The Princess and the Goblin
Part 2 out of 4
of the house. Then the king set her on the ground and,
dismounting, took her hand and walked with her into the great hall,
which was hardly ever entered except when he came to see his little
princess. There he sat down, with two of his counsellors who had
accompanied him, to have some refreshment, and Irene sat on his
right hand and drank her milk out of a wooden bowl curiously
After the king had eaten and drunk he turned to the princess and
said, stroking her hair:
'Now, my child, what shall we do next?'
This was the question he almost always put to her first after their
meal together; and Irene had been waiting for it with some
impatience, for now, she thought, she should be able to settle a
question which constantly perplexed her.
'I should like you to take me to see my great old grandmother.'
The king looked grave And said:
'What does my little daughter mean?'
'I mean the Queen Irene that lives up in the tower - the very old
lady, you know, with the long hair of silver.'
The king only gazed at his little princess with a look which she
could not understand.
'She's got her crown in her bedroom,' she went on; 'but I've not
been in there yet. You know she's there, don't you?'
'No,' said the king, very quietly.
'Then it must all be a dream,' said Irene. 'I half thought it was;
but I couldn't be sure. Now I am sure of it. Besides, I couldn't
find her the next time I went up.'
At that moment a snow-white pigeon flew in at an open window and
settled upon Irene's head. She broke into a merry laugh, cowered
a little, and put up her hands to her head, saying:
'Dear dovey, don't peck me. You'll pull out my hair with your long
claws if you don't mind.'
The king stretched out his hand to take the pigeon, but it spread
its wings and flew again through the open window, when its
Whiteness made one flash in the sun and vanished. The king laid
his hand on his princess's head, held it back a little, gazed in
her face, smiled half a smile, and sighed half a sigh.
'Come, my child; we'll have a walk in the garden together,' he
'You won't come up and see my huge, great, beautiful grandmother,
then, king-papa?' said the princess.
'Not this time,' said the king very gently. 'She has not invited
me, you know, and great old ladies like her do not choose to be
visited without leave asked and given.'
The garden was a very lovely place. Being upon a Mountainside
there were parts in it where the rocks came through in great
masses, and all immediately about them remained quite wild. Tufts
of heather grew upon them, and other hardy mountain plants and
flowers, while near them would be lovely roses and lilies and all
pleasant garden flowers. This mingling of the wild mountain with
the civilized garden was very quaint, and it was impossible for any
number of gardeners to make such a garden look formal and stiff.
Against one of these rocks was a garden seat, shadowed from the
afternoon sun by the overhanging of the rock itself. There was a
little winding path up to the top of the rock, and on top another
seat; but they sat on the seat at its foot because the sun was hot;
and there they talked together of many things. At length the king
'You were out late one evening, Irene.'
'Yes, papa. It was my fault; and Lootie was very sorry.'
'I must talk to Lootie about it,' said the king.
'Don't speak loud to her, please, papa,' said Irene. 'She's been
so afraid of being late ever since! Indeed she has not been
naughty. It was only a mistake for once.'
'Once might be too often,' murmured the king to himself, as he
stroked his child's head.
I can't tell you how he had come to know. I am sure Curdie had not
told him. Someone about the palace must have seen them, after all.
He sat for a good while thinking. There was no sound to be heard
except that of a little stream which ran merrily out of an opening
in the rock by where they sat, and sped away down the hill through
the garden. Then he rose and, leaving Irene where she was, went
into the house and sent for Lootie, with whom he had a talk that
made her cry.
When in the evening he rode away upon his great white horse, he
left six of his attendants behind him, with orders that three of
them should watch outside the house every night, walking round and
round it from sunset to sunrise. It was clear he was not quite
comfortable about the princess.
The Old Lady's Bedroom
Nothing more happened worth telling for some time. The autumn came
and went by. There were no more flowers in the garden. The wind
blew strong, and howled among the rocks. The rain fell, and
drenched the few yellow and red leaves that could not get off the
bare branches. Again and again there would be a glorious morning
followed by a pouring afternoon, and sometimes, for a week
together, there would be rain, nothing but rain, all day, and then
the most lovely cloudless night, with the sky all out in full-blown
stars - not one missing. But the princess could not see much of
them, for she went to bed early. The winter drew on, and she found
things growing dreary. When it was too stormy to go out, and she
had got tired of her toys, Lootie would take her about the house,
sometimes to the housekeeper's room, where the housekeeper, who was
a good, kind old woman, made much of her - sometimes to the
servants' hall or the kitchen, where she was not princess merely,
but absolute queen, and ran a great risk of being spoiled.
Sometimes she would run off herself to the room where the
men-at-arms whom the king had left sat, and they showed her their
arms and accoutrements and did what they could to amuse her. Still
at times she found it very dreary, and often and often wished that
her huge great grandmother had not been a dream.
One morning the nurse left her with the housekeeper for a while.
To amuse her she turned out the contents of an old cabinet upon the
table. The little princess found her treasures, queer ancient
ornaments, and many things the use of which she could not imagine,
far more interesting than her own toys, and sat playing with them
for two hours or more. But, at length, in handling a curious
old-fashioned brooch, she ran the pin of it into her thumb, and
gave a little scream with the sharpness of the pain, but would have
thought little more of it had not the pain increased and her thumb
begun to swell. This alarmed the housekeeper greatly. The nurse
was fetched; the doctor was sent for; her hand was poulticed, and
long before her usual time she was put to bed. The pain still
continued, and although she fell asleep and dreamed a good many
dreams, there was the pain always in every dream. At last it woke
The moon was shining brightly into the room. The poultice had
fallen off her hand and it was burning hot. She fancied if she
could hold it into the moonlight that would cool it. So she got
out of bed, without waking the nurse who lay at the other end of
the room, and went to the window. When she looked out she saw one
of the men-at-arms walking in the garden with the moonlight
glancing on his armour. She was just going to tap on the window
and call him, for she wanted to tell him all about it, when she
bethought herself that that might wake Lootie, and she would put
her into her bed again. So she resolved to go to the window of
another room, and call him from there. It was so much nicer to
have somebody to talk to than to lie awake in bed with the burning
pain in her hand. She opened the door very gently and went through
the nursery, which did not look into the garden, to go to the other
window. But when she came to the foot of the old staircase there
was the moon shining down from some window high up, and making the
worm-eaten oak look very strange and delicate and lovely. In a
moment she was putting her little feet one after the other in the
silvery path up the stair, looking behind as she went, to see the
shadow they made in the middle of the silver. Some little girls
would have been afraid to find themselves thus alone in the middle
of the night, but Irene was a princess.
As she went slowly up the stair, not quite sure that she was not
dreaming, suddenly a great longing woke up in her heart to try once
more whether she could not find the old lady with the silvery hair.
'If she is a dream,' she said to herself, 'then I am the likelier
to find her, if I am dreaming.'
So up and up she went, stair after stair, until she Came to the
many rooms - all just as she had seen them before. Through passage
after passage she softly sped, comforting herself that if she
should lose her way it would not matter much, because when she woke
she would find herself in her own bed with Lootie not far off.
