there was a tone of reminder in
his own name as she spoke it, 'did I not tell you to tell your
father and mother that you were to set out for the court? And you
know that lies to the north. You must learn to use far less direct
directions than that. You must not be like a dull servant that
needs to be told again and again before he will understand. You
have orders enough to start with, and you will find, as you go on,
and as you need to know, what you have to do. But I warn you that
perhaps it will not look the least like what you may have been
fancying I should require of you. I have one idea of you and your
work, and you have another. I do not blame you for that - you
cannot help it yet; but you must be ready to let my idea, which
sets you working, set your idea right. Be true and honest and
fearless, and all shall go well with you and your work, and all
with whom your work lies, and so with your parents - and me too,
Curdie,' she added after a little pause.
The young miner bowed his head low, patted the strange head that
lay at the princess's feet, and turned away. As soon as he passed
the spinning wheel, which looked, in the midst of the glorious
room, just like any wheel you might find in a country cottage - old
and worn and dingy and dusty - the splendour of the place vanished,
and he saw but the big bare room he seemed at first to have
entered, with the moon - the princess's moon no doubt - shining in
at one of the windows upon the spinning wheel.
Curdie went home, pondering much, and told everything to his father
and mother. As the old princess had said, it was now their turn to
find what they heard hard to believe. if they had not been able to
trust Curdie himself, they would have refused to believe more than
the half of what he reported, then they would have refused that
half too, and at last would most likely for a time have disbelieved
in the very existence of the princess, what evidence their own
senses had given them notwithstanding.
For he had nothing conclusive to show in proof of what he told
them. When he held out his hands to them, his mother said they
looked as if he had been washing them with soft soap, only they did
smell of something nicer than that, and she must allow it was more
like roses than anything else she knew. His father could not see
any difference upon his hands, but then it was night, he said, and
their poor little lamp was not enough for his old eyes. As to the
feel of them, each of his own hands, he said, was hard and horny
enough for two, and it must be the fault of the dullness of his own
thick skin that he felt no change on Curdie's palms.
'Here, Curdie,' said his mother, 'try my hand, and see what beast's
paw lies inside it.'
'No, Mother,' answered Curdie, half beseeching, half indignant, 'I
will not insult my new gift by making pretence to try it. That
would be mockery. There is no hand within yours but the hand of a
true woman, my mother.'
'I should like you just to take hold of my hand though,' said his
mother. 'You are my son, and may know all the bad there is in me.'
Then at once Curdie took her hand in his. And when he had it, he
kept it, stroking it gently with his other hand.
'Mother,' he said at length, 'your hand feels just like that of the
'What! My horny, cracked, rheumatic old hand, with its big joints,
and its short nails all worn down to the quick with hard work -
like the hand of the beautiful princess! Why, my child, you will
make me fancy your fingers have grown very dull indeed, instead of
sharp and delicate, if you talk such nonsense. Mine is such an
ugly hand I should be ashamed to show it to any but one that loved
me. But love makes all safe - doesn't it, Curdie?'
'Well, Mother, all I can say is that I don't feel a roughness, or
a crack, or a big joint, or a short nail. Your hand feels just and
exactly, as near as I can recollect, and it's not more than two
hours since I had it in mine - well, I will say, very like indeed
to that of the old princess.'
'Go away, you flatterer,' said his mother, with a smile that showed
how she prized the love that lay beneath what she took for its
hyperbole. The praise even which one cannot accept is sweet from
a true mouth. 'If that is all your new gift can do, it won't make
a warlock of you,' she added.
'Mother, it tells me nothing but the truth,' insisted Curdie,
'however unlike the truth it may seem. it wants no gift to tell
what anybody's outside hands are like. But by it I know your
inside hands are like the princess's.'
'And I am sure the boy speaks true,' said Peter. 'He only says
about your hand what I have known ever so long about yourself,
Joan. Curdie, your mother's foot is as pretty a foot as any lady's
in the land, and where her hand is not so pretty it comes of
killing its beauty for you and me, my boy. And I can tell you
more, Curdie. I don't know much about ladies and gentlemen, but I
am sure your inside mother must be a lady, as her hand tells you,
and I will try to say how I know it. This is how: when I forget
myself looking at her as she goes about her work - and that happens
often as I grow older - I fancy for a moment or two that I am a
gentleman; and when I wake up from my little dream, it is only to
feel the more strongly that I must do everything as a gentleman
should. I will try to tell you what I mean, Curdie. If a
gentleman - I mean a real gentleman, not a pretended one, of which
sort they say there are a many above ground - if a real gentleman
were to lose all his money and come down to work in the mines to
get bread for his family - do you think, Curdie, he would work like
the lazy ones? Would he try to do as little as he could for his
wages? I know the sort of the true gentleman pretty near as well
as he does himself. And my wife, that's your mother, Curdie, she's
a true lady, you may take my word for it, for it's she that makes
me want to be a true gentleman. Wife, the boy is in the right
about your hand.'
'Now, Father, let me feel yours,' said Curdie, daring a little
'No, no, my boy,' answered Peter. 'I don't want to hear anything
about my hand or my head or my heart. I am what I am, and I hope
growing better, and that's enough. No, you shan't feel my hand.
You must go to bed, for you must start with the sun.'
It was not as if Curdie had been leaving them to go to prison, or
to make a fortune, and although they were sorry enough to lose him,
they were not in the least heartbroken or even troubled at his
As the princess had said he was to go like the poor man he was,
Curdie came down in the morning from his little loft dressed in his
working clothes. His mother, who was busy getting his breakfast
for him, while his father sat reading to her out of an old book,
would have had him put on his holiday garments, which, she said,
would look poor enough among the fine ladies and gentlemen he was
going to. But Curdie said he did not know that he was going among
ladies and gentlemen, and that as work was better than play, his
workday clothes must on the whole be better than his playday
Clothes; and as his father accepted the argument, his mother gave
in. When he had eaten his breakfast, she took a pouch made of
goatskin, with the long hair on it, filled it with bread and
cheese, and hung it over his shoulder. Then his father gave him a
stick he had cut for him in the wood, and he bade them good-bye
rather hurriedly, for he was afraid of breaking down. As he went
out he caught up his mattock and took it with him. It had on the
one side a pointed curve of strong steel for loosening the earth
and the ore, and on the other a steel hammer for breaking the
stones and rocks. just as he crossed the threshold the sun showed
the first segment of his disc above the horizon.
He had to go to the bottom of the hill to get into a country he
could cross, for the mountains to the north were full of
precipices, and it would have been losing time to go that way. Not
until he had reached the king's house was it any use to turn
northwards. Many a look did he raise, as he passed it, to the dove
tower, and as long as it was in sight, but he saw nothing of the
lady of the pigeons.
On and on he fared, and came in a few hours to a country where
there were no mountains more - only hills, with great stretches of
desolate heath. Here and there was a village, but that brought him
little pleasure, for the people were rougher and worse mannered
than those in the mountains, and as he passed through, the children
came behind and mocked him.
'There's a monkey running away from the mines!' they cried.
Sometimes their parents came out and encouraged them.
'He doesn't want to find gold for the king any longer - the
lazybones!' they would say. 'He'll be well taxed down here though,
and he won't like that either.'
But it was little to Curdie that men who did not know what he was
about should not approve of his proceedings. He gave them a merry
answer now and then, and held diligently on his way. When they got
so rude as nearly to make him angry, he would treat them as he used
to treat the goblins, and sing his own songs to keep out their
foolish noises. Once a child fell as he turned to run away after
throwing a stone at him. He picked him up, kissed him, and carried
him to his mother. The woman had run out in terror when she saw
the strange miner about, as she thought, to take vengeance on her
boy. When he put him in her arms, she blessed him, and Curdie went
on his way rejoicing.
And so the day went on, and the evening came, and in the middle of
a great desolate heath he began to feel tired, and sat down under
an ancient hawthorn, through which every now and then a lone wind
that seemed to come from nowhere and to go nowhither sighed and
hissed. It was very old and distorted. There was not another tree
for miles all around. it seemed to have lived so long, and to have
been so torn and tossed by the tempests on that moor, that it had
at last gathered a wind of its own, which got up now and then,
tumbled itself about, and lay down again.
Curdie had been so eager to get on that he had eaten nothing since
his breakfast. But he had had plenty of water, for Many little
streams had crossed his path. He now opened the wallet his mother
had given him, and began to eat his supper. The sun was setting.
A few clouds had gathered about the west, but there was not a
single cloud anywhere else to be seen.
Now Curdie did not know that this was a part of the country very
hard to get through. Nobody lived there, though many had tried to
build in it. Some died very soon. Some rushed out of it. Those
who stayed longest went raving mad, and died a terrible death.
Such as walked straight on, and did not spend a night there, got
through well and were nothing the worse. But those who slept even
a single night in it were sure to meet with something they could
never forget, and which often left a mark everybody could read.
And that old hawthorn Might have been enough for a warning - it
looked so like a human being dried up and distorted with age and
suffering, with cares instead of loves, and things instead of
thoughts. Both it and the heath around it, which stretched on all
sides as far as he could see, were so withered that it was
impossible to say whether they were alive or not.
And while Curdie ate there came a change. Clouds had gathered over
his head, and seemed drifting about in every direction, as if not
'shepherded by the slow, unwilling wind,' but hunted in all
directions by wolfish flaws across the plains of the sky. The sun
was going down in a storm of lurid crimson, and out of the west
came a wind that felt red and hot the one moment, and cold and pale
the other. And very strangely it sang in the dreary old hawthorn
tree, and very cheerily it blew about Curdie, now making him creep
close up to the tree for shelter from its shivery cold, now fan
himself with his cap, it was so sultry and stifling. It seemed to
come from the deathbed of the sun, dying in fever and ague.
And as he gazed at the sun, now on the verge of the horizon, very
large and very red and very dull - for though the clouds had broken
away a dusty fog was spread all over the disc - Curdie saw
something strange appear against it, moving about like a fly over
its burning face. This looked as if it were coming out of the
sun's furnace heart, and was a living creature of some kind surely;
but its shape was very uncertain, because the dazzle of the light
all around melted the outlines.
It was growing larger, it must be approaching! It grew so rapidly
that by the time the sun was half down its head reached the top of
the arch, and presently nothing but its legs were to be seen,
crossing and recrossing the face of the vanishing disc.
When the sun was down he could see nothing of it more, but in a
moment he heard its feet galloping over the dry crackling heather,
and seeming to come straight for him. He stood up, lifted his
pickaxes and threw the hammer end over his shoulder: he was going
to have a fight for his life! And now it appeared again, vague,
yet very awful, in the dim twilight the sun had left behind. But
just before it reached him, down from its four long legs it dropped
flat on the ground, and came crawling towards him, wagging a huge
tail as it came.
IT was Lina. All at once Curdie recognized her - the frightful
creature he had seen at the princess's. He dropped his pickaxes
and held out his hand. She crept nearer and nearer, and laid her
chin in his palm, and he patted her ugly head. Then she crept away
behind the tree, and lay down, panting hard.
Curdie did not much like the idea of her being behind him.
Horrible as she was to look at, she seemed to his mind more
horrible when he was not looking at her. But he remembered the
child's hand, and never thought of driving her away. Now and then
he gave a glance behind him, and there she lay flat, with her eyes
closed and her terrible teeth gleaming between her two huge
After his supper and his long day's journey it was no wonder Curdie
should now be sleepy. Since the sun set the air had been warm and
pleasant. He lay down under the tree, closed his eyes, and thought
to sleep. He found himself mistaken, however. But although he
could not sleep, he was yet aware of resting delightfully.
Presently he heard a sweet sound of singing somewhere, such as he
had never heard before - a singing as of curious birds far off,
which drew nearer and nearer. At length he heard their wings, and,
opening his eyes, saw a number of very large birds, as it seemed,
alighting around him, still singing. It was strange to hear song
from the throats of such big birds.
And still singing, with large and round but not the less birdlike
voices, they began to weave a strange dance about him, moving their
wings in time with their legs. But the dance seemed somehow to be
troubled and broken, and to return upon itself in an eddy, in place
of sweeping smoothly on.
And he soon learned, in the low short growls behind him, the cause
of the imperfection: they wanted to dance all round the tree, but
Lina would not permit them to come on her side.
Now curdie liked the birds, and did not altogether like Lina. But
neither, nor both together, made a reason for driving away the
princess's creature. Doubtless she had been the goblins' creature,
but the last time he saw her was in the king's house and the dove
tower, and at the old princess's feet. So he left her to do as she
would, and the dance of the birds continued only a semicircle,
troubled at the edges, and returning upon itself.
But their song and their motions, nevertheless, and the waving of
their wings, began at length to make him very sleepy. All the time
he had kept doubting whether they could really be birds, and the
sleepier he got, the more he imagined them something else, but he
suspected no harm.
Suddenly, just as he was sinking beneath the waves of slumber, he
awoke in fierce pain. The birds were upon him - all over him - and
had begun to tear him with beaks and claws. He had but time,
however, to feel that he could not move under their weight, when
they set up a hideous screaming, and scattered like a cloud. Lina
was among them, snapping and striking with her paws, while her tail
knocked them over and over. But they flew up, gathered, and
descended on her in a swarm, perching upon every part of her body,
so that he could see only a huge misshapen mass, which seemed to go
rolling away into the darkness. He got up and tried to follow, but
could see nothing, and after wandering about hither and thither for
some time, found himself again beside the hawthorn. He feared
greatly that the birds had been too much for Lina, and had torn her
to pieces. In a little while, however, she came limping back, and
lay down in her old place. Curdie also lay down, but, from the
pain of his wounds, there was no sleep for him. When the light
came he found his clothes a good deal torn and his skin as well,
but gladly wondered why the wicked birds had not at once attacked
his eyes. Then he turned, looking for Lina. She rose and crept to
him. But she was in far worse plight than he - plucked and gashed
and torn with the beaks and claws of the birds, especially about
the bare part of her neck, so that she was pitiful to see. And
those worst wounds she could not reach to lick.
'Poor Lina!' said Curdie, 'you got all those helping me.'
She wagged her tail, and made it clear she understood him. Then it
flashed upon Curdie's mind that perhaps this was the companion the
princess had promised him. For the princess did so many things
differently from what anybody looked for! Lina was no beauty
certainly, but already, the first night, she had saved his life.
'Come along, Lina,' he said, 'we want water.'
She put her nose to the earth, and after snuffing for a moment,
darted off in a straight line. Curdie followed. The ground was so
uneven, that after losing sight of her many times, at last he
seemed to have lost her altogether. In a few minutes, however, he
came upon her waiting for him. Instantly she darted off again.
After he had lost and found her again many times, he found her the
last time lying beside a great stone. As soon as he came up she
began scratching at it with her paws. When he had raised it an
inch or two, she shoved in first her nose and then her teeth, and
lifted with all the might of her neck.
When at length between them they got it up, there was a beautiful
little well. He filled his cap with the clearest and sweetest
water, and drank. Then he gave to Lina, and she drank plentifully.
Next he washed her wounds very carefully. And as he did so, he
noted how much the bareness of her neck added to the strange
repulsiveness of her appearance. Then he bethought him of the
goatskin wallet his mother had given him, and taking it from his
shoulders, tried whether it would do to make a collar of for the
poor animal. He found there was just enough, and the hair so
similar in colour to Lina's, that no one could suspect it of having
grown somewhere else.
He took his knife, ripped up the seams of the wallet, and began
trying the skin to her neck. it was plain she understood perfectly
what he wished, for she endeavoured to hold her neck conveniently,
turning it this way and that while he contrived, with his rather
scanty material, to make the collar fit. As his mother had taken
care to provide him with needles and thread, he soon had a nice
gorget ready for her. He laced it on with one of his boot laces,
which its long hair covered. Poor Lina looked much better in it.
Nor could any one have called it a piece of finery. If ever green
eyes with a yellow light in them looked grateful, hers did.
As they had no longer any bag to carry them in, Curdie and Lina now
ate what was left of the provisions. Then they set out again upon
their journey. For seven days it lasted. They met with various
adventures, and in all of them Lina proved so helpful, and so ready
to risk her life for the sake of her companion, that Curdie grew
not merely very fond but very trustful of her; and her ugliness,
which at first only moved his pity, now actually increased his
affection for her. One day, looking at her stretched on the grass
before him, he said:
'Oh, Lina! If the princess would but burn you in her fire of
She looked up at him, gave a mournful whine like a dog, and laid
her head on his feet. What or how much he could not tell, but
clearly she had gathered something from his words.
One day from morning till night they had been passing through a
forest. As soon as the sun was down Curdie began to be aware that
there were more in it than themselves. First he saw only the swift
rush of a figure across the trees at some distance. Then he saw
another and then another at shorter intervals. Then he saw others
both farther off and nearer. At last, missing Lina and looking
about after her, he saw an appearance as marvellous as herself
steal up to her, and begin conversing with her after some beast
fashion which evidently she understood.
Presently what seemed a quarrel arose between them, and stranger
noises followed, mingled with growling. At length it came to a
fight, which had not lasted long, however, before the creature of
the wood threw itself upon its back, and held up its paws to Lina.
She instantly walked on, and the creature got up and followed her.
They had not gone far before another strange animal appeared,
approaching Lina, when precisely the same thing was repeated, the
vanquished animal rising and following with the former. Again, and
yet again, and again, a fresh animal came up, seemed to be reasoned
and certainly was fought with and overcome by Lina, until at last,
before they were out of the wood, she was followed by forty-nine of
the most grotesquely ugly, the most extravagantly abnormal animals
imagination can conceive. To describe them were a hopeless task.
I knew a boy who used to make animals out of heather roots.
Wherever he could find four legs, he was pretty sure to find a head
and a tail. His beasts were a most comic menagerie, and right
fruitful of laughter. But they were not so grotesque and
extravagant as Lina and her followers. One of them, for instance,
was like a boa constrictor walking on four little stumpy legs near
its tail. About the same distance from its head were two little
wings, which it was forever fluttering as if trying to fly with
them. Curdie thought it fancied it did fly with them, when it was
merely plodding on busily with its four little stumps. How it
managed to keep up he could not think, till once when he missed it
from the group: the same moment he caught sight of something at a
distance plunging at an awful serpentine rate through the trees,
and presently, from behind a huge ash, this same creature fell
again into the group, quietly waddling along on its four stumps.
Watching it after this, he saw that, when it was not able to keep
up any longer, and they had all got a little space ahead, it shot
into the wood away from the route, and made a great round,
serpentine alone in huge billows of motion, devouring the ground,
undulating awfully, galloping as if it were all legs together, and
its four stumps nowhere. In this mad fashion it shot ahead, and,
a few minutes after, toddled in again among the rest, walking
peacefully and somewhat painfully on its few fours.
From the time it takes to describe one of them it will be readily
seen that it would hardly do to attempt a description of each of
the forty-nine. They were not a goodly company, but well worth
contemplating, nevertheless; and Curdie had been too long used to
the goblins' creatures in the mines and on the mountain, to feel
the least uncomfortable at being followed by such a herd. On the
contrary, the marvellous vagaries of shape they manifested amused
him greatly, and shortened the journey much.
Before they were all gathered, however, it had got so dark that he
could see some of them only a part at a time, and every now and
then, as the company wandered on, he would be startled by some
extraordinary limb or feature, undreamed of by him before,
thrusting itself out of the darkness into the range of his ken.
Probably there were some of his old acquaintances among them,
although such had been the conditions of semi-darkness, in which
alone he had ever seen any of them, that it was not like he would
be able to identify any of them.
On they marched solemnly, almost in silence, for either with feet
or voice the creatures seldom made any noise. By the time they
reached the outside of the wood it was morning twilight. Into the
open trooped the strange torrent of deformity, each one following
Lina. Suddenly she stopped, turned towards them, and said
something which they understood, although to Curdie's ear the
sounds she made seemed to have no articulation. Instantly they all
turned, and vanished in the forest, and Lina alone came trotting
lithely and clumsily after her master.
The Baker's Wife
They were now passing through a lovely country of hill and dale and
rushing stream. The hills were abrupt, with broken chasms for
watercourses, and deep little valleys full of trees. But now and
then they came to a larger valley, with a fine river, whose level
banks and the adjacent meadows were dotted all over with red and
white kine, while on the fields above, that sloped a little to the
foot of the hills, grew oats and barley and wheat, and on the sides
of the hills themselves vines hung and chestnuts rose.
They came at last to a broad, beautiful river, up which they must
go to arrive at the city of Gwyntystorm, where the king had his
court. As they went the valley narrowed, and then the river, but
still it was wide enough for large boats. After this, while the
river kept its size, the banks narrowed, until there was only room
for a road between the river and the great Cliffs that overhung it.
