Part 3 out of 4
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.