But, as if she had known every step of the way, she walked straight
to the door at the foot of the narrow stair that led to the tower.
'What if I should realreality-really find my beautiful old
grandmother up there!' she said to herself as she crept up the
When she reached the top she stood a moment listening in the dark,
for there was no moon there. Yes! it was! it was the hum of the
spinning-wheel! What a diligent grandmother to work both day and
night! She tapped gently at the door.
'Come in, Irene,'said the sweet voice.
The princess opened the door and entered. There was the moonlight
streaming in at the window, and in the middle of the moonlight sat
the old lady in her black dress with the white lace, and her
silvery hair mingling with the moonlight, so that you could not
have told which was which. 'Come in, Irene,' she said again. 'Can
you tell me what I am spinning?'
'She speaks,' thought Irene, 'just as if she had seen me five
minutes ago, or yesterday at the farthest. - No,' she answered; 'I
don't know what you are spinning. Please, I thought you were a
dream. Why couldn't I find you before, great-great-grandmother?'
'That you are hardly old enough to understand. But you would have
found me sooner if you hadn't come to think I was a dream. I will
give you one reason though why you couldn't find me. I didn't want
you to find me.'
'Because I did not want Lootie to know I was here.'
'But you told me to tell Lootie.'
'Yes. But I knew Lootie would not believe you. If she were to see
me sitting spinning here, she wouldn't believe me, either.'
'Because she couldn't. She would rub her eyes, and go away and say
she felt queer, and forget half of it and more, and then say it had
been all a dream.'
'Just like me,' said Irene, feeling very much ashamed of herself.
'Yes, a good deal like you, but not just like you; for you've come
again; and Lootie wouldn't have come again. She would have said,
No, no - she had had enough of such nonsense.'
'Is it naughty of Lootie, then?'
'It would be naughty of you. I've never done anything for Lootie.'
'And you did wash my face and hands for me,' said Irene, beginning
The old lady smiled a sweet smile and said:
'I'm not vexed with you, my child - nor with Lootie either. But I
don't want you to say anything more to Lootie about me. If she
should ask you, you must just be silent. But I do not think she
will ask you.'
All the time they talked the old lady kept on spinning.
'You haven't told me yet what I am spinning,' she said.
'Because I don't know. It's very pretty stuff.'
It was indeed very pretty stuff. There was a good bunch of it on
the distaff attached to the spinning-wheel, and in the moonlight it
shone like - what shall i say it was like? It was not white enough
for silver - yes, it was like silver, but shone grey rather than
white, and glittered only a little. And the thread the old lady
drew out from it was so fine that Irene could hardly see it.
'I am spinning this for you, my child.'
'For me! What am I to do with it, please?'
'I will tell you by and by. But first I will tell you what it is.
It is spider-web - of a particular kind. My pigeons bring it me
from over the great sea. There is only one forest where the
spiders live who make this particular kind - the finest and
strongest of any. I have nearly finished my present job. What is
on the rock now will be enough. I have a week's work there yet,
though,' she added, looking at the bunch.
'Do you work all day and all night, too, great-great-
great-great-grandmother?' said the princess, thinking to be very
polite with so many greats.
'I am not quite so great as all that,' she answered, smiling almost
merrily. 'If you call me grandmother, that will do. No, I don't
work every night - only moonlit nights, and then no longer than the
moon shines upon my wheel. I shan't work much longer tonight.'
'And what will you do next, grandmother?'
'Go to bed. Would you like to see my bedroom?'
'Yes, that I should.'
'Then I think I won't work any longer tonight. I shall be in good
The old lady rose, and left her wheel standing just as it was. You
see there was no good in putting it away, for where there was not
any furniture there was no danger of being untidy.
Then she took Irene by the hand, but it was her bad hand and Irene
gave a little cry of pain. 'My child!' said her grandmother, 'what
is the matter?'
Irene held her hand into the moonlight, that the old lady might see
it, and told her all about it, at which she looked grave. But she
only said: 'Give me your other hand'; and, having led her out upon
the little dark landing, opened the door on the opposite side of
it. What was Irene's surprise to see the loveliest room she had
ever seen in her life! It was large and lofty, and dome-shaped.
From the centre hung a lamp as round as a ball, shining as if with
the brightest moonlight, which made everything visible in the room,
though not so clearly that the princess could tell what many of the
things were. A large oval bed stood in the middle, with a coverlid
of rose colour, and velvet curtains all round it of a lovely pale
blue. The walls were also blue - spangled all over with what
looked like stars of silver.
The old lady left her and, going to a strange-looking cabinet,
opened it and took out a curious silver casket. Then she sat down
on a low chair and, calling Irene, made her kneel before her while
she looked at her hand. Having examined it, she opened the casket,
and took from it a little ointment. The sweetest odour filled the
room - like that of roses and lilies - as she rubbed the ointment
gently all over the hot swollen hand. Her touch was so pleasant
and cool that it seemed to drive away the pain and heat wherever it
'Oh, grandmother! it is so nice!' said Irene. 'Thank you; thank
Then the old lady went to a chest of drawers, and took out a large
handkerchief of gossamer-like cambric, which she tied round her
'I don't think I can let you go away tonight,' she said. 'Would
you like to sleep with me?'
'Oh, yes, yes, dear grandmother,' said Irene, and would have
clapped her hands, forgetting that she could not.
'You won't be afraid, then, to go to bed with such an old woman?'
'No. You are so beautiful, grandmother.'
'But I am very old.'
'And I suppose I am very young. You won't mind sleeping with such
a very young woman, grandmother?'
'You sweet little pertness!' said the old lady, and drew her
towards her, and kissed her on the forehead and the cheek and the
mouth. Then she got a large silver basin, and having poured some
water into it made Irene sit on the chair, and washed her feet.
This done, she was ready for bed. And oh, what a delicious bed it
was into which her grandmother laid her! She hardly could have
told she was lying upon anything: she felt nothing but the
The old lady having undressed herself lay down beside her.
'Why don't you put out your moon?' asked the princess.
'That never goes out, night or day,' she answered. 'In the darkest
night, if any of my pigeons are out on a message, they always see
my moon and know where to fly to.'
'But if somebody besides the pigeons were to see it - somebody
about the house, I mean - they would come to look what it was and
'The better for them, then,' said the old lady. 'But it does not
happen above five times in a hundred years that anyone does see it.
The greater part of those who do take it for a meteor, wink their
eyes, and forget it again. Besides, nobody could find the room
except I pleased. Besides, again - I will tell you a secret - if
that light were to go out you would fancy yourself lying in a bare
garret, on a heap of old straw, and would not see one of the
pleasant things round about you all the time.'
'I hope it will never go out,' said the princess.
'I hope not. But it is time we both went to sleep. Shall I take
you in my arms?'
The little princess nestled close up to the old lady, who took her
in both her arms and held her close to her bosom.
'Oh, dear! this is so nice!' said the princess. 'I didn't know
anything in the world could be so comfortable. I should like to
lie here for ever.'