At last river and road took a sudden turn, and lo! a great rock in
the river, which dividing flowed around it, and on the top of the
rock the city, with lofty walls and towers and battlements, and
above the city the palace of the king, built like a strong castle.
But the fortifications had long been neglected, for the whole
country was now under one king, and all men said there was no more
need for weapons or walls. No man pretended to love his neighbour,
but every one said he knew that peace and quiet behaviour was the
best thing for himself, and that, he said, was quite as useful, and
a great deal more reasonable. The city was prosperous and rich,
and if everybody was not comfortable, everybody else said he ought
When Curdie got up opposite the mighty rock, which sparkled all
over with crystals, he found a narrow bridge, defended by gates and
portcullis and towers with loopholes. But the gates stood wide
open, and were dropping from their great hinges; the portcullis was
eaten away with rust, and clung to the grooves evidently immovable;
while the loopholed towers had neither floor nor roof, and their
tops were fast filling up their interiors. Curdie thought it a
pity, if only for their old story, that they should be thus
neglected. But everybody in the city regarded these signs of decay
as the best proof of the prosperity of the place. Commerce and
self-interest, they said, had got the better of violence, and the
troubles of the past were whelmed in the riches that flowed in at
their open gates.
Indeed, there was one sect of philosophers in it which taught that
it would be better to forget all the past history of the city, were
it not that its former imperfections taught its present inhabitants
how superior they and their times were, and enabled them to glory
over their ancestors. There were even certain quacks in the city
who advertised pills for enabling people to think well of
themselves, and some few bought of them, but most laughed, and
said, with evident truth, that they did not require them. Indeed,
the general theme of discourse when they met was, how much wiser
they were than their fathers.
Curdie crossed the river, and began to ascend the winding road that
led up to the city. They met a good many idlers, and all stared at
them. It was no wonder they should stare, but there was an
unfriendliness in their looks which Curdie did not like. No one,
however, offered them any molestation: Lina did not invite
liberties. After a long ascent, they reached the principal gate of
the city and entered.
The street was very steep, ascending toward the palace, which rose
in great strength above all the houses. just as they entered, a
baker, whose shop was a few doors inside the gate, came out in his
white apron, and ran to the shop of his friend, the barber, on the
opposite side of the way. But as he ran he stumbled and fell
heavily. Curdie hastened to help him up, and found he had bruised
his forehead badly. He swore grievously at the stone for tripping
him up, declaring it was the third time he had fallen over it
within the last month; and saying what was the king about that he
allowed such a stone to stick up forever on the main street of his
royal residence of Gwyntystorm! What was a king for if he would
not take care of his people's heads! And he stroked his forehead
'Was it your head or your feet that ought to bear the blame of your
fall?' asked Curdie.
'Why, you booby of a miner! My feet, of course,' answered
'Nay, then,' said Curdie, 'the king can't be to blame.'
'Oh, I see!' said the baker. 'You're laying a trap for me. Of
course, if you come to that, it was my head that ought to have
looked after my feet. But it is the king's part to look after us
all, and have his streets smooth.'
'Well, I don't see, said Curdie, 'why the king should take care of
the baker, when the baker's head won't take care of the baker's
'Who are you to make game of the king's baker?' cried the man in a
But, instead of answering, Curdie went up to the bump on the street
which had repeated itself on the baker's head, and turning the
hammer end of his mattock, struck it such a blow that it flew wide
in pieces. Blow after blow he struck until he had levelled it with
But out flew the barber upon him in a rage.
'What do you break my window for, you rascal, with your pickaxe?'
'I am very sorry,' said Curdie. 'It must have been a bit of stone
that flew from my mattock. I couldn't help it, you know.'
'Couldn't help it! A fine story! What do you go breaking the rock
for - the very rock upon which the city stands?'
'Look at your friend's forehead,' said Curdie. 'See what a lump he
has got on it with falling over that same stone.'
'What's that to my window?' cried the barber. 'His forehead can
mend itself; my poor window can't.'
'But he's the king's baker,' said Curdie, more and more surprised
at the man's anger.
'What's that to me? This is a free city. Every man here takes
care of himself, and the king takes care of us all. I'll have the
price of my window out of you, or the exchequer shall pay for it.'
Something caught Curdie's eye. He stooped, picked up a piece of
the stone he had just broken, and put it in his pocket.
'I suppose you are going to break another of my windows with that
stone!' said the barber.
'Oh no,' said Curdie. 'I didn't mean to break your window, and I
certainly won't break another.'
'Give me that stone,' said the barber.
Curdie gave it him, and the barber threw it over the city wall.
'I thought you wanted the stone,' said Curdie.
'No, you fool!' answered the barber. 'What should I want with a
Curdie stooped and picked up another.
'Give me that stone,' said the barber.
'No,' answered Curdie. 'You have just told me YOU don't want a
stone, and I do.'
The barber took Curdie by the collar.
'Come, now! You pay me for that window.'
'How much?' asked Curdie.
The barber said, 'A crown.' But the baker, annoyed at the
heartlessness of the barber, in thinking more of his broken window
than the bump on his friend's forehead, interfered.
'No, no,' he said to Curdie; 'don't you pay any such sum. A little
pane like that cost only a quarter.'
'Well, to be certain,' said Curdie, 'I'll give a half.' For he
doubted the baker as well as the barber. 'Perhaps one day, if he
finds he has asked too much, he will bring me the difference.'
'Ha! ha!' laughed the barber. 'A fool and his money are soon
But as he took the coin from Curdie's hand he grasped it in
affected reconciliation and real satisfaction. In Curdie's, his
was the cold smooth leathery palm of a monkey. He looked up,
almost expecting to see him pop the money in his cheek; but he had
not yet got so far as that, though he was well on the road to it:
then he would have no other pocket.
'I'm glad that stone is gone, anyhow,' said the baker. 'It was the
bane of my life. I had no idea how easy it was to remove it. Give
me your pickaxes young miner, and I will show you how a baker can
make the stones fly.'
He caught the tool out of Curdie's hand, and flew at one of the
foundation stones of the gateway. But he jarred his arm terribly,
scarcely chipped the stone, dropped the mattock with a cry of pain,
and ran into his own shop. Curdie picked up his implement, and,
looking after the baker, saw bread in the window, and followed him
in. But the baker, ashamed of himself, and thinking he was coming
to laugh at him, popped out of the back door, and when Curdie
entered, the baker's wife came from the bakehouse to serve him.
Curdie requested to know the price of a certain good-sized loaf.
Now the baker's wife had been watching what had passed since first
her husband ran out of the shop, and she liked the look of Curdie.
Also she was more honest than her husband. Casting a glance to the
back door, she replied:
'That is not the best bread. I will sell you a loaf of what we
bake for ourselves.' And when she had spoken she laid a finger on
her lips. 'Take care of yourself in this place, MY son,' she
added. 'They do not love strangers. I was once a stranger here,
and I know what I say.' Then fancying she heard her husband, 'That
is a strange animal you have,' she said, in a louder voice.
'Yes,' answered Curdie. 'She is no beauty, but she is very good,
and we love each other. Don't we, Lina?'
Lina looked up and whined. Curdie threw her the half of his loaf,
which she ate, while her master and the baker's wife talked a
little. Then the baker's wife gave them some water, and Curdie
having paid for his loaf, he and Lina went up the street together.
The Dogs of Gwyntystorm
The steep street led them straight up to a large market place with
butchers' shops, about which were many dogs. The moment they
caught sight of Lina, one and all they came rushing down upon her,
giving her no chance of explaining herself. When Curdie saw the
dogs coming he heaved up his mattock over his shoulder, and was
ready, if they would have it so. Seeing him thus prepared to
defend his follower, a great ugly bulldog flew at him. With the
first blow Curdie struck him through the brain and the brute fell
dead at his feet. But he could not at once recover his weapon,
which stuck in the skull of his foe, and a huge mastiff, seeing him
thus hampered, flew at him next.
Now Lina, who had shown herself so brave upon the road thither, had
grown shy upon entering the city, and kept always at Curdie's heel.
But it was her turn now. The moment she saw her master in danger
she seemed to go mad with rage. As the mastiff jumped at Curdie's
throat, Lina flew at him, seized him with her tremendous jaws, gave
one roaring grind, and he lay beside the bulldog with his neck
broken. They were the best dogs in the market, after the judgement
of the butchers of Gwyntystorm. Down came their masters, knives in
Curdie drew himself up fearlessly, mattock on shoulder, and awaited
their coming, while at his heel his awful attendant showed not only
her outside fringe of icicle teeth, but a double row of right
serviceable fangs she wore inside her mouth, and her green eyes
flashed yellow as gold. The butchers, not liking the look of
either of them or of the dogs at their feet, drew back, and began
to remonstrate in the manner of outraged men.
'Stranger,' said the first, 'that bulldog is mine.'
'Take him, then,' said Curdie, indignant.
'You've killed him!'
'Yes - else he would have killed me.'
'That's no business of mine.'
'That makes it the more mine, then.'
'This sort of thing won't do, you know,' said the other butcher.
'That's true,' said Curdie.
'That's my mastiff,' said the butcher.
'And as he ought to be,' said Curdie.
'Your brute shall be burned alive for it,' said the butcher.
'Not yet,' answered Curdie. 'We have done no wrong. We were
walking quietly up your street when your dogs flew at us. If you
don't teach your dogs how to treat strangers, you must take the
'They treat them quite properly,' said the butcher. 'What right
has any one to bring an abomination like that into our city? The
horror is enough to make an idiot of every child in the place.'
'We are both subjects of the king, and my poor animal can't help
her looks. How would you like to be served like that because you
were ugly? She's not a bit fonder of her looks than you are - only
what can she do to change them?'
'I'll do to change them,' said the fellow.
Thereupon the butchers brandished their long knives and advanced,
keeping their eyes upon Lina.
'Don't be afraid, Lina,' cried Curdie. 'I'll kill one - you kill
Lina gave a howl that might have terrified an army, and crouched
ready to spring. The butchers turned and ran.
By this time a great crowd had gathered behind the butchers, and in
it a number of boys returning from school who began to stone the
strangers. It was a way they had with man or beast they did not
expect to make anything by. One of the stones struck Lina; she
caught it in her teeth and crunched it so that it fell in gravel
from her mouth. Some of the foremost of the crowd saw this, and it
terrified them. They drew back; the rest took fright from their
retreat; the panic spread; and at last the crowd scattered in all
directions. They ran, and cried out, and said the devil and his
dam were come to Gwyntystorm. So Curdie and Lina were left
standing unmolested in the market place. But the terror of them
spread throughout the city, and everybody began to shut and lock
his door so that by the time the setting sun shone down the street,
there was not a shop left open, for fear of the devil and his
horrible dam. But all the upper windows within sight of them were
crowded with heads watching them where they stood lonely in the
deserted market place.
Curdie looked carefully all round, but could not see one open door.
He caught sight of the sign of an inn, however, and laying down his
mattock, and telling Lina to take care of it, walked up to the door
of it and knocked. But the people in the house, instead of opening
the door, threw things at him from the windows. They would not
listen to a word he said, but sent him back to Lina with the blood
running down his face. When Lina saw that she leaped up in a fury
and was rushing at the house, into which she would certainly have
broken; but Curdie called her, and made her lie down beside him
while he bethought him what next he should do.
'Lina,' he said, 'the people keep their gates open, but their
houses and their hearts shut.'
As if she knew it was her presence that had brought this trouble
upon him, she rose and went round and round him, purring like a
tigress, and rubbing herself against his legs.
Now there was one little thatched house that stood squeezed in
between two tall gables, and the sides of the two great houses shot
out projecting windows that nearly met across the roof of the
little one, so that it lay in the street like a doll's house. In
this house lived a poor old woman, with a grandchild. And because
she never gossiped or quarrelled, or chaffered in the market, but
went without what she could not afford, the people called her a
witch, and would have done her many an ill turn if they had not
been afraid of her.
Now while Curdie was looking in another direction the door opened,
and out came a little dark-haired, black-eyed, gypsy-looking child,
and toddled across the market place toward the outcasts. The
moment they saw her coming, Lina lay down flat on the road, and
with her two huge forepaws covered her mouth, while Curdie went to
meet her, holding out his arms. The little one came straight to
him, and held up her mouth to be kissed. Then she took him by the
hand, and drew him toward the house, and Curdie yielded to the
But when Lina rose to follow, the child shrank from her, frightened
a little. Curdie took her up, and holding her on one arm, patted
Lina with the other hand. Then the child wanted also to pat doggy,
as she called her by a right bountiful stretch of courtesy, and
having once patted her, nothing would serve but Curdie must let her
have a ride on doggy. So he set her on Lina's back, holding her
hand, and she rode home in merry triumph, all unconscious of the
hundreds of eyes staring at her foolhardiness from the windows
about the market place, or the murmur of deep disapproval that rose
from as many lips.
At the door stood the grandmother to receive them. She caught the
child to her bosom with delight at her courage, welcomed Curdie,
and showed no dread of Lina. Many were the significant nods
exchanged, and many a one said to another that the devil and the
witch were old friends. But the woman was only a wise woman, who,
having seen how Curdie and Lina behaved to each other, judged from
that what sort they were, and so made them welcome to her house.
She was not like her fellow townspeople, for that they were
strangers recommended them to her.
The moment her door was shut the other doors began to open, and
soon there appeared little groups here and there about a threshold,
while a few of the more courageous ventured out upon the square -
all ready to make for their houses again, however, upon the least
sign of movement in the little thatched one.
The baker and the barber had joined one of these groups, and were
busily wagging their tongues against Curdie and his horrible beast.
'He can't be honest,' said the barber; 'for he paid me double the
worth of the pane he broke in my window.'
And then he told them how Curdie broke his window by breaking a
stone in the street with his hammer. There the baker struck in.
'Now that was the stone,' said he, 'over which I had fallen three
times within the last month: could it be by fair means he broke
that to pieces at the first blow? Just to make up my mind on that
point I tried his own hammer against a stone in the gate; it nearly
broke both my arms, and loosened half the teeth in my head!'
Derba and Barbara
Meantime the wanderers were hospitably entertained by the old woman
and her grandchild and they were all very comfortable and happy
together. Little Barbara sat upon Curdie's knee, and he told her
stories about the mines and his adventures in them. But he never
mentioned the king or the princess, for all that story was hard to
believe. And he told her about his mother and father, and how good
they were. And Derba sat and listened. At last little Barbara
fell asleep in Curdie's arms, and her grandmother carried her to
It was a poor little house, and Derba gave up her own room to
Curdie because he was honest and talked wisely. Curdie saw how it
was, and begged her to allow him to lie on the floor, but she would
not hear of it.
In the night he was waked by Lina pulling at him. As soon as he
spoke to her she ceased, and Curdie, listening, thought he heard
someone trying to get in. He rose, took his mattock, and went
about the house, listening and watching; but although he heard
noises now at one place now at another, he could not think what
they meant for no one appeared. Certainly, considering how she had
frightened them all in the day, it was not likely any one would
attack Lina at night. By and by the noises ceased, and Curdie went
back to his bed, and slept undisturbed.
In the morning, however, Derba came to him in great agitation, and
said they had fastened up the door, so that she could not get out.
Curdie rose immediately and went with her: they found that not only
the door, but every window in the house was so secured on the
outside that it was impossible to open one of them without using
great force. Poor Derba looked anxiously in Curdie's face. He
broke out laughing.
'They are much mistaken,' he said, 'if they fancy they could keep
Lina and a miner in any house in Gwyntystorm - even if they built
up doors and windows.'
With that he shouldered his mattock. But Derba begged him not to
make a hole in her house just yet. She had plenty for breakfast,
she said, and before it was time for dinner they would know what
the people meant by it.
And indeed they did. For within an hour appeared one of the chief
magistrates of the city, accompanied by a score of soldiers with
drawn swords, and followed by a great multitude of people,
requiring the miner and his brute to yield themselves, the one that
he might be tried for the disturbance he had occasioned and the
injury he had committed, the other that she might be roasted alive
for her part in killing two valuable and harmless animals belonging
to worthy citizens. The summons was preceded and followed by
flourish of trumpet, and was read with every formality by the city
The moment he ended, Lina ran into the little passage, and stood
opposite the door.
'I surrender,' cried Curdie.
'Then tie up your brute, and give her here.'
'No, no,' cried Curdie through the door. 'I surrender; but I'm not
going to do your hangman's work. If you want MY dog, you must take
'Then we shall set the house on fire, and burn witch and all.'
'It will go hard with us but we shall kill a few dozen of you
first,' cried Curdie. 'We're not the least afraid of you.' With
that Curdie turned to Derba, and said:
'Don't be frightened. I have a strong feeling that all will be
well. Surely no trouble will come to you for being good to
'But the poor dog!' said Derba.
Now Curdie and Lina understood each other more than a little by
this time, and not only had he seen that she understood the
proclamation, but when she looked up at him after it was read, it
was with such a grin, and such a yellow flash, that he saw also she
was determined to take care of herself.
'The dog will probably give you reason to think a little more of
her ere long,' he answered. 'But now,' he went on, 'I fear I must
hurt your house a little. I have great confidence, however, that
I shall be able to make up to you for it one day.'
'Never mind the house, if only you can get safe off,' she answered.
'I don't think they will hurt this precious lamb,' she added,
clasping little Barbara to her bosom. 'For myself, it is all one;
I am ready for anything.'
'it is but a little hole for Lina I want to make,' said Curdie.
'She can creep through a much smaller one than you would think.'
Again he took his mattock, and went to the back wall.
'They won't burn the house,' he said to himself. 'There is too
good a one on each side of it.'
The tumult had kept increasing every moment, and the city marshal
had been shouting, but Curdie had not listened to him. When now
they heard the blows of his mattock, there went up a great cry, and
the people taunted the soldiers that they were afraid of a dog and
his miner. The soldiers therefore made a rush at the door, and cut
The moment they opened it, out leaped Lina, with a roar so
unnaturally horrible that the sword arms of the soldiers dropped by
their sides, paralysed with the terror of that cry; the crowd fled
in every direction, shrieking and yelling with mortal dismay; and
without even knocking down with her tail, not to say biting a man
of them with her pulverizing jaws, Lina vanished - no one knew
whither, for not one of the crowd had had courage to look upon her.
The moment she was gone, Curdie advanced and gave himself up. The
soldiers were so filled with fear, shame, and chagrin, that they
were ready to kill him on the spot. But he stood quietly facing
them, with his mattock on his shoulder; and the magistrate wishing
to examine him, and the people to see him made an example of, the
soldiers had to content themselves with taking him. Partly for
derision, partly to hurt him, they laid his mattock against his
back, and tied his arms to it.
They led him up a very steep street, and up another still, all the
crowd following. The king's palace-castle rose towering above
them; but they stopped before they reached it, at a low-browed door
in a great, dull, heavy-looking building.
The city marshal opened it with a key which hung at his girdle, and
ordered Curdie to enter. The place within was dark as night, and
while he was feeling his way with his feet, the marshal gave him a
rough push. He fell, and rolled once or twice over, unable to help
himself because his hands were tied behind him.
It was the hour of the magistrate's second and more important
breakfast, and until that was over he never found himself capable
of attending to a case with concentration sufficient to the
distinguishing of the side upon which his own advantage lay; and
hence was this respite for Curdie, with time to collect his
thoughts. But indeed he had very few to collect, for all he had to
do, so far as he could see, was to wait for what would come next.
Neither had he much power to collect them, for he was a good deal
in a few minutes he discovered, to his great relief, that, from the
projection of the pick end of his mattock beyond his body, the fall
had loosened the ropes tied round it. He got one hand disengaged,
and then the other; and presently stood free, with his good mattock
once more in right serviceable relation to his arms and legs.
While The magistrate reinvigorated his selfishness with a greedy
breakfast, Curdie found doing nothing in the dark rather tiresome
work. it was useless attempting to think what he should do next,
seeing the circumstances in which he was presently to find himself
were altogether unknown to him. So he began to think about his
father and mother in their little cottage home, high in the clear
air of the open Mountainside, and the thought, instead of making
his dungeon gloomier by the contrast, made a light in his soul that
destroyed the power of darkness and captivity.
But he was at length startled from his waking dream by a swell in
the noise outside. All the time there had been a few of the more
idle of the inhabitants about the door, but they had been rather
quiet. Now, however, the sounds of feet and voices began to grow,
and grew so rapidly that it was plain a multitude was gathering.
For the people of Gwyntystorm always gave themselves an hour of
pleasure after their second breakfast, and what greater pleasure
could they have than to see a stranger abused by the officers of
The noise grew till it was like the roaring of the sea, and that
roaring went on a long time, for the magistrate, being a great man,
liked to know that he was waited for: it added to the enjoyment of
his breakfast, and, indeed, enabled him to eat a little more after
he had thought his powers exhausted.
But at length, in the waves of the human noises rose a bigger wave,
and by the running and shouting and outcry, Curdie learned that the
magistrate was approaching.
Presently came the sound of the great rusty key in the lock, which
yielded with groaning reluctance; the door was thrown back, the
light rushed in, and with it came the voice of the city marshal,
calling upon Curdie, by many legal epithets opprobrious, to come
forth and be tried for his life, inasmuch as he had raised a tumult
in His Majesty's city of Gwyntystorm, troubled the hearts of the
king's baker and barber, and slain the faithful dogs of His
Majesty's well-beloved butchers.
He was still reading, and Curdie was still seated in the brown
twilight of the vault, not listening, but pondering with himself
how this king the city marshal talked of could be the same with the
Majesty he had seen ride away on his grand white horse with the
Princess Irene on a cushion before him, when a scream of agonized
terror arose on the farthest skirt of the crowd, and, swifter than
flood or flame, the horror spread shrieking. In a moment the air
was filled with hideous howling, cries of unspeakable dismay, and
the multitudinous noise of running feet. The next moment, in at
the door of the vault bounded Lina, her two green eyes flaming
yellow as sunflowers, and seeming to light up the dungeon. With
one spring she threw herself at Curdie's feet, and laid her head
upon them panting. Then came a rush of two or three soldiers
darkening the doorway, but it was only to lay hold of the key, pull
the door to, and lock it; so that once more Curdie and Lina were
For a few moments Lina lay panting hard: it is breathless work
leaping and roaring both at once, and that in a way to scatter
thousands of people. Then she jumped up, and began snuffing about
all over the place; and Curdie saw what he had never seen before -
two faint spots of light cast from her eyes upon the ground, one on
each side of her snuffing nose. He got out his tinder box - a
miner is never without one - and lighted a precious bit of candle
he carried in a division of it just for a moment, for he must not
The light revealed a vault without any window or other opening than
the door. It was very old and much neglected. The mortar had
vanished from between the stones, and it was half filled with a
heap of all sorts of rubbish, beaten down in the middle, but looser
at the sides; it sloped from the door to the foot of the opposite
wall: evidently for a long time the vault had been left open, and
every sort of refuse thrown into it. A single minute served for
the survey, so little was there to note.
Meantime, down in the angle between the back wall and the base of
the heap Lina was scratching furiously with all the eighteen great
strong claws of her mighty feet.
'Ah, ha!' said Curdie to himself, catching sight of her, 'if only
they will leave us long enough to ourselves!'
With that he ran to the door, to see if there was any fastening on
the inside. There was none: in all its long history it never had
had one. But a few blows of the right sort, now from the one, now
from the other end of his mattock, were as good as any bolt, for
they so ruined the lock that no key could ever turn in it again.
Those who heard them fancied he was trying to get out, and laughed
spitefully. As soon as he had done, he extinguished his candle,
and went down to Lina.
She had reached the hard rock which formed the floor of the
dungeon, and was now clearing away the earth a little wider.
Presently she looked up in his face and whined, as much as to say,
'My paws are not hard enough to get any farther.'
'Then get out of my way, Lina,' said Curdie, and mind you keep your
eyes shining, for fear I should hit you.'
So saying, he heaved his mattock, and assailed with the hammer end
of it the spot she had cleared.
The rock was very hard, but when it did break it broke in
good-sized pieces. Now with hammer, now with pick, he worked till
he was weary, then rested, and then set to again. He could not
tell how the day went, as he had no light but the lamping of Lina's
eyes. The darkness hampered him greatly, for he would not let Lina
come close enough to give him all the light she could, lest he
should strike her. So he had, every now and then, to feel with his
hands to know how he was getting on, and to discover in what
direction to strike: the exact spot was a mere imagination.
He was getting very tired and hungry, and beginning to lose heart
a little, when out of the ground, as if he had struck a spring of
it, burst a dull, gleamy, lead-coloured light, and the next moment
he heard a hollow splash and echo. A piece of rock had fallen out
of the floor, and dropped into water beneath. Already Lina, who
had been lying a few yards off all the time he worked, was on her
feet and peering through the hole. Curdie got down on his hands
and knees, and looked. They were over what seemed a natural cave
in the rock, to which apparently the river had access, for, at a
great distance below, a faint light was gleaming upon water. If
they could but reach it, they might get out; but even if it was
deep enough, the height was very dangerous. The first thing,
whatever might follow, was to make the hole larger. It was
comparatively easy to break away the sides of it, and in the course
of another hour he had it large enough to get through.
And now he must reconnoitre. He took the rope they had tied him
with - for Curdie's hindrances were always his furtherance - and
fastened one end of it by a slipknot round the handle of his
pickaxes then dropped the other end through, and laid the pickaxe
so that, when he was through himself, and hanging on the edge, he
could place it across the hole to support him on the rope. This
done, he took the rope in his hands, and, beginning to descend,
found himself in a narrow cleft widening into a cave. His rope was
not very long, and would not do much to lessen the force of his
fall - he thought to himself - if he should have to drop into the
water; but he was not more than a couple of yards below the dungeon
when he spied an opening on the opposite side of the cleft: it
might be but a shadow hole, or it might lead them out. He dropped
himself a little below its level, gave the rope a swing by pushing
his feet against the side of the cleft, and so penduled himself
into it. Then he laid a stone on the end of the rope that it
should not forsake him, called to Lina, whose yellow eyes were
gleaming over the mattock grating above, to watch there till he
returned, and went cautiously in. It proved a passage, level for
some distance, then sloping gently up. He advanced carefully,
feeling his way as he went. At length he was stopped by a door -
a small door, studded with iron. But the wood was in places so
much decayed that some of the bolts had dropped out, and he felt
sure of being able to open it. He returned, therefore, to fetch
Lina and his mattock. Arrived at the cleft, his strong miner arms
bore him swiftly up along the rope and through the hole into the
dungeon. There he undid the rope from his mattock, and making Lina
take the end of it in her teeth, and get through the hole, he
lowered her - it was all he could do, she was so heavy. When she
came opposite the passage, with a slight push of her tail she shot
herself into it, and let go the rope, which Curdie drew up.
Then he lighted his candle and searching in the rubbish found a bit
of iron to take the place of his pickaxe across the hole. Then he
searched again in the rubbish, and found half an old shutter. This
he propped up leaning a little over the hole, with a bit of stick,
and heaped against the back of it a quantity of the loosened earth.
Next he tied his mattock to the end of the rope, dropped it, and
let it hang. Last, he got through the hole himself, and pulled
away the propping stick, so that the shutter fell over the hole
with a quantity of earth on the top of it. A few motions of hand
over hand, and he swung himself and his mattock into the passage
There he secured the end of the rope, and they went on together to
The Wine Cellar
He lighted his candle and examined it. Decayed and broken as it
was, it was strongly secured in its place by hinges on the one
side, and either lock or bolt, he could not tell which, on the
other. A brief use of his pocket-knife was enough to make room for
his hand and arm to get through, and then he found a great iron
bolt - but so rusty that he could not move it.
Lina whimpered. He took his knife again, made the hole bigger, and
stood back. In she shot her small head and long neck, seized the
bolt with her teeth, and dragged it, grating and complaining, back.
A push then opened the door. it was at the foot of a short flight
of steps. They ascended, and at the top Curdie found himself in a
space which, from the echo to his stamp, appeared of some size,
though of what sort he could not at first tell, for his hands,
feeling about, came upon nothing. Presently, however, they fell on
a great thing: it was a wine cask.
He was just setting out to explore the place thoroughly, when he
heard steps coming down a stair. He stood still, not knowing
whether the door would open an inch from his nose or twenty yards
behind his back. It did neither. He heard the key turn in the
lock, and a stream of light shot in, ruining the darkness, about
fifteen yards away on his right.
A man carrying a candle in one hand and a large silver flagon in
the other, entered, and came toward him. The light revealed a row
of huge wine casks, that stretched away into the darkness of the
other end of the long vault. Curdie retreated into the recess of
the stair, and peeping round the corner of it, watched him,
thinking what he could do to prevent him from locking them in. He
came on and on, until curdie feared he would pass the recess and
see them. He was just preparing to rush out, and master him before
he should give alarm, not in the least knowing what he should do
next, when, to his relief, the man stopped at the third cask from
where he stood. He set down his light on the top of it, removed
what seemed a large vent-peg, and poured into the cask a quantity
of something from the flagon. Then he turned to the next cask,
drew some wine, rinsed the flagon, threw the wine away, drew and
rinsed and threw away again, then drew and drank, draining to the
bottom. Last of all, he filled the flagon from the cask he had
first visited, replaced then the vent-peg, took up his candle, and
turned toward the door.
'There is something wrong here!' thought Curdie.
'Speak to him, Lina,' he whispered.
The sudden howl she gave made Curdie himself start and tremble for
a moment. As to the man, he answered Lina's with another horrible
howl, forced from him by the convulsive shudder of every muscle of
his body, then reeled gasping to and fro, and dropped his candle.
But just as Curdie expected to see him fall dead he recovered
himself, and flew to the door, through which he darted, leaving it
open behind him. The moment he ran, Curdie stepped out, picked up
the candle still alight, sped after him to the door, drew out the
key, and then returned to the stair and waited. in a few minutes
he heard the sound of many feet and voices. Instantly he turned
the tap of the cask from which the man had been drinking, set the
candle beside it on the floor, went down the steps and out of the
little door, followed by Lina, and closed it behind them.
Through the hole in it he could see a little, and hear all. He
could see how the light of many candles filled the place, and could
hear how some two dozen feet ran hither and thither through the
echoing cellar; he could hear the clash of iron, probably spits and
pokers, now and then; and at last heard how, finding nothing
remarkable except the best wine running to waste, they all turned
on the butler and accused him of having fooled them with a drunken
dream. He did his best to defend himself, appealing to the
evidence of their own senses that he was as sober as they were.
They replied that a fright was no less a fright that the cause was
imaginary, and a dream no less a dream that the fright had waked
him from it.
When he discovered, and triumphantly adduced as corroboration, that
the key was gone from the door, they said it merely showed how
drunk he had been - either that or how frightened, for he had
certainly dropped it. In vain he protested that he had never taken
it out of the lock - that he never did when he went in, and
certainly had not this time stopped to do so when he came out; they
asked him why he had to go to the cellar at such a time of the day,
and said it was because he had already drunk all the wine that was
left from dinner. He said if he had dropped the key, the key was
to be found, and they must help him to find it. They told him they
wouldn't move a peg for him. He declared, with much language, he
would have them all turned out of the king's service. They said
they would swear he was drunk.
And so positive were they about it, that at last the butler himself
began to think whether it was possible they could be in the right.
For he knew that sometimes when he had been drunk he fancied things
had taken place which he found afterward could not have happened.
Certain of his fellow servants, however, had all the time a doubt
whether the cellar goblin had not appeared to him, or at least
roared at him, to protect the wine. in any case nobody wanted to
find the key for him; nothing could please them better than that
the door of the wine cellar should never more be locked. By
degrees the hubbub died away, and they departed, not even pulling
to the door, for there was neither handle nor latch to it.
As soon as they were gone, Curdie returned, knowing now that they
were in the wine cellar of the palace, as indeed, he had suspected.
Finding a pool of wine in a hollow of the floor, Lina lapped it up
eagerly: she had had no breakfast, and was now very thirsty as well
as hungry. Her master was in a similar plight, for he had but just
begun to eat when the magistrate arrived with the soldiers. If
only they were all in bed, he thought, that he might find his way
to the larder! For he said to himself that, as he was sent there
by the young princess's great-great-grandmother to serve her or her
father in some way, surely he must have a right to his food in the
Palace, without which he could do nothing. He would go at once and
So he crept up the stair that led from the cellar. At the top was
a door, opening on a long passage dimly lighted by a lamp. He told
Lina to lie down upon the stair while he went on. At the end of
the passage he found a door ajar, and, peering through, saw right
into a great stone hall, where a huge fire was blazing, and through
which men in the king's livery were constantly coming and going.
Some also in the same livery were lounging about the fire. He
noted that their colours were the same as those he himself, as
king's miner, wore; but from what he had seen and heard of the
habits of the place, he could not hope they would treat him the
better for that.
The one interesting thing at the moment, however, was the plentiful
supper with which the table was spread. It was something at least
to stand in sight of food, and he was unwilling to turn his back on
the prospect so long as a share in it was not absolutely hopeless.
Peeping thus, he soon made UP his mind that if at any moment the
hall should be empty, he would at that moment rush in and attempt
to carry off a dish. That he might lose no time by indecision, he
selected a large pie upon which to pounce instantaneously. But
after he had watched for some minutes, it did not seem at all
likely the chance would arrive before suppertime, and he was just
about to turn away and rejoin Lina, when he saw that there was not
a person in the place. Curdie never made up his mind and then
hesitated. He darted in, seized the pie, and bore it swiftly and
noiselessly to the cellar stair.
The King's Kitchen
Back to the cellar Curdie and Lina sped with their booty, where,
seated on the steps, Curdie lighted his bit of candle for a moment.
A very little bit it was now, but they did not waste much of it in
examination of the pie; that they effected by a more summary
process. Curdie thought it the nicest food he had ever tasted, and
between them they soon ate it up. Then Curdie would have thrown
the dish along with the bones into the water, that there might be
no traces of them; but he thought of his mother, and hid it
instead; and the very next minute they wanted it to draw some wine
into. He was careful it should be from the cask of which he had
seen the butler drink.
Then they sat down again upon the steps, and waited until the house
should be quiet. For he was there to do something, and if it did
not come to him in the cellar, he must go to meet it in other
places. Therefore, lest he should fall asleep, he set the end of
the helve of his mattock on the ground, and seated himself on the
cross part, leaning against the wall, so that as long as he kept
awake he should rest, but the moment he began to fall asleep he
must fall awake instead. He quite expected some of the servants
would visit the cellar again that night, but whether it was that
they were afraid of each other, or believed more of the butler's
story than they had chosen to allow, not one of them appeared.
When at length he thought he might venture, he shouldered his
mattock and crept up the stair. The lamp was out in the passage,
but he could not miss his way to the servants' hall. Trusting to
Lina's quickness in concealing herself, he took her with him.
When they reached the hall they found it quiet and nearly dark.
The last of the great fire was glowing red, but giving little
light. Curdie stood and warmed himself for a few moments: miner as
he was, he had found the cellar cold to sit in doing nothing; and
standing thus he thought of looking if there were any bits of
candle about. There were many candlesticks on the supper table,
but to his disappointment and indignation their candles seemed to
have been all left to burn out, and some of them, indeed, he found
still hot in the neck.
Presently, one after another, he came upon seven men fast asleep,
most of them upon tables, one in a chair, and one on the floor.
They seemed, from their shape and colour, to have eaten and drunk
so much that they might be burned alive without wakening. He
grasped the hand of each in succession,and found two ox hoofs,
three pig hoofs, one concerning which he could not be sure whether
it was the hoof of a donkey or a pony, and one dog's paw. 'A nice
set of people to be about a king!' thought Curdie to himself, and
turned again to his candle hunt. He did at last find two or three
little pieces, and stowed them away in his pockets. They now left
the hall by another door, and entered a short passage, which led
them to the huge kitchen, vaulted and black with smoke. There,
too, the fire was still burning, so that he was able to see a
little of the state of things in this quarter also.
The place was dirty and disorderly. In a recess, on a heap of
brushwood, lay a kitchen-maid, with a table cover around her, and
a skillet in her hand: evidently she too had been drinking. In
another corner lay a page, and Curdie noted how like his dress was
to his own. in the cinders before the hearth were huddled three
dogs and five cats, all fast asleep, while the rats were running
about the floor. Curdie's heart ached to think of the lovely
child-princess living over such a sty. The mine was a paradise to
a palace with such servants in it.
Leaving the kitchen, he got into the region of the sculleries.
There horrible smells were wandering about, like evil spirits that
come forth with the darkness. He lighted a candle - but only to
see ugly sights. Everywhere was filth and disorder. Mangy
turnspit dogs were lying about, and grey rats were gnawing at
refuse in the sinks. It was like a hideous dream. He felt as if
he should never get out of it, and longed for one glimpse of his
mother's poor little kitchen, so clean and bright and airy.
Turning from it at last in miserable disgust, he almost ran back
through the kitchen, re-entered the hall, and crossed it to another
It opened upon a wider passage leading to an arch in a stately
corridor, all its length lighted by lamps in niches. At the end of
it was a large and beautiful hall, with great pillars. There sat
three men in the royal livery, fast asleep, each in a great
armchair, with his feet on a huge footstool. They looked like
fools dreaming themselves kings; and Lina looked as if she longed
to throttle them. At one side of the hall was the grand staircase,
and they went up.
Everything that now met Curdie's eyes was rich - not glorious like
the splendours of the mountain cavern, but rich and soft - except
where, now and then, some rough old rib of the ancient fortress
came through, hard and discoloured. Now some dark bare arch of
stone, now some rugged and blackened pillar, now some huge beam,
brown with the smoke and dust of centuries, looked like a thistle
in the midst of daisies, or a rock in a smooth lawn.
They wandered about a good while, again and again finding
themselves where they had been before. Gradually, however, Curdie
was gaining some idea of the place. By and by Lina began to look
frightened, and as they went on Curdie saw that she looked more and
more frightened. Now, by this time he had come to understand that
what made her look frightened was always the fear of frightening,
and he therefore concluded they must be drawing nigh to somebody.
At last, in a gorgeously painted gallery, he saw a curtain of
crimson, and on the curtain a royal crown wrought in silks and
stones. He felt sure this must be the king's chamber, and it was
here he was wanted; or, if it was not the place he was bound for,
something would meet him and turn him aside; for he had come to
think that so long as a man wants to do right he may go where he
can: when he can go no farther, then it is not the way. 'Only,'
said his father, in assenting to the theory, 'he must really want
to do right, and not merely fancy he does. He must want it with
his heart and will, and not with his rag of a tongue.'
So he gently lifted the corner of the curtain, and there behind it
was a half-open door. He entered, and the moment he was in, Lina
stretched herself along the threshold between the curtain and the
The King's Chamber
He found himself in a large room, dimly lighted by a silver lamp
that hung from the ceiling. Far at the other end was a great bed,
surrounded with dark heavy curtains. He went softly toward it, his
heart beating fast. It was a dreadful thing to be alone in the
king's chamber at the dead of night. To gain courage he had to
remind himself of the beautiful princess who had sent him.
But when he was about halfway to the bed, a figure appeared from
the farther side of it, and came towards him, with a hand raised
warningly. He stood still. The light was dim, and he could
distinguish little more than the outline of a young girl. But
though the form he saw was much taller than the princess he
remembered, he never doubted it was she. For one thing, he knew
that most girls would have been frightened to see him there in the
dead of the night, but like a true princess, and the princess he
used to know, she walked straight on to meet him. As she came she
lowered the hand she had lifted, and laid the forefinger of it upon
her lips. Nearer and nearer, quite near, close up to him she came,
then stopped, and stood a moment looking at him.
'You are Curdie,' she said.
'And you are the Princess Irene,' he returned.
'Then we know each other still,' she said, with a sad smile of
pleasure. 'You will help me.'
'That I will,' answered Curdie. He did not say, 'If I can';
for he knew that what he was sent to do, that he could do. 'May I
kiss your hand, little Princess?'
She was only between nine and ten, though indeed she looked several
years older, and her eyes almost those of a grown woman, for she
had had terrible trouble of late.
She held out her hand.
'I am not the little princess any more. I have grown up since I
saw you last, Mr Miner.'
The smile which accompanied the words had in it a strange mixture
of playfulness and sadness.
'So I see, Miss Princess,' returned Curdie; 'and therefore, being
more of a princess, you are the more my princess. Here I am, sent
by your great-great-grandmother, to be your servant. May I ask why
you are up so late, Princess?'
'Because my father wakes so frightened, and I don't know what he
would do if he didn't find me by his bedside. There! he's waking
She darted off to the side of the bed she had come from.
Curdie stood where he was.
A voice altogether unlike what he remembered of the mighty, noble
king on his white horse came from the bed, thin, feeble, hollow,
and husky, and in tone like that of a petulant child:
'I will not, I will not. I am a king, and I will be a king. I
hate you and despise you, and you shall not torture me!'