'You may if you will,' said the old lady. 'But I must put you to
one trial-not a very hard one, I hope. This night week you must
come back to me. If you don't, I do not know when you may find me
again, and you Will soon want me very much.'
'Oh! please, don't let me forget.'
'You shall not forget. The only question is whether you will
believe I am anywhere - whether you will believe I am anything but
a dream. You may be sure I will do all I can to help you to come.
But it will rest with yourself, after all. On the night of next
Friday, you must come to me. Mind now.'
'I will try,' said the princess.
'Then good night,' said the old lady, and kissed the forehead which
lay in her bosom.
In a moment more the little princess was dreaming in the midst of
the loveliest dreams - of summer seas and moonlight and mossy
springs and great murmuring trees, and beds of wild flowers with
such odours as she had never smelled before. But, after all, no
dream could be more lovely than what she had left behind when she
In the morning she found herself in her own bed. There was no
handkerchief or anything else on her hand, only a sweet odour
lingered about it. The swelling had all gone down; the prick of
the brooch had vanished - in fact, her hand was perfectly well.
A Short Chapter About Curdie
Curdie spent many nights in the mine. His father and he had taken
Mrs. Peterson into the secret, for they knew mother could hold her
tongue, which was more than could be said of all the miners' wives.
But Curdie did not tell her that every night he spent in the mine,
part of it went in earning a new red petticoat for her.
Mrs. Peterson was such a nice good mother! All mothers are nice
and good more or less, but Mrs. Peterson was nice and good all more
and no less. She made and kept a little heaven in that poor
cottage on the high hillside for her husband and son to go home to
out of the low and rather dreary earth in which they worked. I
doubt if the princess was very much happier even in the arms of her
huge great-grandmother than Peter and Curdie were in the arms of
Mrs. Peterson. True, her hands were hard and chapped and large,
but it was with work for them; and therefore, in the sight of the
angels, her hands were so much the more beautiful. And if Curdie
worked hard to get her a petticoat, she worked hard every day to
get him comforts which he would have missed much more than she
would a new petticoat even in winter. Not that she and Curdie ever
thought of how much they worked for each other: that would have
When left alone in the mine Curdie always worked on for an hour or
two at first, following the lode which, according to Glump, would
lead at last into the deserted habitation. After that, he would
set out on a reconnoitring expedition. In order to manage this, or
rather the return from it, better than the first time, he had
bought a huge ball of fine string, having learned the trick from
Hop-o'-my-Thumb, whose history his mother had often told him. Not
that Hop-o'-my-Thumb had ever used a ball of string - I should be
sorry to be supposed so far out in my classics - but the principle
was the same as that of the pebbles. The end of this string he
fastened to his pickaxe, which figured no bad anchor, and then,
with the ball in his hand, unrolling it as he went, set out in the
dark through the natural gangs of the goblins' territory. The
first night or two he came upon nothing worth remembering; saw only
a little of the home-life of the cobs in the various caves they
called houses; failed in coming upon anything to cast light upon
the foregoing design which kept the inundation for the present in
the background. But at length, I think on the third or fourth
night, he found, partly guided by the noise of their implements, a
company of evidently the best sappers and miners amongst them, hard
at work. What were they about? It could not well be the
inundation, seeing that had in the meantime been postponed to
something else. Then what was it? He lurked and watched, every
now and then in the greatest risk of being detected, but without
success. He had again and again to retreat in haste, a proceeding
rendered the more difficult that he had to gather up his string as
he returned upon its course. It was not that he was afraid of the
goblins, but that he was afraid of their finding out that they were
watched, which might have prevented the discovery at which he
aimed. Sometimes his haste had to be such that, when he reached
home towards morning, his string, for lack of time to wind it up as
he 'dodged the cobs', would be in what seemed most hopeless
entanglement; but after a good sleep, though a short one, he always
found his mother had got it right again. There it was, wound in a
most respectable ball, ready for use the moment he should want it!
'I can't think how you do it, mother,' he would say.
'I follow the thread,' she would answer - 'just as you do in the
mine.' She never had more to say about it; but the less clever she
was with her words, the more clever she was with her hands; and the
less his mother said, the more Curdie believed she had to say. But
still he had made no discovery as to what the goblin miners were
The Cobs' Creatures
About this time the gentlemen whom the king had left behind him to
watch over the princess had each occasion to doubt the testimony of
his own eyes, for more than strange were the objects to which they
would bear witness. They were of one sort - creatures - but so
grotesque and misshapen as to be more like a child's drawings upon
his slate than anything natural. They saw them only at night,
while on guard about the house. The testimony of the man who first
reported having seen one of them was that, as he was walking slowly
round the house, while yet in the shadow, he caught sight of a
creature standing on its hind legs in the moonlight, with its
forefeet upon a window-ledge, staring in at the window. Its body
might have been that of a dog or wolf, he thought, but he declared
on his honour that its head was twice the size it ought to have
been for the size of its body, and as round as a ball, while the
face, which it turned upon him as it fled, was more like one carved
by a boy upon the turnip inside which he is going to put a candle
than anything else he could think of. It rushed into the garden.
He sent an arrow after it, and thought he must have struck it; for
it gave an unearthly howl, and he could not find his arrow any more
than the beast, although he searched all about the place where it
vanished. They laughed at him until he was driven to hold his
tongue, and said he must have taken too long a pull at the ale-jug.
But before two nights were over he had one to side with him, for
he, too, had seen something strange, only quite different from that
reported by the other. The description the second man gave of the
creature he had seen was yet more grotesque and unlikely. They
were both laughed at by the rest; but night after night another
came over to their side, until at last there was only one left to
laugh at all his companions. Two nights more passed, and he saw
nothing; but on the third he came rushing from the garden to the
other two before the house, in such an agitation that they declared
- for it was their turn now - that the band of his helmet was
cracking under his chin with the rising of his hair inside it.
Running with him into that part of the garden which I have already
described, they saw a score of creatures, to not one of which they
could give a name, and not one of which was like another, hideous
and ludicrous at once, gambolling on the lawn in the moonlight.
The supernatural or rather subnatural ugliness of their faces, the
length of legs and necks in some, the apparent absence of both or
either in others, made the spectators, although in one consent as
to what they saw, yet doubtful, as I have said, of the evidence of
their own eyes - and ears as well; for the noises they made,
although not loud, were as uncouth and varied as their forms, and
could be described neither as grunts nor squeaks nor roars nor
howls nor barks nor yells nor screams nor croaks nor hisses nor
mews nor shrieks, but only as something like all of them mingled in
one horrible dissonance. Keeping in the shade, the watchers had a
few moments to recover themselves before the hideous assembly
suspected their presence; but all at once, as if by common consent,
they scampered off in the direction of a great rock, and vanished
before the men had come to themselves sufficiently to think of
My readers will suspect what these were; but I will now give them
full information concerning them. They were, of course, household
animals belonging to the goblins, whose ancestors had taken their
ancestors many centuries before from the upper regions of light
into the lower regions of darkness. The original stocks of these
horrible creatures were very much the same as the animals now seen
about farms and homes in the country, with the exception of a few
of them, which had been wild creatures, such as foxes, and indeed
wolves and small bears, which the goblins, from their proclivity
towards the animal creation, had caught when cubs and tamed. But
in the course of time all had undergone even greater changes than
had passed upon their owners. They had altered - that is, their
descendants had altered - into such creatures as I have not
attempted to describe except in the vaguest manner - the various
parts of their bodies assuming, in an apparently arbitrary and
self-willed manner, the most abnormal developments. Indeed, so
little did any distinct type predominate in some of the bewildering
results, that you could only have guessed at any known animal as
the original, and even then, what likeness remained would be more
one of general expression than of definable conformation. But what
increased the gruesomeness tenfold was that, from constant
domestic, or indeed rather family association with the goblins,
their countenances had grown in grotesque resemblance to the human.