'Never mind them, Father dear,' said the princess. 'I am here, and
they shan't touch you. They dare not, you know, so long as you
'They want my crown, darling; and I can't give them my crown, can
I? For what is a king without his crown?'
'They shall never have your crown, my king,' said Irene. 'Here it
is - all safe. I am watching it for you.'
Curdie drew near the bed on the other side. There lay the grand
old king - he looked grand still, and twenty years older. His body
was pillowed high; his beard descended long and white over the
crimson coverlid; and his crown, its diamonds and emeralds gleaming
in the twilight of the curtains, lay in front of him, his long thin
old hands folded round it, and the ends of his beard straying among
the lovely stones. His face was like that of a man who had died
fighting nobly; but one thing made it dreadful: his eyes, while
they moved about as if searching in this direction and in that,
looked more dead than his face. He saw neither his daughter nor
his crown: it was the voice of the one and the touch of the other
that comforted him. He kept murmuring what seemed words, but was
unintelligible to Curdie, although, to judge from the look of
Irene's face, she learned and concluded from it.
By degrees his voice sank away and the murmuring ceased, although
still his lips moved. Thus lay the old king on his bed, slumbering
with his crown between his hands; on one side of him stood a lovely
little maiden, with blue eyes, and brown hair going a little back
from her temples, as if blown by a wind that no one felt but
herself; and on the other a stalwart young miner, with his mattock
over his shoulder. Stranger sight still was Lina lying along the
threshold - only nobody saw her just then.
A moment more and the king's lips ceased to move. His breathing
had grown regular and quiet. The princess gave a sigh of relief,
and came round to Curdie.
'We can talk a little now,' she said, leading him toward the middle
of the room. 'My father will sleep now till the doctor wakes him
to give him his medicine. It is not really medicine, though, but
wine. Nothing but that, the doctor says, could have kept him so
long alive. He always comes in the middle of the night to give it
him with his own hands. But it makes me cry to see him wake up
when so nicely asleep.'
'What sort of man is your doctor?' asked Curdie.
'Oh, such a dear, good, kind gentleman!' replied the princess. 'He
speaks so softly, and is so sorry for his dear king! He will be
here presently, and you shall see for yourself. You will like him
'Has your king-father been long ill?' asked Curdie.
'A whole year now,' she replied. 'Did you not know? That's how
your mother never got the red petticoat my father promised her.
The lord chancellor told me that not only Gwyntystorm but the whole
land was mourning over the illness of the good man.'
Now Curdie himself had not heard a word of His Majesty's illness,
and had no ground for believing that a single soul in any place he
had visited on his journey had heard of it. Moreover, although
mention had been made of His Majesty again and again in his hearing
since he came to Gwyntystorm, never once had he heard an allusion
to the state of his health. And now it dawned upon him also that
he had never heard the least expression of love to him. But just
for the time he thought it better to say nothing on either point.
'Does the king wander like this every night?' he asked.
'Every night,' answered Irene, shaking her head mournfully. 'That
is why I never go to bed at night. He is better during the day -
a little, and then I sleep - in the dressing room there, to be with
him in a moment if he should call me. It is so sad he should have
only me and not my mamma! A princess is nothing to a queen!'
'I wish he would like me,' said Curdie, 'for then I might watch by
him at night, and let you go to bed, Princess.'
'Don't you know then?' returned Irene, in wonder. 'How was it you
came? Ah! You said my grandmother sent you. But I thought you
knew that he wanted you.'
And again she opened wide her blue stars.
'Not I,' said Curdie, also bewildered, but very glad.
'He used to be constantly saying - he was not so ill then as he is
now - that he wished he had you about him.'
'And I never to know it!' said Curdie, with displeasure.
'The master of the horse told papa's own secretary that he had
written to the miner-general to find you and send you up; but the
miner-general wrote back to the master of the horse, and he told
the secretary, and the secretary told my father, that they had
searched every mine in the kingdom and could hear nothing of you.
My father gave a great sigh, and said he feared the goblins had got
you, after all, and your father and mother were dead of grief. And
he has never mentioned you since, except when wandering. I cried
very much. But one of my grandmother's pigeons with its white wing
flashed a message to me through the window one day, and then I knew
that my Curdie wasn't eaten by the goblins, for my grandmother
wouldn't have taken care of him one time to let him be eaten the
next. Where were you, Curdie, that they couldn't find you?'
'We will talk about that another time, when we are not expecting
the doctor,' said Curdie.
As he spoke, his eyes fell upon something shining on the table
under the lamp. His heart gave a great throb, and he went nearer.
Yes, there could be no doubt - it was the same flagon that the
butler had filled in the wine cellar.
'It looks worse and worse!'he said to himself, and went back to
Irene, where she stood half dreaming.
'When will the doctor be here?' he asked once more - this time
The question was answered - not by the princess, but by something
which that instant tumbled heavily into the room. Curdie flew
toward it in vague terror about Lina.
On the floor lay a little round man, puffing and blowing, and
uttering incoherent language. Curdie thought of his mattock, and
ran and laid it aside.
'Oh, dear Dr Kelman!' cried the princess, running up and taking
hold of his arm; 'I am so sorry!' She pulled and pulled, but might
almost as well have tried to set up a cannon ball. 'I hope you
have not hurt yourself?'
'Not at all, not at all,' said the doctor, trying to smile and to
rise both at once, but finding it impossible to do either.
'if he slept on the floor he would be late for breakfast,' said
Curdie to himself, and held out his hand to help him.
But when he took hold of it, Curdie very nearly let him fall again,
for what he held was not even a foot: it was the belly of a
creeping thing. He managed, however, to hold both his peace and
his grasp, and pulled the doctor roughly on his legs - such as they
'Your Royal Highness has rather a thick mat at the door,' said the
doctor, patting his palms together. 'I hope my awkwardness may not
have startled His Majesty.'
While he talked Curdie went to the door: Lina was not there.
The doctor approached the bed.
'And how has my beloved king slept tonight?' he asked.
'No better,' answered Irene, with a mournful shake of her head.
'Ah, that is very well!' returned the doctor, his fall seeming to
have muddled either his words or his meaning. 'When we give him
his wine, he will be better still.'
Curdie darted at the flagon, and lifted it high, as if he had
expected to find it full, but had found it empty.
'That stupid butler! I heard them say he was drunk!' he cried in
a loud whisper, and was gliding from the room.
'Come here with that flagon, you! Page!' cried the doctor.
Curdie came a few steps toward him with the flagon dangling from
his hand, heedless of the gushes that fell noiseless on the thick
'Are you aware, young man,' said the doctor, 'that it is not every
wine can do His Majesty the benefit I intend he should derive from
'Quite aware, sir, answered Curdie. 'The wine for His Majesty's
use is in the third cask from the corner.'
'Fly, then,' said the doctor, looking satisfied.
Curdie stopped outside the curtain and blew an audible breath - no
more; up came Lina noiseless as a shadow. He showed her the
'The cellar, Lina: go,' he said.
She galloped away on her soft feet, and Curdie had indeed to fly to
keep up with her. Not once did she make even a dubious turn. From
the king's gorgeous chamber to the cold cellar they shot. Curdie
dashed the wine down the back stair, rinsed the flagon out as he
had seen the butler do, filled it from the cask of which he had
seen the butler drink, and hastened with it up again to the king's
The little doctor took it, poured out a full glass, smelt, but did
not taste it, and set it down. Then he leaned over the bed,
shouted in the king's ear, blew upon his eyes, and pinched his arm:
Curdie thought he saw him run something bright into it. At last
the king half woke. The doctor seized the glass, raised his head,
poured the wine down his throat, and let his head fall back on the
pillow again. Tenderly wiping his beard, and bidding the princess
good night in paternal tones, he then took his leave. Curdie would
gladly have driven his pick into his head, but that was not in his
commission, and he let him go. The little round man looked very
carefully to his feet as he crossed the threshold.
'That attentive fellow of a page has removed the mat,' he said to
himself, as he walked along the corridor. 'I must remember him.'
Curdie was already sufficiently enlightened as to how things were
going, to see that he must have the princess of one mind with him,
and they must work together. It was clear that among those about
the king there was a plot against him: for one thing, they had
agreed in a lie concerning himself; and it was plain also that the
doctor was working out a design against the health and reason of
His Majesty, rendering the question of his life a matter of little
moment. It was in itself sufficient to justify the worst fears,
that the people outside the palace were ignorant of His Majesty's
condition: he believed those inside it also - the butler excepted
- were ignorant of it as well. Doubtless His Majesty's councillors
desired to alienate the hearts of his subjects from their
sovereign. Curdie's idea was that they intended to kill the king,
marry the princess to one of themselves, and found a new dynasty;
but whatever their purpose, there was treason in the palace of the
worst sort: they were making and keeping the king incapable, in
order to effect that purpose- The first thing to be seen to,
therefore, was that His Majesty should neither eat morsel nor drink
drop of anything prepared for him in the palace. Could this have
been managed without the princess, Curdie would have preferred
leaving her in ignorance of the horrors from which he sought to
deliver her. He feared also the danger of her knowledge betraying
itself to the evil eyes about her; but it must be risked and she
had always been a wise child.
Another thing was clear to him - that with such traitors no terms
of honour were either binding or possible, and that, short of
lying, he might use any means to foil them. And he could not doubt
that the old princess had sent him expressly to frustrate their
While he stood thinking thus with himself, the princess was
earnestly watching the king, with looks of childish love and
womanly tenderness that went to Curdie's heart. Now and then with
a great fan of peacock feathers she would fan him very softly; now
and then, seeing a cloud begin to gather upon the sky of his
sleeping face, she would climb upon the bed, and bending to his ear
whisper into it, then draw back and watch again - generally to see
the cloud disperse. in his deepest slumber, the soul of the king
lay open to the voice of his child, and that voice had power either
to change the aspect of his visions, or, which was better still, to
breathe hope into his heart, and courage to endure them.
Curdie came near, and softly called her.
'I can't leave Papa just yet,' she returned, in a low voice.
'I will wait,' said Curdie; 'but I want very much to say
In a few minutes she came to him where he stood under the lamp.
'Well, Curdie, what is it?' she said.
'Princess,' he replied, 'I want to tell you that I have found why
your grandmother sent me.'
'Come this way, then, she answered, 'where I can see the face of my
Curdie placed a chair for her in the spot she chose, where she
would be near enough to mark any slightest change on her father's
countenance, yet where their low-voiced talk would not disturb him.
There he sat down beside her and told her all the story - how her
grandmother had sent her good pigeon for him, and how she had
instructed him, and sent him there without telling him what he had
to do. Then he told her what he had discovered of the state of
things generally in Gwyntystorm, and especially what he had heard
and seen in the palace that night.
'Things are in a bad state enough,' he said in conclusion - 'lying
and selfishness and inhospitality and dishonesty everywhere; and to
crown all, they speak with disrespect of the good king, and not a
man knows he is ill.'
'You frighten me dreadfully,' said Irene, trembling.
'You must be brave for your king's sake,' said Curdie.
'Indeed I will,' she replied, and turned a long loving look upon
the beautiful face of her father. 'But what is to be done? And
how am I to believe such horrible things of Dr Kelman?'
'my dear Princess,' replied Curdie, 'you know nothing of him but
his face and his tongue, and they are both false. Either you must
beware of him, or you must doubt your grandmother and me; for I
tell you, by the gift she gave me of testing hands, that this man
is a snake. That round body he shows is but the case of a serpent.
Perhaps the creature lies there, as in its nest, coiled round and
'Horrible!' said Irene.
'Horrible indeed; but we must not try to get rid of horrible things
by refusing to look at them, and saying they are not there. Is not
your beautiful father sleeping better since he had the wine?'
'Does he always sleep better after having it?'
She reflected an instant.
'No; always worse - till tonight,' she answered.
'Then remember that was the wine I got him - not what the butler
drew. Nothing that passes through any hand in the house except
yours or mine must henceforth, till he is well, reach His Majesty's
'But how, dear Curdie?' said the princess, almost crying.
'That we must contrive,' answered Curdie. 'I know how to take care
of the wine; but for his food - now we must think.'
'He takes hardly any,' said the princess, with a pathetic shake of
her little head which Curdie had almost learned to look for.
'The more need,' he replied, 'there should be no poison in it.'
Irene shuddered. 'As soon as he has honest food he will begin to
grow better. And you must be just as careful with yourself,
Princess,' Curdie went on, 'for you don't know when they may begin
to poison you, too.'
'There's no fear of me; don't talk about me,' said Irene. 'The
good food! How are we to get it, Curdie? That is the whole
'I am thinking hard,' answered Curdie. 'The good food? Let me see
- let me see! Such servants as I saw below are sure to have the
best of everything for themselves: I will go an see what I can find
on their table.'
'The chancellor sleeps in the house, and he and the master of the
king's horse always have their supper together in a room off the
great hall, to the right as you go down the stairs,' said Irene.
'I would go with you, but I dare not leave my father. Alas! He
scarcely ever takes more than a mouthful. I can't think how he
lives! And the very thing he would like, and often asks for - a
bit of bread - I can hardly ever get for him: Dr Kelman has
forbidden it, and says it is nothing less than poison to him.'
'Bread at least he shall have,' said Curdie; 'and that, with the
honest wine, will do as well as anything, I do believe. I will go
at once and look for some. But I want you to see Lina first, and
know her, lest, coming upon her by accident at any time, you should
'I should like much to see her,' said the princess.
Warning her not to be startled by her ugliness, he went to the door
and called her.
She entered, creeping with downcast head, and dragging her tail
over the floor behind her. Curdie watched the princess as the
frightful creature came nearer and nearer. One shudder went from
head to foot, and next instant she stepped to meet her. Lina
dropped flat on the floor, and covered her face with her two big
paws. It went to the heart of the princess: in a moment she was on
her knees beside her, stroking her ugly head, and patting her all
'Good dog! Dear ugly dog!' she said.
'I believe,' said Curdie, 'from what your grandmother told me, that
Lina is a woman, and that she was naughty, but is now growing
Lina had lifted her head while Irene was caressing her; now she
dropped it again between her paws; but the princess took it in her
hands, and kissed the forehead betwixt the gold-green eyes.
'Shall I take her with me or leave her?' asked Curdie.
'Leave her, poor dear,' said Irene, and Curdie, knowing the way
now, went without her.
He took his way first to the room the princess had spoken of, and
there also were the remains of supper; but neither there nor in the
kitchen could he find a scrap of plain wholesome-looking bread. So
he returned and told her that as soon as it was light he would go
into the city for some, and asked her for a handkerchief to tie it
in. If he could not bring it himself, he would send it by Lina,
who could keep out of sight better than he, and as soon as all was
quiet at night he would come to her again. He also asked her to
tell the king that he was in the house. His hope lay in the fact
that bakers everywhere go to work early. But it was yet much too
early. So he persuaded the princess to lie down, promising to call
her if the king should stir.
His Majesty slept very quietly. The dawn had grown almost day, and
still Curdie lingered, unwilling to disturb the princess.
At last, however, he called her, and she was in the room in a
moment. She had slept, she said, and felt quite fresh. Delighted
to find her father still asleep, and so peacefully, she pushed her
chair close to the bed, and sat down with her hands in her lap.
Curdie got his mattock from where he had hidden it behind a great
mirror, and went to the cellar, followed by Lina. They took some
breakfast with them as they passed through the hall, and as soon as
they had eaten it went out the back way.
At the mouth of the passage Curdie seized the rope, drew himself
up, pushed away the shutter, and entered the dungeon. Then he
swung the end of the rope to Lina, and she caught it in her teeth.
When her master said, 'Now, Lina!' she gave a great spring, and he
ran away with the end of the rope as fast as ever he could. And
such a spring had she made, that by the time he had to bear her
weight she was within a few feet of the hole. The instant she got
a paw through, she was all through.
Apparently their enemies were waiting till hunger should have cowed
them, for there was no sign of any attempt having been made to open
the door. A blow or two of Curdie's mattock drove the shattered
lock clean from it, and telling Lina to wait there till he came
back, and let no one in, he walked out into the silent street, and
drew the door to behind them. He could hardly believe it was not
yet a whole day since he had been thrown in there with his hands
tied at his back.
Down the town he went, walking in the middle of the street, that,
if any one saw him, he might see he was not afraid, and hesitate to
rouse an attack on him. As to the dogs, ever since the death of
their two companions, a shadow that looked like a mattock was
enough to make them scamper. As soon as he reached the archway of
the city gate he turned to reconnoitre the baker's shop, and
perceiving no sign of movement, waited there watching for the
After about an hour, the door opened, and the baker's man appeared
with a pail in his hand. He went to a pump that stood in the
street, and having filled his pail returned with it into the shop.
Curdie stole after him, found the door on the latch, opened it very
gently, peeped in, saw nobody, and entered. Remembering perfectly
from what shelf the baker's wife had taken the loaf she said was
the best, and seeing just one upon it, he seized it, laid the price
of it on the counter, and sped softly out, and up the street. Once
more in the dungeon beside Lina, his first thought was to fasten up
the door again, which would have been easy, so many iron fragments
of all sorts and sizes lay about; but he bethought himself that if
he left it as it was, and they came to find him, they would
conclude at once that they had made their escape by it, and would
look no farther so as to discover the hole. He therefore merely
pushed the door close and left it. Then once more carefully
arranging the earth behind the shutter, so that it should again
fall with it, he returned to the cellar.
And now he had to convey the loaf to the princess. If he could
venture to take it himself, well; if not, he would send Lina. He
crept to the door of the servants' hall, and found the sleepers
beginning to stir. One said it was time to go to bed; another,
that he would go to the cellar instead, and have a mug of wine to
waken him up; while a third challenged a fourth to give him his
revenge at some game or other.
'Oh, hang your losses!' answered his companion; 'you'll soon pick
up twice as much about the house, if you but keep your eyes open.'
Perceiving there would be risk in attempting to pass through, and
reflecting that the porters in the great hall would probably be
awake also, Curdie went back to the cellar, took Irene's
handkerchief with the loaf in it, tied it round Lina's neck, and
told her to take it to the princess.
Using every shadow and every shelter, Lina slid through the
servants like a shapeless terror through a guilty mind, and so, by
corridor and great hall, up the stair to the king's chamber.
Irene trembled a little when she saw her glide soundless in across
the silent dusk of the morning, that filtered through the heavy
drapery of the windows, but she recovered herself at once when she
saw the bundle about her neck, for it both assured her of Curdie's
safety, and gave her hope of her father's. She untied it with joy,
and Lina stole away, silent as she had come. Her joy was the
greater that the king had waked up a little before, and expressed
a desire for food - not that he felt exactly hungry, he said, and
yet he wanted something. If only he might have a piece of nice
fresh bread! Irene had no knife, but with eager hands she broke a
great piece from the loaf, and poured out a full glass of wine.
The king ate and drank, enjoyed the bread and the wine much, and
instantly fell asleep again.
It was hours before the lazy people brought their breakfast. When
it came, Irene crumbled a little about, threw some into the
fireplace, and managed to make the tray look just as usual.
in the meantime, down below in the cellar, Curdie was lying in the
hollow between the upper sides of two of the great casks, the
warmest place he could find. Lina was watching. She lay at his
feet, across the two casks, and did her best so to arrange her huge
tail that it should be a warm coverlid for her master.
By and by Dr Kelman called to see his patient; and now that Irene's
eyes were opened, she saw clearly enough that he was both annoyed
and puzzled at finding His Majesty rather better. He pretended
however to congratulate him, saying he believed he was quite fit to
see the lord chamberlain: he wanted his signature to something
important; only he must not strain his mind to understand it,
whatever it might be: if His Majesty did, he would not be
answerable for the consequences. The king said he would see the
lord chamberlain, and the doctor went.
Then Irene gave him more bread and wine, and the king ate and
drank, and smiled a feeble smile, the first real one she had seen
for many a day. He said he felt much better, and would soon be
able to take matters into his own hands again. He had a strange
miserable feeling, he said, that things were going terribly wrong,
although he could not tell how. Then the princess told him that
Curdie had come, and that at night, when all was quiet for nobody
in the palace must know, he would pay His Majesty a visit. Her
great-great-grandmother had sent him, she said. The king looked
strangely upon her, but the strange look passed into a smile
clearer than the first, and irene's heart throbbed with delight.
The Lord Chamberlain
At noon the lord chamberlain appeared. With a long, low bow, and
paper in hand, he stepped softly into the room. Greeting His
Majesty with every appearance of the profoundest respect, and
congratulating him on the evident progress he had made, he declared
himself sorry to trouble him, but there were certain papers, he
said, which required his signature - and therewith drew nearer to
the king, who lay looking at him doubtfully. He was a lean, long,
yellow man, with a small head, bald over the top, and tufted at the
back and about the ears. He had a very thin, prominent, hooked
nose, and a quantity of loose skin under his chin and about the
throat, which came craning up out of his neckcloth. His eyes were
very small, sharp, and glittering, and looked black as jet. He had
hardly enough of a mouth to make a smile with. His left hand held
the paper, and the long, skinny fingers of his right a pen just
dipped in ink.
But the king, who for weeks had scarcely known what he did, was
today so much himself as to be aware that he was not quite himself;
and the moment he saw the paper, he resolved that he would not sign
without understanding and approving of it. He requested the lord
chamberlain therefore to read it. His Lordship commenced at once
but the difficulties he seemed to encounter, and the fits of
stammering that seized him, roused the king's suspicion tenfold.
He called the princess.
'I trouble His Lordship too much,' he said to her: 'you can read
print well, my child - let me hear how you can read writing. Take
that paper from His Lordship's hand, and read it to me from
beginning to end, while my lord drinks a glass of my favourite
wine, and watches for your blunders.'
'Pardon me, Your Majesty,' said the lord chamberlain, with as much
of a smile as he was able to extemporize, 'but it were a thousand
pities to put the attainments of Her Royal Highness to a test
altogether too severe. Your Majesty can scarcely with justice
expect the very organs of her speech to prove capable of compassing
words so long, and to her so unintelligible.'
'I think much of my little princess and her capabilities,' returned
the king, more and more aroused. 'Pray, my lord, permit her to
'Consider, Your Majesty: the thing would be altogether without
precedent. it would be to make sport of statecraft,' said the lord
'Perhaps you are right, my lord,' answered the king, with more
meaning than he intended should be manifest, while to his growing
joy he felt new life and power throbbing in heart and brain. 'So
this morning we shall read no further. I am indeed ill able for
business of such weight.'
'Will Your Majesty please sign your royal name here?' said the lord
chamberlain, preferring the request as a matter of course, and
approaching with the feather end of the pen pointed to a spot where
there was a great red seal.
'Not today, my lord,' replied the king.
'It is of the greatest importance, Your Majesty,' softly insisted
'I descried no such importance in it,' said the king.
'Your Majesty heard but a part.'
'And I can hear no more today.'
'I trust Your Majesty has ground enough, in a case of necessity
like the present, to sign upon the representation of his loyal
subject and chamberlain? Or shall I call the lord chancellor?' he
'There is no need. I have the very highest opinion of your
judgement, my lord,' answered the king; 'that is, with respect to
means: we might differ as to ends.'
The lord chamberlain made yet further attempts at persuasion; but
they grew feebler and feebler, and he was at last compelled to
retire without having gained his object. And well might his
annoyance be keen! For that paper was the king's will, drawn up by
the attorney-general; nor until they had the king's signature to it
was there much use in venturing farther. But his worst sense of
discomfiture arose from finding the king with so much capacity
left, for the doctor had pledged himself so to weaken his brain
that he should be as a child in their hands, incapable of refusing
anything requested of him: His Lordship began to doubt the doctor's
fidelity to the conspiracy.
The princess was in high delight. She had not for weeks heard so
many words, not to say words of such strength and reason, from her
father's lips: day by day he had been growIng weaker and more
lethargic. He was so much exhausted, however, after this effort,
that he asked for another piece of bread and more wine, and fell
fast asleep the moment he had taken them.
The lord chamberlain sent in a rage for Dr Kelman. He came, and
while professing himself unable to understand the symptoms
described by His Lordship, yet pledged himself again that on the
morrow the king should do whatever was required of him.
The day went on. When His Majesty was awake, the princess read to
him - one storybook after another; and whatever she read, the king
listened as if he had never heard anything so good before, making
out in it the wisest meanings. Every now and then he asked for a
piece of bread and a little wine, and every time he ate and drank
he slept, and every time he woke he seemed better than the last
time. The princess bearing her part, the loaf was eaten up and the
flagon emptied before night. The butler took the flagon away, and
brought it back filled to the brim, but both were thirsty and
hungry when Curdie came again.
Meantime he and Lina, watching and waking alternately, had plenty
of sleep. In the afternoon, peeping from the recess, they saw
several of the servants enter hurriedly, one after the other, draw
wine, drink it, and steal out; but their business was to take care
of the king, not of his cellar, and they let them drink. Also,
when the butler came to fill the flagon, they restrained
themselves, for the villain's fate was not yet ready for him. He
looked terribly frightened, and had brought with him a large candle
and a small terrier - which latter indeed threatened to be
troublesome, for he went roving and sniffing about until he came to
the recess where they were. But as soon as he showed himself, Lina
opened her jaws so wide, and glared at him so horribly, that,
without even uttering a whimper, he tucked his tail between his
legs and ran to his master. He was drawing the wicked wine at the
moment, and did not see him, else he would doubtless have run too.
When suppertime approached, Curdie took his place at the door into
the servants' hall; but after a long hour's vain watch, he began to
fear he should get nothing: there was so much idling about, as well
as coming and going. it was hard to bear - chiefly from the
attractions of a splendid loaf, just fresh out of the oven, which
he longed to secure for the king and princess. At length his
chance did arrive: he pounced upon the loaf and carried it away,
and soon after got hold of a pie.
This time, however, both loaf and pie were missed. The cook was
called. He declared he had provided both. One of themselves, he
said, must have carried them away for some friend outside the
palace. Then a housemaid, who had not long been one of them, said
she had seen someone like a page running in the direction of the
cellar with something in his hands. Instantly all turned upon the
pages, accusing them, one after another. All denied, but nobody
believed one of them: Where there is no truth there can be no
To the cellar they all set out to look for the missing pie and
loaf. Lina heard them coming, as well she might, for they were
talking and quarrelling loud, and gave her master warning. They
snatched up everything, and got all signs of their presence out at
the back door before the servants entered. When they found
nothing, they all turned on the chambermaid, and accused her, not
only of lying against the pages, but of having taken the things
herself. Their language and behaviour so disgusted Curdie, who
could hear a great part of what passed, and he saw the danger of
discovery now so much increased, that he began to devise how best
at once to rid the palace of the whole pack of them. That,
however, would be small gain so long as the treacherous officers of
state continued in it. They must be first dealt with. A thought
came to him, and the longer he looked at it the better he liked it.
As soon as the servants were gone, quarrelling and accusing all the
way, they returned and finished their supper. Then Curdie, who had
long been satisfied that Lina understood almost every word he said,
communicated his plan to her, and knew by the wagging of her tail
and the flashing of her eyes that she comprehended it. Until they
had the king safe through the worst part of the night, however,
nothing could be done.
They had now merely to go on waiting where they were till the
household should be asleep. This waiting and waiting was much the
hardest thing Curdie had to do in the whole affair. He took his
mattock and, going again into the long passage, lighted a candle
end and proceeded to examine the rock on all sides. But this was
not merely to pass the time: he had a reason for it. When he broke
the stone in the street, over which the baker fell, its appearance
led him to pocket a fragment for further examination; and since
then he had satisfied himself that it was the kind of stone in
which gold is found, and that the yellow particles in it were pure
metal. If such stone existed here in any plenty, he could soon
make the king rich and independent of his ill-conditioned subjects.
He was therefore now bent on an examination of the rock; nor had he
been at it long before he was persuaded that there were large
quantities of gold in the half-crystalline white stone, with its
veins of opaque white and of green, of which the rock, so far as he
had been able to inspect it, seemed almost entirely to consist.
Every piece he broke was spotted with particles and little lumps of
a lovely greenish yellow - and that was gold. Hitherto he had
worked only in silver, but he had read, and heard talk, and knew,
therefore, about gold. As soon as he had got the king free of
rogues and villains, he would have all the best and most honest
miners, with his father at the head of them, to work this rock for
It was a great delight to him to use his mattock once more. The
time went quickly, and when he left the passage to go to the king's
chamber, he had already a good heap of fragments behind the broken
As soon as he had reason to hope the way was clear, Curdie ventured
softly into the hall, with Lina behind him. There was no one
asleep on the bench or floor, but by the fading fire sat a girl
weeping. It was the same who had seen him carrying off the food,
and had been so hardly used for saying so. She opened her eyes
when he appeared, but did not seem frightened at him.
'I know why you weep,' said Curdie, 'and I am sorry for you.'
'It is hard not to be believed just because one speaks the truth,'
said the girl, 'but that seems reason enough with some people. My
mother taught me to speak the truth, and took such pains with me
that I should find it hard to tell a lie, though I could invent
many a story these servants would believe at once; for the truth is
a strange thing here, and they don't know it when they see it.
Show it them, and they all stare as if it were a wicked lie, and
that with the lie yet warm that has just left their own mouths!
You are a stranger,' she said, and burst out weeping afresh, 'but
the stranger you are to such a place and such people the better!'
'I am the person,' said Curdie, whom you saw carrying the things
from the supper table.' He showed her the loaf. 'If you can
trust, as well as speak the truth, I will trust you. Can you trust
She looked at him steadily for a moment.
'I can,' she answered.
'One thing more,' said Curdie: 'have you courage as well as truth?'
'I think so.'
'Look my dog in the face and don't cry out. Come here, Lina.'
Lina obeyed. The girl looked at her, and laid her hand on Lina's
'Now I know you are a true woman,' said curdie. 'I am come to set
things right in this house. Not one of the servants knows I am
here. Will you tell them tomorrow morning that, if they do not
alter their ways, and give over drinking, and lying, and stealing,
and unkindness, they shall every one of them be driven from the
'They will not believe me.'
'Most likely; but will you give them the chance?'
'Then I will be your friend. Wait here till I come again.'
She looked him once more in the face, and sat down.
When he reached the royal chamber, he found His Majesty awake, and
very anxiously expecting him. He received him with the utmost
kindness, and at once, as it were, put himself in his hands by
telling him all he knew concerning the state he was in. His voice
was feeble, but his eye was clear, although now and then his words
and thoughts seemed to wander. Curdie could not be certain that
the cause of their not being intelligible to him did not lie in
himself. The king told him that for some years, ever since his
queen's death, he had been losing heart over the wickedness of his
people. He had tried hard to make them good, but they got worse
and worse. Evil teachers, unknown to him, had crept into the
schools; there was a general decay of truth and right principle at
least in the city; and as that set the example to the nation, it
The main cause of his illness was the despondency with which the
degeneration of his people affected him. He could not sleep, and
had terrible dreams; while, to his unspeakable shame and distress,
he doubted almost everybody. He had striven against his suspicion,
but in vain, and his heart was sore, for his courtiers and
councillors were really kind; only he could not think why none of
their ladies came near his princess. The whole country was
discontented, he heard, and there were signs of gathering storm
outside as well as inside his borders. The master of the horse
gave him sad news of the insubordination of the army; and his great
white horse was dead, they told him; and his sword had lost its
temper: it bent double the last time he tried it! - only perhaps
that was in a dream; and they could not find his shield; and one of
his spurs had lost the rowel.
Thus the poor king went wandering in a maze of sorrows, some of
which were purely imaginary, while others were truer than he
understood. He told how thieves came at night and tried to take
his crown, so that he never dared let it out of his hands even when
he slept; and how, every night, an evil demon in the shape of his
physician came and poured poison down his throat. He knew it to be
poison, he said, somehow, although it tasted like wine.
Here he stopped, faint with the unusual exertion of talking.
Curdie seized the flagon, and ran to the wine cellar.
In the servants' hall the girl still sat by the fire, waiting for
him. As he returned he told her to follow him, and left her at the
chamber door until he should rejoin her. When the king had had a
little wine, he informed him that he had already discovered certain
of His Majesty's enemies, and one of the worst of them was the
doctor, for it was no other demon than the doctor himself who had
been coming every night, and giving him a slow poison.
'So!' said the king. 'Then I have not been suspicious enough, for
I thought it was but a dream! Is it possible Kelman can be such a
wretch? Who then am I to trust?'
'Not one in the house, except the princess and myself,' said
'I will not go to sleep,' said the king.
'That would be as bad as taking the poison,' said Curdie. 'No, no,
sire; you must show your confidence by leaving all the watching to
me, and doing all the sleeping Your Majesty can.'
The king smiled a contented smile, turned on his side, and was
presently fast asleep. Then Curdie persuaded the princess also to
go to sleep, and telling Lina to watch, went to the housemaid. He
asked her if she could inform him which of the council slept in the
palace, and show him their rooms. She knew every one of them, she
said, and took him the round of all their doors, telling him which
slept in each room. He then dismissed her, and returning to the
king's chamber, seated himself behind a curtain at the head of the
bed, on the side farthest from the king. He told Lina to get under
the bed, and make no noise.
About one o'clock the doctor came stealing in. He looked round for
the princess, and seeing no one, smiled with satisfaction as he
approached the wine where it stood under the lamp. Having partly
filled a glass, he took from his pocket a small phial, and filled
up the glass from it. The light fell upon his face from above, and
Curdie saw the snake in it plainly visible. He had never beheld
such an evil countenance: the man hated the king, and delighted in
doing him wrong.
With the glass in his hand, he drew near the bed, set it down, and
began his usual rude rousing of His Majesty. Not at once
succeeding, he took a lancet from his pocket, and was parting its
cover with an involuntary hiss of hate between his closed teeth,
when Curdie stooped and whispered to Lina.
'Take him by the leg, Lina.' She darted noiselessly upon him.
With a face of horrible consternation, he gave his leg one tug to
free it; the next instant Curdie heard the one scrunch with which
she crushed the bone like a stick of celery. He tumbled on the
floor with a yell.
'Drag him out, Lina,' said Curdie.
Lina took him by the collar, and dragged him out. Her master
followed her to direct her, and they left the doctor lying across
the lord chamberlain's door, where he gave another horrible yell,
The king had waked at his first cry, and by the time Curdie
re-entered he had got at his sword where it hung from the centre of
the tester, had drawn it, and was trying to get out of bed. But
when Curdie told him all was well, he lay down again as quietly as
a child comforted by his mother from a troubled dream. Curdie went
to the door to watch.
The doctor's yells had aroused many, but not one had yet ventured
to appear. Bells were rung violently, but none were answered; and
in a minute or two Curdie had what he was watching for. The door
of the lord chamberlain's room opened, and, pale with hideous
terror, His Lordship peeped out. Seeing no one, he advanced to
step into the corridor, and tumbled over the doctor. Curdie ran
up, and held out his hand. He received in it the claw of a bird of
prey - vulture or
eagle, he could not tell which.
His Lordship, as soon as he was on his legs, taking him for one of
the pages abused him heartily for not coming sooner, and threatened
him with dismissal from the king's service for cowardice and
neglect. He began indeed what bade fair to be a sermon on the
duties of a page, but catching sight of the man who lay at his
door, and seeing it was the doctor, he fell upon Curdie afresh for
standing there doing nothing, and ordered him to fetch immediate
assistance. Curdie left him, but slipped into the King's chamber,
closed and locked the door, and left the rascals to look after each
other. Ere long he heard hurrying footsteps, and for a few minutes
there was a great muffled tumult of scuffling feet, low voices and
deep groanings; then all was still again.
Irene slept through the whole - so confidently did she rest,
knowing Curdie was in her father's room watching over him.
Curdie sat and watched every motion of the sleeping king. All the
night, to his ear, the palace lay as quiet as a nursery of
healthful children. At sunrise he called the princess.
'How has His Majesty slept?' were her first words as she entered
'Quite quietly,' answered Curdie; 'that is, since the doctor was
got rid of.'
'How did you manage that?' inquired Irene; and Curdie had to tell
all about it.
'How terrible!' she said. 'Did it not startle the king
'it did rather. I found him getting out of bed, sword in hand.'
'The brave old man!' cried the princess.
'Not so old!' said Curdie, 'as you will soon see. He went off
again in a minute or so; but for a little while he was restless,
and once when he lifted his hand it came down on the spikes of his
crown, and he half waked.'
'But where is the crown?' cried Irene, in sudden terror.
'I stroked his hands,' answered Curdie, 'and took the crown from
them; and ever since he has slept quietly, and again and again
smiled in his sleep.'
'I have never seen him do that,' said the princess. 'But what have
you done with the crown, Curdie?'
'Look,' said Curdie, moving away from the bedside.
Irene followed him - and there, in the middle of the floor, she saw
a strange sight. Lina lay at full length, fast asleep, her tail
stretched out straight behind her and her forelegs before her:
between the two paws meeting in front of it, her nose just touching
it behind, glowed and flashed the crown, like a nest of the humming
birds of heaven.
Irene gazed, and looked up with a smile.
'But what if the thief were to come, and she not to wake?' she
said. 'Shall I try her?' And as she spoke she stooped toward the
'No, no, no!' cried Curdie, terrified. 'She would frighten you out
of your wits. I would do it to show you, but she would wake your
father. You have no conception with what a roar she would spring
at my throat. But you shall see how lightly she wakes the moment
I speak to her. Lina!'
She was on her feet the same instant, with her great tail sticking
out straight behind her, just as it had been lying.
'Good dog!' said the princess, and patted her head. Lina wagged
her tail solemnly, like the boom of an anchored sloop. Irene took
the crown, and laid it where the king would see it when he woke.
'Now, Princess,' said Curdie, 'I must leave you for a few minutes.
You must bolt the door, please, and not open it to any one.'
Away to the cellar he went with Lina, taking care, as they passed
through the servants' hall, to get her a good breakfast. In about
one minute she had eaten what he gave her, and looked up in his
face: it was not more she wanted, but work. So out of the cellar
they went through the passage, and Curdie into the dungeon, where
he pulled up Lina, opened the door, let her out, and shut it again
behind her. As he reached the door of the king's chamber, Lina was
flying out of the gate of Gwyntystorm as fast as her mighty legs
could carry her.
'What's come to the wench?' growled the menservants one to another,
when the chambermaid appeared among them the next morning. There
was something in her face which they could not understand, and did
'Are we all dirt?' they said. 'What are you thinking about? Have
you seen yourself in the glass this morning, miss?'
She made no answer.
'Do you want to be treated as you deserve, or will you speak, you
hussy?' said the first woman-cook. 'I would fain know what right
you have to put on a face like that!'
'You won't believe me,' said the girl.
'Of course not. What is it?'
'I must tell you, whether you believe me or not,' she said.
'of course you must.'
'It is this, then: if you do not repent of your bad ways, you are
all going to be punished - all turned out of the palace together.'
'A mighty punishment!' said the butler. 'A good riddance, say I,
of the trouble of keeping minxes like you in order! And why, pray,
should we be turned out? What have I to repent of now, your
'That you know best yourself,' said the girl.
'A pretty piece of insolence! How should I know, forsooth, what a
menial like you has got against me! There are people in this house
- oh! I'm not blind to their ways! - but every one for himself, say
I! Pray, Miss judgement, who gave you such an impertinent message
to His Majesty's household?'
'One who is come to set things right in the king's house.'
'Right, indeed!' cried the butler; but that moment the thought came
back to him of the roar he had heard in the cellar, and he turned
pale and was silent.
The steward took it up next.
'And pray, pretty prophetess,' he said, attempting to chuck her
under the chin, 'what have I got to repent of?'
'That you know best yourself,' said the girl. 'You have but to
look into your books or your heart.'
'Can you tell me, then, what I have to repent of?' said the groom
of the chambers. 'That you know best yourself,' said the girl once
more. 'The person who told me to tell you said the servants of
this house had to repent of thieving, and lying, and unkindness,
and drinking; and they will be made to repent of them one way, if
they don't do it of themselves another.'
Then arose a great hubbub; for by this time all the servants in the
house were gathered about her, and all talked together, in towering
'Thieving, indeed!' cried one. 'A pretty word in a house where
everything is left lying about in a shameless way, tempting poor
innocent girls! A house where nobody cares for anything, or has
the least respect to the value of property!'
'I suppose you envy me this brooch of mine,' said another. 'There
was just a half sheet of note paper about it, not a scrap more, in
a drawer that's always open in the writing table in the study!
What sort of a place is that for a jewel? Can you call it stealing
to take a thing from such a place as that? Nobody cared a straw
about it. it might as well have been in the dust hole! If it had
been locked up - then, to be sure!'
'Drinking!' said the chief porter, with a husky laugh. 'And who
wouldn't drink when he had a chance? Or who would repent it,
except that the drink was gone? Tell me that, Miss Innocence.'
'Lying!' said a great, coarse footman. 'I suppose you mean when I
told you yesterday you were a pretty girl when you didn't pout?