No one understands animals who does not see that every one of them,
even amongst the fishes, it may be with a dimness and vagueness
infinitely remote, yet shadows the human: in the case of these the
human resemblance had greatly increased: while their owners had
sunk towards them, they had risen towards their owners. But the
conditions of subterranean life being equally unnatural for both,
while the goblins were worse, the creatures had not improved by the
approximation, and its result would have appeared far more
ludicrous than consoling to the warmest lover of animal nature. I
shall now explain how it was that just then these animals began to
show themselves about the king's country house.
The goblins, as Curdie had discovered, were mining on - at work
both day and night, in divisions, urging the scheme after which he
lay in wait. In the course of their tunnelling they had broken
into the channel of a small stream, but the break being in the top
of it, no water had escaped to interfere with their work. Some of
the creatures, hovering as they often did about their masters, had
found the hole, and had, with the curiosity which had grown to a
passion from the restraints of their unnatural circumstances,
proceeded to explore the channel. The stream was the same which
ran out by the seat on which Irene and her king-papa had sat as I
have told, and the goblin creatures found it jolly fun to get out
for a romp on a smooth lawn such as they had never seen in all
their poor miserable lives. But although they had partaken enough
of the nature of their owners to delight in annoying and alarming
any of the people whom they met on the mountain, they were, of
course, incapable of designs of their own, or of intentionally
furthering those of their masters.
For several nights after the men-at-arms were at length of one mind
as to the fact of the visits of some horrible creatures, whether
bodily or spectral they could not yet say, they watched with
special attention that part of the garden where they had last seen
them. Perhaps indeed they gave in consequence too little attention
to the house. But the creatures were too cunning to be easily
caught; nor were the watchers quick-eyed enough to descry the head,
or the keen eyes in it, which, from the opening whence the stream
issued, would watch them in turn, ready, the moment they should
leave the lawn, to report the place clear.
That Night Week
During the whole of the week Irene had been thinking every other
moment of her promise to the old lady, although even now she could
not feel quite sure that she had not been dreaming. Could it
really be that an old lady lived up in the top of the house, with
pigeons and a spinning-wheel, and a lamp that never went out? She
was, however, none the less determined, on the coming Friday, to
ascend the three stairs, walk through the passages with the many
doors, and try to find the tower in which she had either seen or
dreamed her grandmother.
Her nurse could not help wondering what had come to the child - she
would sit so thoughtfully silent, and even in the midst of a game
with her would so suddenly fall into a dreamy mood. But Irene took
care to betray nothing, whatever efforts Lootie might make to get
at her thoughts. And Lootie had to say to herself: 'What an odd
child she is!' and give it up.
At length the longed-for Friday arrived, and lest Lootie should be
moved to watch her, Irene endeavoured to keep herself as quiet as
possible. In the afternoon she asked for her doll's house, and
went on arranging and rearranging the various rooms and their
inhabitants for a whole hour. Then she gave a sigh and threw
herself back in her chair. One of the dolls would not sit, and
another would not stand, and they were all very tiresome. Indeed,
there was one would not even lie down, which was too bad. But it
was now getting dark, and the darker it got the more excited Irene
became, and the more she felt it necessary to be composed.
'I see you want your tea, princess,' said the nurse: 'I will go and
get it. The room feels close: I will open the window a little.
The evening is mild: it won't hurt you.'
'There's no fear of that, Lootie,' said Irene, wishing she had put
off going for the tea till it was darker, when she might have made
her attempt with every advantage.
I fancy Lootie was longer in returning than she had intended; for
when Irene, who had been lost in thought, looked up, she saw it was
nearly dark, and at the same moment caught sight of a pair of eyes,
bright with a green light, glowering at her through the open
window. The next instant something leaped into the room. It was
like a cat, with legs as long as a horse's, Irene said, but its
body no bigger and its legs no thicker than those of a cat. She
was too frightened to cry out, but not too frightened to jump from
her chair and run from the room.
It is plain enough to every one of my readers what she ought to
have done - and indeed,Irene thought of it herself; but when she
came to the foot of the old stair, just outside the nursery door,
she imagined the creature running up those long ascents after her,
and pursuing her through the dark passages - which, after all,
might lead to no tower! That thought was too much. Her heart
failed her, and, turning from the stair, she rushed along to the
hall, whence, finding the front door open, she darted into the
court pursued - at least she thought so - by the creature. No one
happening to see her, on she ran, unable to think for fear, and
ready to run anywhere to elude the awful creature with the
stilt-legs. Not daring to look behind her, she rushed straight out
of the gate and up the mountain. It was foolish indeed - thus to
run farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had
been seeking a fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in his
leisure; but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with
the thing we are afraid of.
The princess was soon out of breath with running uphill; but she
ran on, for she fancied the horrible creature just behind her,
forgetting that, had it been after her such long legs as those must
have overtaken her long ago. At last she could run no longer, and
fell, unable even to scream, by the roadside, where she lay for
some time half dead with terror. But finding nothing lay hold of
her, and her breath beginning to come back, she ventured at length
to get half up and peer anxiously about her. It was now so dark
she could see nothing. Not a single star was out. She could not
even tell in what direction the house lay, and between her and home
she fancied the dreadful creature lying ready to pounce upon her.
She saw now that she ought to have run up the stairs at once. It
was well she did not scream; for, although very few of the goblins
had come out for weeks, a stray idler or two might have heard her.
She sat down upon a stone, and nobody but one who had done
something wrong could have been more miserable. She had quite
forgotten her promise to visit her grandmother. A raindrop fell on
her face. She looked up, and for a moment her terror was lost in
astonishment. At first she thought the rising moon had left her
place, and drawn nigh to see what could be the matter with the
little girl, sitting alone, without hat or cloak, on the dark bare
mountain; but she soon saw she was mistaken, for there was no light
on the ground at her feet, and no shadow anywhere. But a great
silver globe was hanging in the air; and as she gazed at the lovely
thing, her courage revived. If she were but indoors again, she
would fear nothing, not even the terrible creature with the long
legs! But how was she to find her way back? What could that light
be? Could it be -? No, it couldn't. But what if it should be -
yes - it must be - her great-great-grandmother's lamp, which guided
her pigeons home through the darkest night! She jumped up: she had
but to keep that light in view and she must find the house. Her
heart grew strong. Speedily, yet softly, she walked down the hill,
hoping to pass the watching creature unseen. Dark as it was, there
was little danger now of choosing the wrong road. And - which was
most strange - the light that filled her eyes from the lamp,
instead of blinding them for a moment to the object upon which they
next fell, enabled her for a moment to see it, despite the
darkness. By looking at the lamp and then dropping her eyes, she
could see the road for a yard or two in front of her, and this
saved her from several falls, for the road was very rough. But all
at once, to her dismay, it vanished, and the terror of the beast,
which had left her the moment she began to return, again laid hold
of her heart. The same instant, however, she caught the light of
the windows, and knew exactly where she was. It was too dark to
run, but she made what haste she could, and reached the gate in
safety. She found the house door still open, ran through the hall,
and, without even looking into the nursery, bounded straight up the
stair, and the next, and the next; then turning to the right, ran
through the long avenue of silent rooms, and found her way at once
to the door at the foot of the tower stair.
When first the nurse missed her, she fancied she was playing her a
trick, and for some time took no trouble about her; but at last,
getting frightened, she had begun to search; and when the princess
entered, the whole household was hither and thither over the house,
hunting for her. A few seconds after she reached the stair of the
tower they had even begun to search the neglected rooms, in which
they would never have thought of looking had they not already
searched every other place they could think of in vain. But by
this time she was knocking at the old lady's door.
Woven and Then Spun
'Come in, Irene,' said the silvery voice of her grandmother.
The princess opened the door and peeped in. But the room was quite
dark and there was no sound of the spinning-wheel. She grew
frightened once more, thinking that, although the room was there,
the old lady might be a dream after all. Every little girl knows
how dreadful it is to find a room empty where she thought somebody
was; but Irene had to fancy for a moment that the person she came
to find was nowhere at all. She remembered, however, that at night
she spun only in the moonlight, and concluded that must be why
there was no sweet, bee-like humming: the old lady might be
somewhere in the darkness. Before she had time to think another
thought, she heard her voice again, saying as before: 'Come in,
Irene.' From the sound, she understood at once that she was not in
the room beside her. Perhaps she was in her bedroom. She turned
across the passage, feeling her way to the other door. When her
hand fell on the lock, again the old lady spoke:
'Shut the other door behind you, Irene. I always close the door of
my workroom when I go to my chamber.'
Irene wondered to hear her voice so plainly through the door:
having shut the other, she opened it and went in. Oh, what a
lovely haven to reach from the darkness and fear through which she
had come! The soft light made her feel as if she were going into
the heart of the milkiest pearl; while the blue walls and their
silver stars for a moment perplexed her with the fancy that they
were in reality the sky which she had left outside a minute ago
covered with rainclouds.
'I've lighted a fire for you, Irene: you're cold and wet,' said her
Then Irene looked again, and saw that what she had taken for a huge
bouquet of red roses on a low stand against the wall was in fact a
fire which burned in the shapes of the loveliest and reddest roses,
glowing gorgeously between the heads and wings of two cherubs of
shining silver. And when she came nearer, she found that the smell
of roses with which the room was filled came from the fire-roses on
the hearth. Her grandmother was dressed in the loveliest pale blue
velvet, over which her hair, no longer white, but of a rich golden
colour, streamed like a cataract, here falling in dull gathered
heaps, there rushing away in smooth shining falls. And ever as she
looked, the hair seemed pouring down from her head and vanishing in
a golden mist ere it reached the floor. It flowed from under the
edge of a circle of shining silver, set with alternated pearls and
opals. On her dress was no ornament whatever, neither was there a
ring on her hand, or a necklace or carcanet about her neck. But
her slippers glimmered with the light of the Milky Way, for they
were covered with seed-pearls and opals in one mass. Her face was
that of a woman of three-and-twenty.
The princess was so bewildered with astonishment and admiration
that she could hardly thank her, and drew nigh with timidity,
feeling dirty and uncomfortable. The lady was seated on a low
chair by the side of the fire, with hands outstretched to take her,
but the princess hung back with a troubled smile.
'Why, what's the matter?' asked her grandmother. 'You haven't been
doing anything wrong - I know that by your face, though it is
rather miserable. What's the matter, my dear?'
And she still held out her arms.
'Dear grandmother,' said Irene, 'I'm not so sure that I haven't
done something wrong. I ought to have run up to you at once when
the long-legged cat came in at the window, instead of running out
on the mountain and making myself such a fright.'
'You were taken by surprise, my child, and you are not so likely to
do it again. It is when people do wrong things wilfully that they
are the more likely to do them again. Come.'
And still she held out her arms.
'But, grandmother, you're so beautiful and grand with your crown
on; and I am so dirty with mud and rain! I should quite spoil your
beautiful blue dress.'
With a merry little laugh the lady sprung from her chair, more
lightly far than Irene herself could, caught the child to her
bosom, and, kissing the tear-stained face over and over, sat down
with her in her lap.
'Oh, grandmother! You'll make yourself such a mess!' cried Irene,
clinging to her.
'You darling! do you think I care more for my dress than for my
little girl? Besides - look here.'
As she spoke she set her down, and Irene saw to her dismay that the
lovely dress was covered with the mud of her fall on the mountain
road. But the lady stooped to the fire, and taking from it, by the
stalk in her fingers, one of the burning roses, passed it once and
again and a third time over the front of her dress; and when Irene
looked, not a single stain was to be discovered.
'There!' said her grandmother, 'you won't mind coming to me now?'
But Irene again hung back, eying the flaming rose which the lady
held in her hand.
'You're not afraid of the rose - are you?' she said, about to throw
it on the hearth again.
'Oh! don't, please!' cried Irene. 'Won't you hold it to my frock
and my hands and my face? And I'm afraid my feet and my knees want
'No, answered her grandmother, smiling a little sadly, as she threw
the rose from her; 'it is too hot for you yet. It would set your
frock in a flame. Besides, I don't want to make you clean tonight.
I want your nurse and the rest of the people to see you as you are,
for you will have to tell them how you ran away for fear of the
long-legged cat. I should like to wash you, but they would not
believe you then. Do you see that bath behind you?'
The princess looked, and saw a large oval tub of silver, shining
brilliantly in the light of the wonderful lamp.
'Go and look into it,' said the lady.
Irene went, and came back very silent with her eyes shining.
'What did you see?' asked her grandmother.
'The sky, and the moon and the stars,' she answered. 'It looked as
if there was no bottom to it.'
The lady smiled a pleased satisfied smile, and was silent also for
a few moments. Then she said:
'Any time you want a bath, come to me. I know YOU have a bath
every morning, but sometimes you want one at night, too.'
'Thank you, grandmother; I will - I will indeed,' answered Irene,
and was again silent for some moments thinking. Then she said:
'How was it, grandmother, that I saw your beautiful lamp - not the
light of it only - but the great round silvery lamp itself, hanging
alone in the great open air, high up? It was your lamp I saw -
'Yes, my child - it was my lamp.'
'Then how was it? I don't see a window all round.'
'When I please I can make the lamp shine through the walls - shine
so strong that it melts them away from before the sight, and shows
itself as you saw it. But, as I told you, it is not everybody can
'How is it that I can, then? I'm sure I don't know.'