Lying, indeed! Tell us something worth repenting of! Lying is the
way of Gwyntystorm. You should have heard Jabez lying to the cook
last night! He wanted a sweetbread for his pup, and pretended it
was for the princess! Ha! ha! ha!'
'Unkindness! I wonder who's unkind! Going and listening to any
stranger against her fellow servants, and then bringing back his
wicked words to trouble them!' said the oldest and worst of the
housemaids. 'One of ourselves, too! Come, you hypocrite! This is
all an invention of yours and your young man's, to take your
revenge of us because we found you out in a lie last night. Tell
true now: wasn't it the same that stole the loaf and the pie that
sent you with the impudent message?'
As she said this, she stepped up to the housemaid and gave her,
instead of time to answer, a box on the ear that almost threw her
down; and whoever could get at her began to push and bustle and
pinch and punch her.
'You invite your fate,' she said quietly.
They fell furiously upon her, drove her from the hall with kicks
and blows, hustled her along the passage, and threw her down the
stair to the wine cellar, then locked the door at the top of it,
and went back to their breakfast.
In the meantime the king and the princess had had their bread and
wine, and the princess, with Curdie's help, had made the room as
tidy as she could - they were terribly neglected by the servants.
And now Curdie set himself to interest and amuse the king, and
prevent him from thinking too much, in order that he might the
sooner think the better. Presently, at His Majesty's request, he
began from the beginning, and told everything he could recall of
his life, about his father and mother and their cottage on the
mountain, of the inside of the mountain and the work there, about
the goblins and his adventures with them.
When he came to finding the princess and her nurse overtaken by the
twilight on the mountain, Irene took up her share of the tale, and
told all about herself to that point, and then Curdie took it up
again; and so they went on, each fitting in the part that the other
did not know, thus keeping the hoop of the story running straight;
and the king listened with wondering and delighted ears, astonished
to find what he could so ill comprehend, yet fitting so well
together from the lips of two narrators.
At last, with the mission given him by the wonderful princess and
his consequent adventures, Curdie brought up the whole tale to the
present moment. Then a silence fell, and Irene and Curdie thought
the king was asleep. But he was far from it; he was thinking about
many things. After a long pause he said:
'Now at last, MY children, I am compelled to believe many things I
could not and do not yet understand - things I used to hear, and
sometimes see, as often as I visited my mother's home. Once, for
instance, I heard my mother say to her father - speaking of me -
"He is a good, honest boy, but he will be an old man before he
understands"; and my grandfather answered, "Keep up your heart,
child: my mother will look after him." I thought often of their
words, and the many strange things besides I both heard and saw in
that house; but by degrees, because I could not understand them, I
gave up thinking of them. And indeed I had almost forgotten them,
when you, my child, talking that day about the Queen Irene and her
pigeons, and what you had seen in her garret, brought them all back
to my mind in a vague mass. But now they keep coming back to me,
one by one, every one for itself; and I shall just hold my peace,
and lie here quite still, and think about them all till I get well
What he meant they could not quite understand, but they saw plainly
that already he was better.
'Put away my crown,' he said. 'I am tired of seeing it, and have
no more any fear of its safety.' They put it away together,
withdrew from the bedside, and left him in peace.
There was nothing now to be dreaded from Dr Kelman, but it made
Curdie anxious, as the evening drew near, to think that not a soul
belonging to the court had been to visit the king, or ask how he
did, that day. He feared, in some shape or other, a more
determined assault. He had provided himself a place in the room,
to which he might retreat upon approach, and whence he could watch;
but not once had he had to betake himself to it.
Towards night the king fell asleep. Curdie thought more and more
uneasily of the moment when he must again leave them for a little
while. Deeper and deeper fell the shadows. No one came to light
the lamp. The princess drew her chair close to Curdie: she would
rather it were not so dark, she said. She was afraid of something
- she could not tell what; nor could she give any reason for her
fear but that all was so dreadfully still.
When it had been dark about an hour, Curdie thought Lina might have
returned; and reflected that the sooner he went the less danger was
there of any assault while he was away. There was more risk of his
own presence being discovered, no doubt, but things were now
drawing to a crisis, and it must be run. So, telling the princess
to lock all the doors of the bedchamber, and let no one in, he took
his mattock, and with here a run, and there a halt under cover,
gained the door at the head of the cellar stair in safety. To his
surprise he found it locked, and the key was gone. There was no
time for deliberation. He felt where the lock was, and dealt it a
tremendous blow with his mattock. It needed but a second to dash
the door open. Someone laid a hand on his arm.
'Who is it?' said Curdie.
'I told you they wouldn't believe me, sir,' said the housemaid. 'I
have been here all day.'
He took her hand, and said, 'You are a good, brave girl. Now come
with me, lest your enemies imprison you again.'
He took her to the cellar, locked the door, lighted a bit of
candle, gave her a little wine, told her to wait there till he
came, and went out the back way.
Swiftly he swung himself up into the dungeon. Lina had done her
part. The place was swarming with creatures - animal forms wilder
and more grotesque than ever ramped in nightmare dream. Close by
the hole, waiting his coming, her green eyes piercing the gulf
below, Lina had but just laid herself down when he appeared. All
about the vault and up the slope of the rubbish heap lay and stood
and squatted the forty-nine whose friendship Lina had conquered in
the wood. They all came crowding about Curdie.
He must get them into the cellar as quickly as ever he could. But
when he looked at the size of some of them, he feared it would be
a long business to enlarge the hole sufficiently to let them
through. At it he rushed, hitting vigorously at the edge with his
mattock. At the very first blow came a splash from the water
beneath, but ere he could heave a third, a creature like a tapir,
only that the grasping point of its proboscis was hard as the steel
of Curdie's hammer, pushed him gently aside, making room for
another creature, with a head like a great club, which it began
banging upon the floor with terrible force and noise. After about
a minute of this battery, the tapir came up again, shoved Clubhead
aside, and putting its own head into the hole began gnawing at the
sides of it with the finger of its nose, in such a fashion that the
fragments fell in a continuous gravelly shower into the water. In
a few minutes the opening was large enough for the biggest creature
among them to get through it.
Next came the difficulty of letting them down: some were quite
light, but the half of them were too heavy for the rope, not to say
for his arms. The creatures themselves seemed to be puzzling where
or how they were to go. One after another of them came up, looked
down through the hole, and drew back. Curdie thought if he let
Lina down, perhaps that would suggest something; possibly they did
not see the opening on the other side. He did so, and Lina stood
lighting up the entrance of the passage with her gleaming eyes.
One by one the creatures looked down again, and one by one they
drew back, each standing aside to glance at the next, as if to say,
Now you have a look. At last it came to the turn of the serpent
with the long body, the four short legs behind, and the little
wings before. No sooner had he poked his head through than he
poked it farther through - and farther, and farther yet, until
there was little more than his legs left in the dungeon. By that
time he had got his head and neck well into the passage beside
Lina. Then his legs gave a great waddle and spring, and he tumbled
himself, far as there was betwixt them, heels over head into the
'That is all very well for you, Mr Legserpent!' thought Curdie to
himself; 'but what is to be done with the rest?' He had hardly
time to think it, however, before the creature's head appeared
again through the floor. He caught hold of the bar of iron to
which Curdie's rope was tied, and settling it securely across the
narrowest part of the irregular opening, held fast to it with his
teeth. It was plain to Curdie, from the universal hardness among
them, that they must all, at one time or another, have been
creatures of the mines.
He saw at once what this one was after. The beast had planted his
feet firmly upon the floor of the passage, and stretched his long
body up and across the chasm to serve as a bridge for the rest.
Curdie mounted instantly upon his neck, threw his arms round him as
far as they would go, and slid down in ease and safety, the bridge
just bending a little as his weight glided over it. But he thought
some of the creatures would try the legserpent's teeth.
one by one the oddities followed, and slid down in safety. When
they seemed to be all landed, he counted them: there were but
forty-eight. Up the rope again he went, and found one which had
been afraid to trust himself to the bridge, and no wonder! for he
had neither legs nor head nor arms nor tail: he was just a round
thing, about a foot in diameter, with a nose and mouth and eyes on
one side of the ball. He had made his journey by rolling as
swiftly as the fleetest of them could run. The back of the
legserpent not being flat, he could not quite trust himself to roll
straight and not drop into the gulf. Curdie took him in his arms,
and the moment he looked down through the hole, the bridge made
itself again, and he slid into the passage in safety, with Ballbody
in his bosom.
He ran first to the cellar to warn the girl not to be frightened at
the avengers of wickedness. Then he called to Lina to bring in her
One after another they came trooping in, till the cellar seemed
full of them. The housemaid regarded them without fear.
'Sir,' she said, 'there is one of the pages I don't take to be a
'Then keep him near you,' said Curdie. 'And now can you show me a
way to the king's chamber not through the servants' hall?'
'There is a way through the chamber of the colonel of the guard,'
she answered, 'but he is ill, and in bed.'
'Take me that way,' said Curdie.
By many ups and downs and windings and turnings she brought him to
a dimly lighted room, where lay an elderly man asleep. His arm was
outside the coverlid, and Curdie gave his hand a hurried grasp as
he went by. His heart beat for joy, for he had found a good,
honest, human hand.
'I suppose that is why he is ill,' he said to himself.
It was now close upon suppertime, and when the girl stopped at the
door of the king's chamber, he told her to go and give the servants
one warning more.
'Say the messenger sent you,' he said. 'I will be with you very
The king was still asleep. Curdie talked to the princess for a few
minutes, told her not to be frightened whatever noises she heard,
only to keep her door locked till he came, and left her.
By the time the girl reached the servants' hall they were seated at
supper. A loud, confused exclamation arose when she entered. No
one made room for her; all stared with unfriendly eyes. A page,
who entered the next minute by another door, came to her side.
'Where do you come from, hussy?' shouted the butler, and knocked
his fist on the table with a loud clang.
He had gone to fetch wine, had found the stair door broken open and
the cellar door locked, and had turned and fled. Among his
fellows, however, he had now regained what courage could be called
'From the cellar,' she replied. 'The messenger broke open the
door, and sent me to you again.'
'The messenger! Pooh! What messenger?'
'The same who sent me before to tell you to repent.'
'What! Will you go fooling it still? Haven't you had enough of
it?' cried the butler in a rage, and starting to his feet, drew
'I must do as I am told,' said the girl.
'Then why don't you do as I tell you, and hold your tongue?' said
the butler. 'Who wants your preachments? If anybody here has
anything to repent Of, isn't that enough - and more than enough for
him - but you must come bothering about, and stirring up, till not
a drop of quiet will settle inside him? You come along with me,
young woman; we'll see if we can't find a lock somewhere in the
house that'll hold you in!'
'Hands off, Mr Butler!' said the page, and stepped between.
'Oh, ho!' cried the butler, and pointed his fat finger at him.
'That's you, is it, my fine fellow? So it's you that's up to her
tricks, is it?'
The youth did not answer, only stood with flashing eyes fixed on
him, until, growing angrier and angrier, but not daring a step
nearer, he burst out with a rude but quavering authority:
'Leave the house, both of you! Be off, or I'll have Mr Steward to
talk to you. Threaten your masters, indeed! Out of the house with
you, and show us the way you tell us of!'
Two or three of the footmen got up and ranged themselves behind the
'Don't say I threaten you, Mr Butler,' expostulated the girl from
behind the page. 'The messenger said I was to tell you again, and
give you one chance more.'
'Did the messenger mention me in particular?' asked the butler,
looking the page unsteadily in the face.
'No, sir,' answered the girl.
'I thought not! I should like to hear him!'
'Then hear him now,' said Curdie, who that moment entered at the
opposite corner of the hall. 'I speak of the butler in particular
when I say that I know more evil of him than of any of the rest.
He will not let either his own conscience or my messenger speak to
him: I therefore now speak myself. I proclaim him a villain, and
a traitor to His Majesty the king. But what better is any one of
you who cares only for himself, eats, drinks, takes good money, and
gives vile service in return, stealing and wasting the king's
property, and making of the palace, which ought to be an example of
order and sobriety, a disgrace to the country?'
For a moment all stood astonished into silence by this bold speech
from a stranger. True, they saw by his mattock over his shoulder
that he was nothing but a miner boy, yet for a moment the truth
told notwithstanding. Then a great roaring laugh burst from the
biggest of the footmen as he came shouldering his way through the
crowd toward Curdie.
'Yes, I'm right,' he cried; 'I thought as much! This messenger,
forsooth, is nothing but a gallows bird - a fellow the city marshal
was going to hang, but unfortunately put it off till he should be
starved enough to save rope and be throttled with a pack thread.
He broke prison, and here he is preaching!' As he spoke, he
stretched out his great hand to lay hold of him. Curdie caught it
in his left hand, and heaved his mattock with the other. Finding,
however, nothing worse than an ox hoof, he restrained himself,
stepped back a pace or two, shifted his mattock to his left hand,
and struck him a little smart blow on the shoulder. His arm
dropped by his side, he gave a roar, and drew back.
His fellows came crowding upon Curdie. Some called to the dogs;
others swore; the women screamed; the footmen and pages got round
him in a half circle, which he kept from closing by swinging his
mattock, and here and there threatening a blow.
'Whoever confesses to having done anything wrong in this house,
however small, however great, and means to do better, let him come
to this corner of the room,' he cried.
None moved but the page, who went toward him skirting the wall.
When they caught sight of him, the crowd broke into a hiss of
'There! See! Look at the sinner! He confesses! Actually
confesses! Come, what is it you stole? The barefaced hypocrite!
There's your sort to set up for reproving other people! Where's
the other now?'
But the maid had left the room, and they let the page pass, for he
looked dangerous to stop. Curdie had just put him betwixt him and
the wall, behind the door, when in rushed the butler with the huge
kitchen poker, the point of which he had blown red-hot in the fire,
followed by the cook with his longest spit. Through the crowd,
which scattered right and left before them, they came down upon
Curdie. Uttering a shrill whistle, he caught the poker a blow with
his mattock, knocking the point to the ground, while the page
behind him started forward, and seizing the point of the spit, held
on to it with both hands, the cook kicking him furiously.
Ere the butler could raise the poker again, or the cook recover the
spit, with a roar to terrify the dead, Lina dashed into the room,
her eyes flaming like candles. She went straight at the butler.
He was down in a moment, and she on the top of him, wagging her
tail over him like a lioness.
'Don't kill him, Lina,' said Curdie.
'Oh, Mr Miner!' cried the butler.
'Put your foot on his mouth, Lina,' said Curdie. 'The truth Fear
tells is not much better than her lies.'
The rest of the creatures now came stalking, rolling, leaping,
gliding, hobbling into the room, and each as he came took the next
place along the wall, until, solemn and grotesque, all stood
ranged, awaiting orders.
And now some of the culprits were stealing to the doors nearest
them. Curdie whispered to the two creatures next him. Off went
Ballbody, rolling and bounding through the crowd like a spent
cannon shot, and when the foremost reached the door to the
corridor, there he lay at the foot of it grinning; to the other
door scuttled a scorpion, as big as a huge crab. The rest stood so
still that some began to think they were only boys dressed up to
look awful; they persuaded themselves they were only another part
of the housemaid's and page's vengeful contrivance, and their evil
spirits began to rise again. Meantime Curdie had, with a second
sharp blow from the hammer of his mattock, disabled the cook, so
that he yielded the spit with a groan. He now turned to the
'Go at them,' he said.
The whole nine-and-forty obeyed at once, each for himself, and
after his own fashion. A scene of confusion and terror followed.
The crowd scattered like a dance of flies. The creatures had been
instructed not to hurt much, but to hunt incessantly, until
everyone had rushed from the house. The women shrieked, and ran
hither and thither through the hall, pursued each by her own
horror, and snapped at by every other in passing. if one threw
herself down in hysterical despair, she was instantly poked or
clawed or nibbled up again.
Though they were quite as frightened at first, the men did not run
so fast; and by and by some of them finding they were only glared
at, and followed, and pushed, began to summon up courage once more,
and with courage came impudence. The tapir had the big footman in
charge: the fellow stood stock-still, and let the beast come up to
him, then put out his finger and playfully patted his nose. The
tapir gave the nose a little twist, and the finger lay on the
Then indeed did the footman run.
Gradually the avengers grew more severe, and the terrors of the
imagination were fast yielding to those of sensuous experience,
when a page, perceiving one of the doors no longer guarded, sprang
at it, and ran out. Another and another followed. Not a beast
went after, until, one by one, they were every one gone from the
hall, and the whole crew in the kitchen.
There they were beginning to congratulate themselves that all was
over, when in came the creatures trooping after them, and the
second act of their terror and pain began. They were flung about
in all directions; their clothes were torn from them; they were
pinched and scratched any- and everywhere; Ballbody kept rolling up
them and over them, confining his attentions to no one in
particular; the scorpion kept grabbing at their legs with his huge
pincers; a three-foot centipede kept screwing up their bodies,
nipping as he went; varied as numerous were their woes. Nor was it
long before the last of them had fled from the kitchen to the
But thither also they were followed, and there again they were
hunted about. They were bespattered with the dirt of their own
neglect; they were soused in the stinking water that had boiled
greens; they were smeared with rancid dripping; their faces were
rubbed in maggots: I dare not tell all that was done to them. At
last they got the door into a back yard open, and rushed out. Then
first they knew that the wind was howling and the rain falling in
sheets. But there was no rest for them even there. Thither also
were they followed by the inexorable avengers, and the only door
here was a door out of the palace: out every soul of them was
driven, and left, some standing, some lying, some crawling, to the
farther buffeting of the waterspouts and whirlwinds ranging every
street of the city. The door was flung to behind them, and they
heard it locked and bolted and barred against them.
As soon as they were gone, Curdie brought the creatures back to the
servants' hall, and told them to eat up everything on the table.
it was a sight to see them all standing round it - except such as
had to get upon it - eating and drinking, each after its fashion,
without a smile, or a word, or a glance of fellowship in the act.
A very few moments served to make everything eatable vanish, and
then Curdie requested them to clean house, and the page who stood
by to assist them.
Every one set about it except Ballbody: he could do nothing at
cleaning, for the more he rolled, the more he spread the dirt.
Curdie was curious to know what he had been, and how he had come to
be such as he was: but he could only conjecture that he was a
gluttonous alderman whom nature had treated homeopathically.
And now there was such a cleaning and clearing out of neglected
places, such a burying and burning of refuse, such a rinsing of
jugs, such a swilling of sinks, and such a flushing of drains as
would have delighted the eyes of all true housekeepers and lovers
of cleanliness generally.
Curdie meantime was with the king, telling him all he had done.
They had heard a little noise, but not much, for he had told the
avengers to repress outcry as much as possible; and they had seen
to it that the more anyone cried out the more he had to cry out
upon, while the patient ones they scarcely hurt at all.
Having promised His Majesty and Her Royal Highness a good
breakfast, Curdie now went to finish the business. The courtiers
must be dealt with. A few who were the worst, and the leaders of
the rest, must be made examples of; the others should be driven to
He found the chiefs of the conspiracy holding a final consultation
in the smaller room off the hall. These were the lord chamberlain,
the attorney-general, the master of the horse, and the king's
private secretary: the lord chancellor and the rest, as foolish as
faithless, were but the tools of these.
The housemaid had shown him a little closet, opening from a passage
behind, where he could overhear all that passed in that room; and
now Curdie heard enough to understand that they had determined, in
the dead of that night, rather in the deepest dark before the
morning, to bring a certain company of soldiers into the palace,
make away with the king, secure the princess, announce the sudden
death of His Majesty, read as his the will they had drawn up, and
proceed to govern the country at their ease, and with results: they
would at once levy severer taxes, and pick a quarrel with the most
powerful of their neighbours. Everything settled, they agreed to
retire, and have a few hours' quiet sleep first - all but the
secretary, who was to sit up and call them at the proper moment.
Curdie allowed them half an hour to get to bed, and then set about
completing his purgation of the palace.
First he called Lina, and opened the door of the room where the
secretary sat. She crept in, and laid herself down against it.
When the secretary, rising to stretch his legs, caught sight of her
eyes, he stood frozen with terror. She made neither motion nor
sound. Gathering courage, and taking the thing for a spectral
illusion, he made a step forward. She showed her other teeth, with
a growl neither more than audible nor less than horrible. The
secretary sank fainting into a chair. He was not a brave man, and
besides, his conscience had gone over to the enemy, and was sitting
against the door by Lina.
To the lord chamberlain's door next, Curdie conducted the
legserpent, and let him in.
Now His Lordship had had a bedstead made for himself, sweetly
fashioned of rods of silver gilt: upon it the legserpent found him
asleep, and under it he crept. But out he came on the other side,
and crept over it next, and again under it, and so over it, under
it, over it, five or six times, every time leaving a coil of
himself behind him, until he had softly folded all his length about
the lord chamberlain and his bed. This done, he set up his head,
looking down with curved neck right over His Lordship's, and began
to hiss in his face.
He woke in terror unspeakable, and would have started up but the
moment he moved, the legserpent drew his coils closer, and closer
still, and drew and drew until the quaking traitor heard the joints
of his bedstead grinding and gnarring. Presently he persuaded
himself that it was only a horrid nightmare, and began to struggle
with all his strength to throw it off. Thereupon the legserpent
gave his hooked nose such a bite that his teeth met through it -
but it was hardly thicker than the bowl of a spoon; and then the
vulture knew that he was in the grasp of his enemy the snake, and
As soon as he was quiet the legserpent began to untwist and
retwist, to uncoil and recoil himself, swinging and swaying,
knotting and relaxing himself with strangest curves and
convolutions, always, however, leaving at least one coil around his
victim. At last he undid himself entirely, and crept from the bed.
Then first the lord chamberlain discovered that his tormentor had
bent and twisted the bedstead, legs and canopy and all, so about
him that he was shut in a silver cage out of which it was
impossible for him to find a way. Once more, thinking his enemy
was gone, he began to shout for help. But the instant he opened
his mouth his keeper darted at him and bit him, and after three or
four such essays, he lay still.
The master of the horse Curdie gave in charge to the tapir. When
the soldier saw him enter - for he was not yet asleep - he sprang
from his bed, and flew at him with his sword. But the creature's
hide was invulnerable to his blows, and he pecked at his legs with
his proboscis until he jumped into bed again, groaning, and covered
himself up; after which the tapir contented himself with now and
then paying a visit to his toes.
As for the attorney-general, Curdie led to his door a huge spider,
about two feet long in the body, which, having made an excellent
supper, was full of webbing. The attorney-general had not gone to
bed, but sat in a chair asleep before a great mirror. He had been
trying the effect of a diamond star which he had that morning taken
from the jewel room. When he woke he fancied himself paralysed;
every limb, every finger even, was motionless: coils and coils of
broad spider ribbon bandaged his members to his body, and all to
the chair. In the glass he saw himself wound about with slavery
infinite. On a footstool a yard off sat the spider glaring at him.
Clubhead had mounted guard over the butler, where he lay tied hand
and foot under the third cask. From that cask he had seen the wine
run into a great bath, and therein he expected to be drowned. The
doctor, with his crushed leg, needed no one to guard him.
And now Curdie proceeded to the expulsion of the rest. Great men
or underlings, he treated them all alike. From room to room over
the house he went, and sleeping or waking took the man by the hand.
Such was the state to which a year of wicked rule had reduced the
moral condition of the court, that in it all he found but three
with human hands. The possessors of these he allowed to dress
themselves and depart in peace. When they perceived his mission,
and how he was backed, they yielded.
Then commenced a general hunt, to clear the house of the vermin.
Out of their beds in their night clothing, out of their rooms,
gorgeous chambers or garret nooks, the creatures hunted them. Not
one was allowed to escape. Tumult and noise there was little, for
fear was too deadly for outcry. Ferreting them out everywhere,
following them upstairs and downstairs, yielding no instant of
repose except upon the way out, the avengers persecuted the
miscreants, until the last of them was shivering outside the palace
gates, with hardly sense enough left to know where to turn.
When they set out to look for shelter, they found every inn full of
the servants expelled before them, and not one would yield his
place to a superior suddenly levelled with himself. Most houses
refused to admit them on the ground of the wickedness that must
have drawn on them such a punishment; and not a few would have been
left in the streets all night, had not Derba, roused by the vain
entreaties at the doors on each side of her cottage, opened hers,
and given up everything to them. The lord chancellor was only too
glad to share a mattress with a stableboy, and steal his bare feet
under his jacket.
In the morning Curdie appeared, and the outcasts were in terror,
thinking he had come after them again. But he took no notice of
them: his object was to request Derba to go to the palace: the king
required her services. She need take no trouble about her cottage,
he said; the palace was henceforward her home: she was the king's
chatelaine over men and maidens of his household. And this very
morning she must cook His Majesty a nice breakfast.
Various reports went undulating through the city as to the nature
of what had taken place in the palace. The people gathered, and
stared at the house, eyeing it as if it had sprung up in the night.
But it looked sedate enough, remaining closed and silent, like a
house that was dead. They saw no one come out or go in. Smoke
arose from a chimney or two; there was hardly another sign of life.
It was not for some little time generally understood that the
highest officers of the crown as well as the lowest menials of the
palace had been dismissed in disgrace: for who was to recognize a
lord chancellor in his nightshirt? And what lord chancellor would,
so attired in the street, proclaim his rank and office aloud?
Before it was day most of the courtiers crept down to the river,
hired boats, and betook themselves to their homes or their friends
in the country. It was assumed in the city that the domestics had
been discharged upon a sudden discovery of general and unpardonable
peculation; for, almost everybody being guilty of it himself, petty
dishonesty was the crime most easily credited and least easily
passed over in Gwyntystorm.
Now that same day was Religion day, and not a few of the clergy,
always glad to seize on any passing event to give interest to the
dull and monotonic grind of their intellectual machines, made this
remarkable one the ground of discourse to their congregations.
More especially than the rest, the first priest of the great temple
where was the royal pew, judged himself, from his relation to the
palace, called upon to 'improve the occasion', for they talked ever
about improvement at Gwyntystorm, all the time they were going down
hill with a rush.
The book which had, of late years, come to be considered the most
sacred, was called The Book of Nations, and consisted of proverbs,
and history traced through custom: from it the first priest chose
his text; and his text was, 'Honesty Is the Best Policy.' He was
considered a very eloquent man, but I can offer only a few of the
larger bones of his sermon.
The main proof of the verity of their religion, he said, was that
things always went well with those who profess it; and its first
fundamental principle, grounded in inborn invariable instinct, was,
that every One should take care of that One. This was the first
duty of Man. If every one would but obey this law, number one,
then would every one be perfectly cared for - one being always
equal to one. But the faculty of care was in excess of need, and
all that overflowed, and would otherwise run to waste, ought to be
gently turned in the direction of one's neighbour, seeing that this
also wrought for the fulfilling of the law, inasmuch as the
reaction of excess so directed was upon the director of the same,
to the comfort, that is, and well-being of the original self. To
be just and friendly was to build the warmest and safest of all
nests, and to be kind and loving was to line it with the softest of
all furs and feathers, for the one precious, comfort-loving self
there to lie, revelling in downiest bliss. One of the laws
therefore most binding upon men because of its relation to the
first and greatest of all duties, was embodied in the Proverb he
had just read; and what stronger proof of its wisdom and truth
could they desire than the sudden and complete vengeance which had
fallen upon those worse than ordinary sinners who had offended
against the king's majesty by forgetting that 'Honesty Is the Best
At this point of the discourse the head of the legserpent rose from
the floor of the temple, towering above the pulpit, above the
priest, then curving downward, with open mouth slowly descended
upon him. Horror froze the sermon-pump. He stared upward aghast.
The great teeth of the animal closed upon a mouthful of the sacred
vestments, and slowly he lifted the preacher from the pulpit, like
a handful of linen from a washtub, and, on his four solemn stumps,
bore him out of the temple, dangling aloft from his jaws. At the
back of it he dropped him into the dust hole among the remnants of
a library whose age had destroyed its value in the eyes of the
chapter. They found him burrowing in it, a lunatic henceforth -
whose madness presented the peculiar feature, that in its paroxysms
he jabbered sense.
Bone-freezing horror pervaded Gwyntystorm. If their best and
wisest were treated with such contempt, what might not the rest of
them look for? Alas for their city! Their grandly respectable
city! Their loftily reasonable city! Where it was all to end, who
But something must be done. Hastily assembling, the priests chose
a new first priest, and in full conclave unanimously declared and
accepted that the king in his retirement had, through the practice
of the blackest magic, turned the palace into a nest of demons in
the midst of them. A grand exorcism was therefore indispensable.
In the meantime the fact came out that the greater part of the
courtiers had been dismissed as well as the servants, and this fact
swelled the hope of the Party of Decency, as they called
themselves. Upon it they proceeded to act, and strengthened
themselves on all sides.
The action of the king's bodyguard remained for a time uncertain.
But when at length its officers were satisfied that both the master
of the horse and their colonel were missing, they placed themselves
under the orders of the first priest.
Every one dated the culmination of the evil from the visit of the
miner and his mongrel; and the butchers vowed, if they could but
get hold of them again, they would roast both of them alive. At
once they formed themselves into a regiment, and put their dogs in
training for attack.
incessant was the talk, innumerable were the suggestions, and great
was the deliberation. The general consent, however, was that as
soon as the priests should have expelled the demons, they would
depose the king, and attired in all his regal insignia, shut him in
a cage for public show; then choose governors, with the lord
chancellor at their head, whose first duty should be to remit every
possible tax; and the magistrates, by the mouth of the city
marshal, required all able-bodied citizens, in order to do their
part toward the carrying out of these and a multitude of other
reforms, to be ready to take arms at the first summons.
Things needful were prepared as speedily as possible, and a mighty
ceremony, in the temple, in the market place, and in front of the
palace, was performed for the expulsion of the demons. This over,
the leaders retired to arrange an attack upon the palace.
But that night events occurred which, proving the failure of their
first, induced the abandonment of their second, intent. Certain of
the prowling order of the community, whose numbers had of late been
steadily on the increase, reported frightful things. Demons of
indescribable ugliness had been espied careering through the
midnight streets and courts. A citizen - some said in the very act
of housebreaking, but no one cared to look into trifles at such a
crisis - had been seized from behind, he could not see by what, and
soused in the river. A well-known receiver of stolen goods had had
his shop broken open, and when he came down in the morning had
found everything in ruin on the pavement. The wooden image of
justice over the door of the city marshal had had the arm that held
the sword bitten off. The gluttonous magistrate had been pulled
from his bed in the dark, by beings of which he could see nothing
but the flaming eyes, and treated to a bath of the turtle soup that
had been left simmering by the side of the kitchen fire. Having
poured it over him, they put him again into his bed, where he soon
learned how a mummy must feel in its cerements.
Worst of all, in the market place was fixed up a paper, with the
king's own signature, to the effect that whoever henceforth should
show inhospitality to strangers, and should be convicted of the
same, should be instantly expelled the city; while a second, in the
butchers' quarter, ordained that any dog which henceforth should
attack a stranger should be immediately destroyed. It was plain,
said the butchers, that the clergy were of no use; they could not
exorcise demons! That afternoon, catching sight of a poor old
fellow in rags and tatters, quietly walking up the street, they
hounded their dogs upon him, and had it not been that the door of
Derba's cottage was standing open, and was near enough for him to
dart in and shut it ere they reached him, he would have been torn
And thus things went on for some days.
In the meantime, with Derba to minister to his wants, with Curdie
to protect him, and Irene to nurse him, the king was getting
rapidly stronger. Good food was what he most wanted and of that,
at least of certain kinds of it, there was plentiful store in the
palace. Everywhere since the cleansing of the lower regions of it,
the air was clean and sweet, and under the honest hands of the one
housemaid the king's chamber became a pleasure to his eyes. With
such changes it was no wonder if his heart grew lighter as well as
his brain clearer.
But still evil dreams came and troubled him, the lingering result
of the wicked medicines the doctor had given him. Every night,
sometimes twice or thrice, he would wake up in terror, and it would
be minutes ere he could come to himself. The consequence was that
he was always worse in the morning, and had loss to make up during
the day. While he slept, Irene or Curdie, one or the other, must
still be always by his side.
One night, when it was Curdie's turn with the king, he heard a cry
somewhere in the house, and as there was no other child, concluded,
notwithstanding the distance of her grandmother's room, that it
must be Barbara. Fearing something might be wrong, and noting the
king's sleep more quiet than usual, he ran to see. He found the
child in the middle of the floor, weeping bitterly, and Derba
slumbering peacefully in bed. The instant she saw him the
night-lost thing ceased her crying, smiled, and stretched out her
arms to him. Unwilling to wake the old woman, who had been working
hard all day, he took the child, and carried her with him. She
clung to him so, pressing her tear-wet radiant face against his,
that her little arms threatened to choke him.
When he re-entered the chamber, he found the king sitting up in
bed, fighting the phantoms of some hideous dream. Generally upon
such occasions, although he saw his watcher, he could not
dissociate him from the dream, and went raving on. But the moment
his eyes fell upon little Barbara, whom he had never seen before,
his soul came into them with a rush, and a smile like the dawn of
an eternal day overspread his countenance; the dream was nowhere,
and the child was in his heart. He stretched out his arms to her,
the child stretched out hers to him, and in five minutes they were
both asleep, each in the other's embrace.
From that night Barbara had a crib in the king's chamber, and as
often as he woke, Irene or Curdie, whichever was watching, took the
sleeping child and laid her in his arms, upon which, invariably and
instantly, the dream would vanish. A great part of the day too she
would be playing on or about the king's bed; and it was a delight
to the heart of the princess to see her amusing herself with the
crown, now sitting upon it, now rolling it hither and thither about
the room like a hoop. Her grandmother entering once while she was
pretending to make porridge in it, held up her hands in
horror-struck amazement; but the king would not allow her to
interfere, for the king was now Barbara's playmate, and his crown
The colonel of the guard also was growing better. Curdie went
often to see him. They were soon friends, for the best people
understand each other the easiest, and the grim old warrior loved
the miner boy as if he were at once his son and his angel. He was
very anxious about his regiment. He said the officers were mostly
honest men, he believed, but how they might be doing without him,
or what they might resolve, in ignorance of the real state of
affairs, and exposed to every misrepresentation, who could tell?
Curdie proposed that he should send for the major, offering to be
the messenger. The colonel agreed, and Curdie went - not without
his mattock, because of the dogs.
But the officers had been told by the master of the horse that
their colonel was dead, and although they were amazed he should be
buried without the attendance of his regiment, they never doubted
the information. The handwriting itself of their colonel was
insufficient, counteracted by the fresh reports daily current, to
destroy the lie. The major regarded the letter as a trap for the
next officer in command, and sent his orderly to arrest the
messenger. But Curdie had had the wisdom not to wait for an
The king's enemies said that he had first poisoned the good colonel
of the guard, and then murdered the master of the horse, and other
faithful councillors; and that his oldest and most attached
domestics had but escaped from the palace with their lives - not
all of them, for the butler was missing. Mad or wicked, he was not
only unfit to rule any longer, but worse than unfit to have in his
power and under his influence the young princess, only hope of
Gwyntystorm and the kingdom.
The moment the lord chancellor reached his house in the country and
had got himself clothed, he began to devise how yet to destroy his
master; and the very next morning set out for the neighbouring
kingdom of Borsagrass to invite invasion, and offer a compact with
At the cottage in the mountain everything for a time went on just
as before. It was indeed dull without Curdie, but as often as they
looked at the emerald it was gloriously green, and with nothing to
fear or regret, and everything to hope, they required little
comforting. One morning, however, at last, Peter, who had been
consulting the gem, rather now from habit than anxiety, as a farmer
his barometer in undoubtful weather, turned suddenly to his wife,
the stone in his hand, and held it up with a look of ghastly
'Why, that's never the emerald!' said Joan.
'It is,' answered Peter; 'but it were small blame to any one that
took it for a bit of bottle glass!'
For, all save one spot right in the centre, of intensest and most
brilliant green, it looked as if the colour had been burnt out of
'Run, run, Peter!' cried his wife. 'Run and tell the old princess.
it may not be too late. The boy must be lying at death's door.'
Without a word Peter caught up his mattock, darted from the
cottage, and was at the bottom of the hill in less time than he
usually took to get halfway.
The door of the king's house stood open; he rushed in and up the
stair. But after wandering about in vain for an hour, opening door
after door, and finding no way farther up, the heart of the old man
had well-nigh failed him. Empty rooms, empty rooms! - desertion
and desolation everywhere.
At last he did come upon the door to the tower stair. Up he
darted. Arrived at the top, he found three doors, and, one after
the other, knocked at them all. But there was neither voice nor
hearing. Urged by his faith and his dread, slowly, hesitatingly,
he opened one. It revealed a bare garret room, nothing in it but
one chair and one spinning wheel. He closed it, and opened the
next - to start back in terror, for he saw nothing but a great
gulf, a moonless night, full of stars, and, for all the stars,
dark, dark! - a fathomless abyss. He opened the third door, and a
rush like the tide of a living sea invaded his ears. Multitudinous
wings flapped and flashed in the sun, and, like the ascending
column from a volcano, white birds innumerable shot into the air,
darkening the day with the shadow of their cloud, and then, with a
sharp sweep, as if bent sideways by a sudden wind, flew northward,
swiftly away, and vanished. The place felt like a tomb. There
seemed no breath of life left in it.
Despair laid hold upon him; he rushed down thundering with heavy
feet. Out upon him darted the housekeeper like an ogress-spider,
and after her came her men; but Peter rushed past them, heedless
and careless - for had not the princess mocked him? - and sped
along the road to Gwyntystorm. What help lay in a miner's mattock,
a man's arm, a father's heart, he would bear to his boy.
Joan sat up all night waiting his return, hoping and hoping. The
mountain was very still, and the sky was clear; but all night long
the miner sped northward, and the heart of his wife was troubled.
Things in the palace were in a strange condition: the king playing
with a child and dreaming wise dreams, waited upon by a little
princess with the heart of a queen, and a youth from the mines, who
went nowhere, not even into the king's chamber, without his mattock
on his shoulder and a horrible animal at his heels; in a room
nearby the colonel of his guard, also in bed, without a soldier to
obey him; in six other rooms, far apart, six miscreants, each
watched by a beast-jailer; ministers to them all, an old woman and
a page; and in the wine cellar, forty-three animals, creatures more
grotesque than ever brain of man invented. None dared approach its
gates, and seldom one issued from them.
All the dwellers in the city were united in enmity to the palace.
It swarmed with evil spirits, they said, whereas the evil spirits
were in the city, unsuspected. One consequence of their presence
was that, when the rumour came that a great army was on the march
against Gwyntystorm, instead of rushing to their defences, to make
new gates, free portcullises and drawbridges, and bar the river,
each band flew first to their treasures, burying them in their
cellars and gardens, and hiding them behind stones in their
chimneys; and, next to rebellion, signing an invitation to His
Majesty of Borsagrass to enter at their open gates, destroy their
king, and annex their country to his own.
The straits of isolation were soon found in the palace: its
invalids were requiring stronger food, and what was to be done?
For if the butchers sent meat to the palace, was it not likely
enough to be poisoned? Curdie said to Derba he would think of some
plan before morning.
But that same night, as soon as it was dark, Lina came to her
master, and let him understand she wanted to go out. He unlocked
a little private postern for her, left it so that she could push it
open when she returned, and told the crocodile to stretch himself
across it inside. Before midnight she came back with a young deer.
Early the next morning the legserpent crept out of the wine cellar,
through the broken door behind, shot into the river, and soon
appeared in the kitchen with a splendid sturgeon. Every night Lina
went out hunting, and every morning Legserpent went out fishing,
and both invalids and household had plenty to eat. As to news, the
page, in plain clothes, would now and then venture out into the
market place, and gather some.
One night he came back with the report that the army of the king of
Borsagrass had crossed the border. Two days after, he brought the
news that the enemy was now but twenty miles from Gwyntystorm.
The colonel of the guard rose, and began furbishing his armour -
but gave it over to the page, and staggered across to the barracks,
which were in the next street. The sentry took him for a ghost or
worse, ran into the guardroom, bolted the door, and stopped his
ears. The poor colonel, who was yet hardly able to stand, crawled
For Curdie, he had already, as soon as the first rumour reached
him, resolved, if no other instructions came, and the king
continued unable to give orders, to call Lina and the creatures,
and march to meet the enemy. If he died, he died for the right,
and there was a right end of it. He had no preparations to make,
except a good sleep.
He asked the king to let the housemaid take his place by His
Majesty that night, and went and lay down on the floor of the
corridor, no farther off than a whisper would reach from the door
of the chamber. There, -with an old mantle of the king's thrown
over him, he was soon fast asleep.
Somewhere about the middle of the night, he woke suddenly, started
to his feet, and rubbed his eyes. He could not tell what had waked
him. But could he be awake, or was he not dreaming? The curtain
of the king's door, a dull red ever before, was glowing a gorgeous,
a radiant purple; and the crown wrought upon it in silks and gems
was flashing as if it burned! What could it mean? Was the king's
chamber on fire? He darted to the door and lifted the curtain.