'It is a gift born with you. And one day I hope everybody will
'But how do you make it shine through the walls?'
'Ah! that you would not understand if I were to try ever so much to
make you - not yet - not yet. But,' added the lady, rising, 'you
must sit in my chair while I get you the present I have been
preparing for you. I told you my spinning was for you. It is
finished now, and I am going to fetch it. I have been keeping it
warm under one of my brooding pigeons.'
Irene sat down in the low chair, and her grandmother left her,
shutting the door behind her. The child sat gazing, now at the
rose fire, now at the starry walls, now at the silver light; and a
great quietness grew in her heart. If all the long-legged cats in
the world had come rushing at her then she would not have been
afraid of them for a moment. How this was she could not tell - she
only knew there was no fear in her, and everything was so right and
safe that it could not get in.
She had been gazing at the lovely lamp for some minutes fixedly:
turning her eyes, she found the wall had vanished, for she was
looking out on the dark cloudy night. But though she heard the
wind blowing, none of it blew upon her. In a moment more the
clouds themselves parted, or rather vanished like the wall, and she
looked straight into the starry herds, flashing gloriously in the
dark blue. It was but for a moment. The clouds gathered again and
shut out the stars; the wall gathered again and shut out the
clouds; and there stood the lady beside her with the loveliest
smile on her face, and a shimmering ball in her hand, about the
size of a pigeon's egg.
'There, Irene; there is my work for you!' she said, holding out the
ball to the princess.
She took it in her hand, and looked at it all over. It sparkled a
little, and shone here and there, but not much. It was of a sort
of grey-whiteness, something like spun glass.
'Is this all your spinning, grandmother?' she asked.
'All since you came to the house. There is more there than you
'How pretty it is! What am I to do with it, please?'
'That I will now explain to you,' answered the lady, turning from
her and going to her cabinet. She came back with a small ring in
her hand. Then she took the ball from Irene's, and did something
with the ring - Irene could not tell what.
'Give me your hand,' she said. Irene held up her right hand.
'Yes, that is the hand I want,' said the lady, and put the ring on
the forefinger of it.
'What a beautiful ring!' said Irene. 'What is the stone called?'
'It is a fire-opal.'
'Please, am I to keep it?'
'Oh, thank you, grandmother! It's prettier than anything I ever
saw, except those - of all colours-in your - Please, is that your
'Yes, it is my crown. The stone in your ring is of the same sort
- only not so good. It has only red, but mine have all colours,
'Yes, grandmother. I will take such care of it! But -' she added,
'But what?' asked her grandmother.
'What am I to say when Lootie asks me where I got it?'
'You will ask her where you got it,' answered the lady smiling.
'I don't see how I can do that.'
'You will, though.'
'Of course I will, if you say so. But, you know, I can't pretend
not to know.'
'Of course not. But don't trouble yourself about it. You will see
when the time comes.'
So saying, the lady turned, and threw the little ball into the rose
'Oh, grandmother!' exclaimed Irene; 'I thought you had spun it for
'So I did, my child. And you've got it.'
'No; it's burnt in the fire!'
The lady put her hand in the fire, brought out the ball, glimmering
as before, and held it towards her. Irene stretched out her hand
to take it, but the lady turned and, going to her cabinet, opened
a drawer, and laid the ball in it.
'Have I done anything to vex you, grandmother?' said Irene
'No, my darling. But you must understand that no one ever gives
anything to another properly and really without keeping it. That
ball is yours.'
'Oh! I'm not to take it with me! You are going to keep it for me!'
'You are to take it with you. I've fastened the end of it to the
ring on your finger.'
Irene looked at the ring.
'I can't see it there, grandmother,' she said.
'Feel - a little way from the ring - towards the cabinet,' said the
'Oh! I do feel it!' exclaimed the princess. 'But I can't see it,'
she added, looking close to her outstretched hand.
'No. The thread is too fine for you to see it. You can only feel
it. Now you can fancy how much spinning that took, although it
does seem such a little ball.'
'But what use can I make of it, if it lies in your cabinet?'
'That is what I will explain to you. It would be of no use to you
- it wouldn't be yours at all if it did not lie in my cabinet. Now
listen. If ever you find yourself in any danger - such, for
example, as you were in this same evening - you must take off your
ring and put it under the pillow of your bed. Then you must lay
your finger, the same that wore the ring, upon the thread, and
follow the thread wherever it leads you.'
'Oh, how delightful! It will lead me to you, grandmother, I know!'
'Yes. But, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way
indeed, and you must not doubt the thread. Of one thing you may be
sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.'
'It is very wonderful!' said Irene thoughtfully. Then suddenly
becoming aware, she jumped up, crying:
'Oh, grandmother! here have I been sitting all this time in your
chair, and you standing! I beg your pardon.'
The lady laid her hand on her shoulder, and said:
'Sit down again, Irene. Nothing pleases me better than to see
anyone sit in my chair. I am only too glad to stand so long as
anyone will sit in it.'
'How kind of you!' said the princess, and sat down again.
'It makes me happy,' said the lady.
'But,' said Irene, still puzzled, 'won't the thread get in
somebody's way and be broken, if the one end is fast to my ring,
and the other laid in your cabinet?'
'You will find all that arrange itself. I am afraid it is time for
you to go.'
'Mightn't I stay and sleep with you tonight, grandmother?'
'No, not tonight. If I had meant you to stay tonight, I should
have given you a bath; but you know everybody in the house is
miserable about you, and it would be cruel to keep them so all
night. You must go downstairs.'
'I'm so glad, grandmother, you didn't say "Go home," for this is my
home. Mayn't I call this my home?'
'You may, my child. And I trust you will always think it your
home. Now come. I must take you back without anyone seeing you.'
'Please, I want to ask you one question more,' said Irene. 'Is it
because you have your crown on that you look so young?'
'No, child,' answered her grandmother; 'it is because I felt so
young this evening that I put my crown on. And I thought you would
like to see your old grandmother in her best.'
'Why do you call yourself old? You're not old, grandmother.'
'I am very old indeed. It is so silly of people - I don't mean
you, for you are such a tiny, and couldn't know better - but it is
so silly of people to fancy that old age means crookedness and
witheredness and feebleness and sticks and spectacles and
rheumatism and forgetfulness! It is so silly! Old age has nothing
whatever to do with all that. The right old age means strength and
beauty and mirth and courage and clear eyes and strong painless
limbs. I am older than you are able to think, and -'
'And look at you, grandmother!' cried Irene, jumping up and
flinging her arms about her neck. 'I won't be so silly again, I
promise you. At least - I'm rather afraid to promise - but if I
am, I promise to be sorry for it - I do. I wish I were as old as
you, grandmother. I don't think you are ever afraid of anything.'
'Not for long, at least, my child. Perhaps by the time I am two
thousand years of age, I shall, indeed, never be afraid of
anything. But I confess I have sometimes been afraid about my
children - sometimes about you, Irene.'
'Oh, I'm so sorry, grandmother! Tonight, I suppose, you mean.'
'Yes - a little tonight; but a good deal when you had all but made
up your mind that I was a dream, and no real
great-great-grandmother. You must not suppose I am blaming you for
that. I dare say you could not help it.'
'I don't know, grandmother,' said the princess, beginning to cry.
'I can't always do myself as I should like. And I don't always
try. I'm very sorry anyhow.'
The lady stooped, lifted her in her arms, and sat down with her in
her chair, holding her close to her bosom. In a few minutes the
princess had sobbed herself to sleep. How long she slept I do not
know. When she came to herself she was sitting in her own high
chair at the nursery table, with her doll's house before her.
The same moment her nurse came into the room, sobbing. When she
saw her sitting there she started back with a loud cry of amazement
and joy. Then running to her, she caught her in her arms and
covered her with kisses.
'My precious darling princess! where have you been? What has
happened to you? We've all been crying our eyes out, and searching
the house from top to bottom for you.'
'Not quite from the top,' thought Irene to herself; and she might
have added, 'not quite to the bottom', perhaps, if she had known
all. But the one she would not, and the other she could not say.
'Oh, Lootie! I've had such a dreadful adventure!' she replied, and
told her all about the cat with the long legs, and how she ran out
upon the mountain, and came back again. But she said nothing of
her grandmother or her lamp.
'And there we've been searching for you all over the house for more
than an hour and a half!' exclaimed the nurse. 'But that's no
matter, now we've got you! Only, princess, I must say,' she added,
her mood changing, 'what you ought to have done was to call for
your own Lootie to come and help you, instead of running out of the
house, and up the mountain, in that wild, I must say, foolish
'Well, Lootie,' said Irene quietly, 'perhaps if you had a big cat,
all legs, running at you, you might not exactly know what was the
wisest thing to do at the moment.'
'I wouldn't run up the mountain, anyhow,' returned Lootie.
'Not if you had time to think about it. But when those creatures
came at you that night on the mountain, you were so frightened
yourself that you lost your way home.'
This put a stop to Lootie's reproaches. She had been on the point
of saying that the long-legged cat must have been a twilight fancy
of the princess's, but the memory of the horrors of that night, and
of the talking-to which the king had given her in consequence,
prevented her from saying what after all she did not half believe
- having a strong suspicion that the cat was a goblin; for she knew
nothing of the difference between the goblins and their creatures:
she counted them all just goblins.
Without another word she went and got some fresh tea and bread and
butter for the princess. Before she returned, the whole household,
headed by the housekeeper, burst into the nursery to exult over
their darling. The gentlemen-at-arms followed, and were ready
enough to believe all she told them about the long-legged cat.
Indeed, though wise enough to say nothing about it, they
remembered, with no little horror, just such a creature amongst
those they had surprised at their gambols upon the princess's lawn.
In their own hearts they blamed themselves for not having kept
better watch. And their captain gave orders that from this night
the front door and all the windows on the ground floor should be
locked immediately the sun set, and opened after upon no pretence
whatever. The men-at-arms redoubled their vigilance, and for some
time there was no further cause of alarm.
When the princess woke the next morning, her nurse was bending over
her. 'How your ring does glow this morning, princess! - just like
a fiery rose!' she said.
'Does it, Lootie?' returned Irene. 'Who gave me the ring, Lootie?
I know I've had it a long time, but where did I get it? I don't
'I think it must have been your mother gave it you, princess; but
really, for as long as you have worn it, I don't remember that ever
I heard,' answered her nurse.
'I will ask my king-papa the next time he comes,' said Irene.
The spring so dear to all creatures, young and old, came at last,
and before the first few days of it had gone, the king rode through
its budding valleys to see his little daughter. He had been in a
distant part of his dominions all the winter, for he was not in the
habit of stopping in one great city, or of visiting only his
favourite country houses, but he moved from place to place, that
all his people might know him. Wherever he journeyed, he kept a
constant look-out for the ablest and best men to put into office;
and wherever he found himself mistaken, and those he had appointed
incapable or unjust, he removed them at once. Hence you see it was
his care of the people that kept him from seeing his princess so
often as he would have liked. You may wonder why he did not take
her about with him; but there were several reasons against his
doing so, and I suspect her great-great-grandmother had had a
principal hand in preventing it. Once more Irene heard the
bugle-blast, and once more she was at the gate to meet her father
as he rode up on his great white horse.
After they had been alone for a little while, she thought of what
she had resolved to ask him.
'Please, king-papa,' she said, 'Will you tell me where I got this
pretty ring? I can't remember.'
The king looked at it. A strange beautiful smile spread like
sunshine over his face, and an answering smile, but at the same
time a questioning one, spread like moonlight over Irene's. 'It
was your queen-mamma's once,' he said.
'And why isn't it hers now?' asked Irene.
'She does not want it now,' said the king, looking grave.
'Why doesn't she want it now?'
'Because she's gone where all those rings are made.'
'And when shall I see her?' asked the princess.
'Not for some time yet,' answered the king, and the tears came into
Irene did not remember her mother and did not know why her father
looked so, and why the tears came in his eyes; but she put her arms
round his neck and kissed him, and asked no more questions.
The king was much disturbed on hearing the report of the
gentlemen-at-arms concerning the creatures they had seen; and I
presume would have taken Irene with him that very day, but for what
the presence of the ring on her finger assured him of. About an
hour before he left, Irene saw him go up the old stair; and he did
not come down again till they were just ready to start; and she
thought with herself that he had been up to see the old lady. When
he went away he left other six gentlemen behind him, that there
might be six of them always on guard.
And now, in the lovely spring weather, Irene was out on the
mountain the greater part of the day. In the warmer hollows there
were lovely primroses, and not so many that she ever got tired of
them. As often as she saw a new one opening an eye of light in the
blind earth, she would clap her hands with gladness, and unlike
some children I know, instead of pulling it, would touch it as
tenderly as if it had been a new baby, and, having made its
acquaintance, would leave it as happy as she found it. She treated
the plants on which they grew like birds' nests; every fresh flower
was like a new little bird to her. She would pay visits to all the
flower-nests she knew, remembering each by itself. She would go
down on her hands and knees beside one and say: 'Good morning! Are
you all smelling very sweet this morning? Good-bye!' and then she
would go to another nest, and say the same. It was a favourite
amusement with her. There were many flowers up and down, and she
loved them all, but the primroses were her favourites.
'They're not too shy, and they're not a bit forward,' she would say
There were goats too about, over the mountain, and when the little
kids came she was as pleased with them as with the flowers. The
goats belonged to the miners mostly-a few of them to Curdie's
mother; but there were a good many wild ones that seemed to belong
to nobody. These the goblins counted theirs, and it was upon them
partly that they lived. They set snares and dug pits for them; and
did not scruple to take what tame ones happened to be caught; but
they did not try to steal them in any other manner, because they
were afraid of the dogs the hill-people kept to watch them, for the
knowing dogs always tried to bite their feet. But the goblins had
a kind of sheep of their own - very queer creatures, which they
drove out to feed at night, and the other goblin creatures were
wise enough to keep good watch over them, for they knew they should
have their bones by and by.