Glorious terrible sight!
A long and broad marble table, that stood at one end of the room,
had been drawn into the middle of it, and thereon burned a great
fire, of a sort that Curdie knew - a fire of glowing, flaming
roses, red and white. In the midst of the roses lay the king,
moaning, but motionless. Every rose that fell from the table to
the floor, someone, whom Curdie could not plainly see for the
brightness, lifted and laid burning upon the king's face, until at
length his face too was covered with the live roses, and he lay all
within the fire, moaning still, with now and then a shuddering sob.
And the shape that Curdie saw and could not see, wept over the king
as he lay in the fire, and often she hid her face in handfuls of
her shadowy hair, and from her hair the water of her weeping
dropped like sunset rain in the light of the roses. At last she
lifted a great armful of her hair, and shook it over the fire, and
the drops fell from it in showers, and they did not hiss in the
flames, but there arose instead as it were the sound of running
And the glow of the red fire died away, and the glow of the white
fire grew grey, and the light was gone, and on the table all was
black - except the face of the king, which shone from under the
burnt roses like a diamond in the ashes of a furnace.
Then Curdie, no longer dazzled, saw and knew the old princess. The
room was lighted with the splendour of her face, of her blue eyes,
of her sapphire crown. Her golden hair went streaming out from her
through the air till it went off in mist and light. She was large
and strong as a Titaness. She stooped over the table-altar, put
her mighty arms under the living sacrifice, lifted the king, as if
he were but a little child, to her bosom, walked with him up the
floor, and laid him in his bed. Then darkness fell.
The miner boy turned silent away, and laid himself down again in
the corridor. An absolute joy filled his heart, his bosom, his
head, his whole body. All was safe; all was well. With the helve
of his mattock tight in his grasp, he sank into a dreamless sleep.
The King's Army
He woke like a giant refreshed with wine.
When he went into the king's chamber, the housemaid sat where he
had left her, and everything in the room was as it had been the
night before, save that a heavenly odour of roses filled the air of
it. He went up to the bed. The king opened his eyes, and the soul
of perfect health shone out of them. Nor was Curdie amazed in his
'Is it not time to rise, Curdie?' said the king.
'It is, Your Majesty. Today we must be doing,' answered Curdie.
'What must we be doing today, Curdie?'
'Then fetch me my armour - that of plated steel, in the chest
there. You will find the underclothing with it.'
As he spoke, he reached out his hand for his sword, which hung in
the bed before him, drew it, and examined the blade.
'A little rusty!' he said, 'but the edge is there. We shall polish
it ourselves today - not on the wheel. Curdie, my son, I wake from
a troubled dream. A glorious torture has ended it, and I live. I
know now well how things are, but you shall explain them to me as
I get on my armour. No, I need no bath. I am clean. Call the
colonel of the guard.'
In complete steel the old man stepped into the chamber. He knew it
not, but the old princess had passed through his room in the night.
'Why, Sir Bronzebeard!' said the king, 'you are dressed before me!
You need no valet, old man, when there is battle in the wind!'
'Battle, sire!' returned the colonel. 'Where then are our
'Why, there and here,' answered the king, pointing to the colonel
first, and then to himself. 'Where else, man? The enemy will be
upon us ere sunset, if we be not upon him ere noon. What other
thing was in your brave brain when you donned your armour, friend?'
'Your Majesty's orders, sire,' answered Sir Bronzebeard.
The king smiled and turned to Curdie.
'And what was in yours, Curdie, for your first word was of battle?'
'See, Your Majesty,' answered Curdie; 'I have polished my mattock.
If Your Majesty had not taken the command, I would have met the
enemy at the head of my beasts, and died in comfort, or done
'Brave boy!' said the king. 'He who takes his life in his hand is
the only soldier. You shall head your beasts today. Sir
Bronzebeard, will you die with me if need be?'
'Seven times, my king,' said the colonel.
'Then shall we win this battle!' said the king. 'Curdie, go and
bind securely the six, that we lose not their guards. Can you find
me a horse, think you, Sir Bronzebeard? Alas! they told me my
white charger was dead.'
'I will go and fright the varletry with my presence, and secure, I
trust, a horse for Your Majesty, and one for myself.'
'And look you, brother!' said the king; 'bring one for my miner boy
too, and a sober old charger for the princess, for she too must go
to the battle, and conquer with us.'
'Pardon me, sire,' said Curdie; 'a miner can fight best on foot.
I might smite my horse dead under me with a missed blow. And
besides that, I must be near to my beasts.'
'As you will,' said the king. 'Three horses then, Sir
The colonel departed, doubting sorely in his heart how to accoutre
and lead from the barrack stables three horses, in the teeth of his
In the hall he met the housemaid.
'Can you lead a horse?' he asked.
'Are you willing to die for the king?'
'Can you do as you are bid?'
'I can keep on trying, sir.'
'Come then. Were I not a man I would be a woman such as you.'
When they entered the barrack yard, the soldiers scattered like
autumn leaves before a blast of winter. They went into the stable
unchallenged - and lo! in a stall, before the colonel's eyes, stood
the king's white charger, with the royal saddle and bridle hung
high beside him!
'Traitorous thieves!' muttered the old man in his beard, and went
along the stalls, looking for his own black charger. Having found
him, he returned to saddle first the king's. But the maid had
already the saddle upon him, and so girt that the colonel could
thrust no finger tip between girth and skin. He left her to finish
what she had so well begun, and went and made ready his own. He
then chose for the princess a great red horse, twenty years old,
which he knew to possess every equine virtue. This and his own he
led to the palace, and the maid led the king's.
The king and Curdie stood in the court, the king in full armour of
silvered steel, with a circlet of rubies and diamonds round his
helmet. He almost leaped for joy when he saw his great white
charger come in, gentle as a child to the hand of the housemaid.
But when the horse saw his master in his armour, he reared and
bounded in jubilation, yet did not break from the hand that held
him. Then out came the princess attired and ready, with a hunting
knife her father had given her by her side. They brought her
mother's saddle, splendent with gems and gold, set it on the great
red horse, and lifted her to it. But the saddle was so big, and
the horse so tall, that the child found no comfort in them.
'Please, King Papa,' she said, 'can I not have my white pony?'
'I did not think of him, little one,' said the king. 'Where is
'In the stable,' answered the maid. 'I found him half starved, the
only horse within the gates, the day after the servants were driven
out. He has been well fed since.'
'Go and fetch him,' said the king.
As the maid appeared with the pony, from a side door came Lina and
the forty-nine, following Curdie.
'I will go with Curdie and the Uglies,' cried the princess; and as
soon as she was mounted she got into the middle of the pack.
So out they set, the strangest force that ever went against an
enemy. The king in silver armour sat stately on his white steed,
with the stones flashing on his helmet; beside him the grim old
colonel, armed in steel, rode his black charger; behind the king,
a little to the right, Curdie walked afoot, his mattock shining in
the sun; Lina followed at his heel; behind her came the wonderful
company of Uglies; in the midst of them rode the gracious little
Irene, dressed in blue, and mounted on the prettiest of white
ponies; behind the colonel, a little to the left, walked the page,
armed in a breastplate, headpiece, and trooper's sword he had found
in the palace, all much too big for him, and carrying a huge brass
trumpet which he did his best to blow; and the king smiled and
seemed pleased with his music, although it was but the grunt of a
brazen unrest. Alongside the beasts walked Derba carrying Barbara
- their refuge the mountains, should the cause of the king be lost;
as soon as they were over the river they turned aside to ascend the
Cliff, and there awaited the forging of the day's history. Then
first Curdie saw that the housemaid, whom they had all forgotten,
was following, mounted on the great red horse, and seated in the
Many were the eyes unfriendly of women that had stared at them from
door and window as they passed through the city; and low laughter
and mockery and evil words from the lips of children had rippled
about their ears; but the men were all gone to welcome the enemy,
the butchers the first, the king's guard the last. And now on the
heels of the king's army rushed out the women and children also, to
gather flowers and branches, wherewith to welcome their conquerors.
About a mile down the river, Curdie, happening to look behind him,
saw the maid, whom he had supposed gone with Derba, still following
on the great red horse. The same moment the king, a few paces in
front of him, caught sight of the enemy's tents, pitched where, the
cliffs receding, the bank of the river widened to a little plain.
He commanded the page to blow his trumpet; and, in the strength of
the moment, the youth uttered a right warlike defiance.
But the butchers and the guard, who had gone over armed to the
enemy, thinking that the king had come to make his peace also, and
that it might thereafter go hard with them, rushed at once to make
short work with him, and both secure and commend themselves. The
butchers came on first - for the guards had slackened their saddle
girths - brandishing their knives, and talking to their dogs.
Curdie and the page, with Lina and her pack, bounded to meet them.
Curdie struck down the foremost with his mattock. The page,
finding his sword too much for him, threw it away and seized the
butcher's knife, which as he rose he plunged into the foremost dog.
Lina rushed raging and gnashing among them. She would not look at
a dog so long as there was a butcher on his legs, and she never
stopped to kill a butcher, only with one grind of her jaws crushed
a leg of him. When they were all down, then indeed she flashed
among the dogs.
Meantime the king and the colonel had spurred toward the advancing
guard. The king clove the major through skull and collar bone, and
the colonel stabbed the captain in the throat. Then a fierce
combat commenced - two against many. But the butchers and their
dogs quickly disposed of, up came Curdie and his beasts. The
horses of the guard, struck with terror, turned in spite of the
spur, and fled in confusion.
Thereupon the forces of Borsagrass, which could see little of the
affair, but correctly imagined a small determined body in front of
them, hastened to the attack. No sooner did their first advancing
wave appear through the foam of the retreating one, than the king
and the colonel and the page, Curdie and the beasts, went charging
upon them. Their attack, especially the rush of the Uglies, threw
the first line into great confusion, but the second came up
quickly; the beasts could not be everywhere, there were thousands
to one against them, and the king and his three companions were in
the greatest possible danger.
A dense cloud came over the sun, and sank rapidly toward the earth.
The cloud moved all together, and yet the thousands of white flakes
of which it was made up moved each for itself in ceaseless and
rapid motion: those flakes were the wings of pigeons. Down swooped
the birds upon the invaders; right in the face of man and horse
they flew with swift-beating wings, blinding eyes and confounding
brain. Horses reared and plunged and wheeled. All was at once in
confusion. The men made frantic efforts to seize their tormentors,
but not one could they touch; and they outdoubled them in numbers.
Between every wild clutch came a peck of beak and a buffet of
pinion in the face. Generally the bird would, with sharp-clapping
wings, dart its whole body, with the swiftness of an arrow, against
its singled mark, yet so as to glance aloft the same instant, and
descend skimming; much as the thin stone, shot with horizontal cast
of arm, having touched and torn the surface of the lake, ascends to
skim, touch, and tear again. So mingled the feathered multitude in
the grim game of war. It was a storm in which the wind was birds,
and the sea men. And ever as each bird arrived at the rear of the
enemy, it turned, ascended, and sped to the front to charge again.
The moment the battle began, the princess's pony took fright, and
turned and fled. But the maid wheeled her horse across the road
and stopped him; and they waited together the result of the battle.
And as they waited, it seemed to the princess right strange that
the pigeons, every one as it came to the rear, and fetched a
compass to gather force for the reattack, should make the head of
her attendant on the red horse the goal around which it turned; so
that about them was an unintermittent flapping and flashing of
wings, and a curving, sweeping torrent of the side-poised wheeling
bodies of birds. Strange also it seemed that the maid should be
constantly waving her arm toward the battle. And the time of the
motion of her arm so fitted with the rushes of birds, that it
looked as if the birds obeyed her gesture, and she was casting
living javelins by the thousand against the enemy. The moment a
pigeon had rounded her head, it went off straight as bolt from bow,
and with trebled velocity.
But of these strange things, others besides the princess had taken
note. From a rising ground whence they watched the battle in
growing dismay, the leaders of the enemy saw the maid and her
motions, and, concluding her an enchantress, whose were the airy
legions humiliating them, set spurs to their horses, made a
circuit, outflanked the king, and came down upon her. But suddenly
by her side stood a stalwart old man in the garb of a miner, who,
as the general rode at her, sword in hand, heaved his swift
mattock, and brought it down with such force on the forehead of his
charger, that he fell to the ground like a log. His rider shot
over his head and lay stunned. Had not the great red horse reared
and wheeled, he would have fallen beneath that of the general.
With lifted sabre, one of his attendant officers rode at the miner.
But a mass of pigeons darted in the faces of him and his horse, and
the next moment he lay beside his commander.
The rest of them turned and fled, pursued by the birds.
'Ah, friend Peter!' said the maid; 'thou hast come as I told thee!
Welcome and thanks!'
By this time the battle was over. The rout was general. The enemy
stormed back upon their own camp, with the beasts roaring in the
midst of them, and the king and his army, now reinforced by one,
pursuing. But presently the king drew rein.
'Call off your hounds, Curdie, and let the pigeons do the rest,' he
shouted, and turned to see what had become of the princess.
In full panic fled the invaders, sweeping down their tents,
stumbling over their baggage, trampling on their dead and wounded,
ceaselessly pursued and buffeted by the white-winged army of
heaven. Homeward they rushed the road they had come, straight for
the borders, many dropping from pure fatigue, and lying where they
fell. And still the pigeons were in their necks as they ran. At
length to the eyes of the king and his army nothing was visible
save a dust cloud below, and a bird cloud above. Before night the
bird cloud came back, flying high over Gwyntystorm. Sinking
swiftly, it disappeared among the ancient roofs of the palace.
The king and his army returned, bringing with them one prisoner
only, the lord chancellor. Curdie had dragged him from under a
fallen tent, not by the hand of a man, but by the foot of a mule.
When they entered the city, it was still as the grave. The
citizens had fled home. 'We must submit,' they cried, 'or the king
and his demons will destroy us.' The king rode through the streets
in silence, ill-pleased with his people. But he stopped his horse
in the midst of the market place, and called, in a voice loud and
clear as the cry of a silver trumpet, 'Go and find your own. Bury
your dead, and bring home your wounded.' Then he turned him
gloomily to the palace.
just as they reached the gates, Peter, who, as they went, had been
telling his tale to Curdie, ended it with the words:
'And so there I was, in the nick of time to save the two
'The two princesses, Father! The one on the great red horse was
the housemaid,' said Curdie, and ran to open the gates for the
They found Derba returned before them, and already busy preparing
them food. The king put up his charger with his own hands, rubbed
him down, and fed him.
When they had washed, and eaten and drunk, he called the colonel,
and told Curdie and the page to bring out the traitors and the
beasts, and attend him to the market place.
By this time the people were crowding back into the city, bearing
their dead and wounded. And there was lamentation in Gwyntystorm,
for no one could comfort himself, and no one had any to comfort
him. The nation was victorious, but the people were conquered.
The king stood in the centre of the market place, upon the steps of
the ancient cross. He had laid aside his helmet and put on his
crown, but he stood all armed beside, with his sword in his hand.
He called the people to him, and, for all the terror of the beasts,
they dared not disobey him. Those, even, who were carrying their
wounded laid them down, and drew near trembling.
Then the king said to Curdie and the page:
'Set the evil men before me.'
He looked upon them for a moment in mingled anger and pity, then
turned to the people and said:
'Behold your trust! Ye slaves, behold your leaders! I would have
freed you, but ye would not be free. Now shall ye be ruled with a
rod of iron, that ye may learn what freedom is, and love it and
seek it. These wretches I will send where they shall mislead you
He made a sign to Curdie, who immediately brought up the
legserpent. To the body of the animal they bound the lord
chamberlain, speechless with horror. The butler began to shriek
and pray, but they bound him on the back of Clubhead. One after
another, upon the largest of the creatures they bound the whole
seven, each through the unveiling terror looking the villain he
was. Then said the king:
'I thank you, my good beasts; and I hope to visit you ere long.
Take these evil men with you, and go to your place.'
Like a whirlwind they were in the crowd, scattering it like dust.
Like hounds they rushed from the city, their burdens howling and
What became of them I have never heard.
Then the king turned once more to the people and said, 'Go to your
houses'; nor vouchsafed them another word. They crept home like
The king returned to the palace. He made the colonel a duke, and
the page a knight, and Peter he appointed general of all his mines.
But to Curdie he said:
'You are my own boy, Curdie. My child cannot choose but love you,
and when you are grown up - if you both will - you shall marry each
other, and be king and queen when I am gone. Till then be the
Irene held out her arms to Curdie. He raised her in his, and she
'And my Curdie too!' she said.
Thereafter the people called him Prince Conrad; but the king always
called him either just Curdie, or my miner boy.
They sat down to supper, and Derba and the knight and the housemaid
waited, and Barbara sat at the king's left hand. The housemaid
poured out the wine; and as she poured for Curdie red wine that
foamed in the cup, as if glad to see the light whence it had been
banished so long, she looked him in the eyes. And Curdie started,
and sprang from his seat, and dropped on his knees, and burst into
tears. And the maid said with a smile, such as none but one could
'Did I not tell you, Curdie, that it might be you would not know me
when next you saw me?'
Then she went from the room, and in a moment returned in royal
purple, with a crown of diamonds and rubies, from under which her
hair went flowing to the floor, all about her ruby- slippered feet.
Her face was radiant with joy, the joy overshadowed by a faint mist
as of unfulfilment. The king rose and kneeled on one knee before
her. All kneeled in like homage. Then the king would have yielded
her his royal chair. But she made them all sit down, and with her
own hands placed at the table seats for Derba and the page. Then
in ruby crown and royal purple she served them all.
The king sent Curdie out into his dominions to search for men and
women that had human hands. And many such he found, honest and
true, and brought them to his master. So a new and upright court
was formed, and strength returned to the nation.
But the exchequer was almost empty, for the evil men had squandered
everything, and the king hated taxes unwillingly paid. Then came
Curdie and said to the king that the city stood upon gold. And the
king sent for men wise in the ways of the earth, and they built
smelting furnaces, and Peter brought miners, and they mined the
gold, and smelted it, and the king coined it into money, and
therewith established things well in the land.
The same day on which he found his boy, Peter set out to go home.
When he told the good news to Joan, his wife, she rose from her
chair and said, 'Let us go.' And they left the cottage, and
repaired to Gwyntystorm. And on a mountain above the city they
built themselves a warm house for their old age, high in the clear
As Peter mined one day, at the back of the king's wine Cellar, he
broke into a cavern crusted with gems, and much wealth flowed
therefrom, and the king used it wisely.
Queen Irene - that was the right name of the old princess - was
thereafter seldom long absent from the palace. Once or twice when
she was missing, Barbara, who seemed to know of her sometimes when
nobody else had a notion whither she had gone, said she was with
the dear old Uglies in the wood. Curdie thought that perhaps her
business might be with others there as well. All the uppermost
rooms in the palace were left to her use, and when any one was in
need of her help, up thither he must go. But even when she was
there, he did not always succeed in finding her. She, however,
always knew that such a one had been looking for her.
Curdie went to find her one day. As he ascended the last stair, to
meet him came the well-known scent of her roses; and when he opened
the door, lo! there was the same gorgeous room in which his touch
had been glorified by her fire! And there burned the fire - a huge
heap of red and white roses. Before the hearth stood the princess,
an old grey-haired woman, with Lina a little behind her, slowly
wagging her tail, and looking like a beast of prey that can hardly
so long restrain itself from springing as to be sure of its victim.
The queen was casting roses, more and more roses, upon the fire.
At last she turned and said, 'Now Lina!' - and Lina dashed
burrowing into the fire. There went up a black smoke and a dust,
and Lina was never more seen in the palace.
Irene and Curdie were married. The old king died, and they were
king and queen. As long as they lived Gwyntystorm was a better
city, and good people grew in it. But they had no children, and
when they died the people chose a king. And the new king went
mining and mining in the rock under the city, and grew more and
more eager after the gold, and paid less and less heed to his
people. Rapidly they sank toward their old wickedness. But still
the king went on mining, and coining gold by the pailful, until the
people were worse even than in the old time. And so greedy was the
king after gold, that when at last the ore began to fail, he caused
the miners to reduce the pillars which Peter and they that followed
him had left standing to bear the city. And from the girth of an
oak of a thousand years, they chipped them down to that of a fir
tree of fifty.
One day at noon, when life was at its highest, the whole city fell
with a roaring crash. The cries of men and the shrieks of women
went up with its dust, and then there was a great silence.
Where the mighty rock once towered, crowded with homes and crowned
with a palace, now rushes and raves a stone-obstructed rapid of the
river. All around spreads a wilderness of wild deer, and the very
name of Gwyntystorm had ceased from the lips of men.