Curdie was as watchful as ever, but was almost getting tired of his
ill success. Every other night or so he followed the goblins
about, as they went on digging and boring, and getting as near them
as he could, watched them from behind stones and rocks; but as yet
he seemed no nearer finding out what they had in view. As at
first, he always kept hold of the end of his string, while his
pickaxe, left just outside the hole by which he entered the
goblins' country from the mine, continued to serve as an anchor and
hold fast the other end. The goblins, hearing no more noise in
that quarter, had ceased to apprehend an immediate invasion, and
kept no watch.
One night, after dodging about and listening till he was nearly
falling asleep with weariness, he began to roll up his ball, for he
had resolved to go home to bed. It was not long, however, before
he began to feel bewildered. One after another he passed goblin
houses, caves, that is, occupied by goblin families, and at length
was sure they were many more than he had passed as he came. He had
to use great caution to pass unseen - they lay so close together.
Could his string have led him wrong? He still followed winding it,
and still it led him into more thickly populated quarters, until he
became quite uneasy, and indeed apprehensive; for although he was
not afraid of the cobs, he was afraid of not finding his way out.
But what could he do? It was of no use to sit down and wait for
the morning - the morning made no difference here. It was dark,
and always dark; and if his string failed him he was helpless. He
might even arrive within a yard of the mine and never know it.
Seeing he could do nothing better he would at least find where the
end of his string was, and, if possible, how it had come to play
him such a trick. He knew by the size of the ball that he was
getting pretty near the last of it, when he began to feel a tugging
and pulling at it. What could it mean? Turning a sharp corner, he
thought he heard strange sounds. These grew, as he went on, to a
scuffling and growling and squeaking; and the noise increased,
until, turning a second sharp corner, he found himself in the midst
of it, and the same moment tumbled over a wallowing mass, which he
knew must be a knot of the cobs' creatures. Before he could
recover his feet, he had caught some great scratches on his face
and several severe bites on his legs and arms. But as he scrambled
to get up, his hand fell upon his pickaxe, and before the horrid
beasts could do him any serious harm, he was laying about with it
right and left in the dark. The hideous cries which followed gave
him the satisfaction of knowing that he had punished some of them
pretty smartly for their rudeness, and by their scampering and
their retreating howls, he perceived that he had routed them. He
stood for a little, weighing his battle-axe in his hand as if it
had been the most precious lump of metal - but indeed no lump of
gold itself could have been so precious at the time as that common
tool - then untied the end of the string from it, put the ball in
his pocket, and still stood thinking. It was clear that the cobs'
creatures had found his axe, had between them carried it off, and
had so led him he knew not where. But for all his thinking he
could not tell what he ought to do, until suddenly he became aware
of a glimmer of light in the distance. Without a moment's
hesitation he set out for it, as fast as the unknown and rugged way
would permit. Yet again turning a corner, led by the dim light, he
spied something quite new in his experience of the underground
regions - a small irregular shape of something shining. Going up
to it, he found it was a piece of mica, or Muscovy glass, called
sheep-silver in Scotland, and the light flickered as if from a fire
behind it. After trying in vain for some time to discover an
entrance to the place where it was burning, he came at length to a
small chamber in which an opening, high in the wall, revealed a
glow beyond. To this opening he managed to scramble up, and then
he saw a strange sight.
Below sat a little group of goblins around a fire, the smoke of
which vanished in the darkness far aloft. The sides of the cave
were full of shining minerals like those of the palace hall; and
the company was evidently of a superior order, for every one wore
stones about head, or arms, or waist, shining dull gorgeous colours
in the light of the fire. Nor had Curdie looked long before he
recognized the king himself, and found that he had made his way
into the inner apartment of the royal family. He had never had
such a good chance of hearing something. He crept through the hole
as softly as he could, scrambled a good way down the wall towards
them without attracting attention, and then sat down and listened.
The king, evidently the queen, and probably the crown prince and
the Prime Minister were talking together. He was sure of the queen
by her shoes, for as she warmed her feet at the fire, he saw them
'That will be fun!' said the one he took for the crown prince.
It was the first whole sentence he heard.
'I don't see why you should think it such a grand affair!' said his
stepmother, tossing her head backward.
'You must remember, my spouse,' interposed His Majesty, as if
making excuse for his son, 'he has got the same blood in him. His
'Don't talk to me of his mother! You positively encourage his
unnatural fancies. Whatever belongs to that mother ought to be cut
out of him.'
'You forget yourself, my dear!' said the king.
'I don't,' said the queen, 'nor you either. If you expect me to
approve of such coarse tastes, you will find yourself mistaken. I
don't wear shoes for nothing.'
'You must acknowledge, however,' the king said, with a little
groan, 'that this at least is no whim of Harelip's, but a matter of
State policy. You are well aware that his gratification comes
purely from the pleasure of sacrificing himself to the public good.
Does it not, Harelip?'
'Yes, father; of course it does. Only it will be nice to make her
cry. I'll have the skin taken off between her toes, and tie them
up till they grow together. Then her feet will be like other
people's, and there will be no occasion for her to wear shoes.'
'Do you mean to insinuate I've got toes, you unnatural wretch?'
cried the queen; and she moved angrily towards Harelip. The
councillor, however, who was betwixt them, leaned forward so as to
prevent her touching him, but only as if to address the prince.
'Your Royal Highness,' he said, 'possibly requires to be reminded
that you have got three toes yourself - one on one foot, two on the
'Ha! ha! ha!' shouted the queen triumphantly.
The councillor, encouraged by this mark of favour, went on.
'It seems to me, Your Royal Highness, it would greatly endear you
to your future people, proving to them that you are not the less
one of themselves that you had the misfortune to be born of a
sun-mother, if you were to command upon yourself the comparatively
slight operation which, in a more extended form, you so wisely
meditate with regard to your future princess.'
'Ha! ha! ha!' laughed the queen louder than before, and the king
and the minister joined in the laugh. Harelip growled, and for a
few moments the others continued to express their enjoyment of his
The queen was the only one Curdie could see with any distinctness.
She sat sideways to him, and the light of the fire shone full upon
her face. He could not consider her handsome. Her nose was
certainly broader at the end than its extreme length, and her eyes,
instead of being horizontal, were set up like two perpendicular
eggs, one on the broad, the other on the small end. Her mouth was
no bigger than a small buttonhole until she laughed, when it
stretched from ear to ear - only, to be sure, her ears were very
nearly in the middle of her cheeks.
Anxious to hear everything they might say, Curdie ventured to slide
down a smooth part of the rock just under him, to a projection
below, upon which he thought to rest. But whether he was not
careful enough, or the projection gave way, down he came with a
rush on the floor of the cavern, bringing with him a great rumbling
shower of stones.
The goblins jumped from their seats in more anger than
consternation, for they had never yet seen anything to be afraid of
in the palace. But when they saw Curdie with his pick in his hand
their rage was mingled with fear, for they took him for the first
of an invasion of miners. The king notwithstanding drew himself up
to his full height of four feet, spread himself to his full breadth
of three and a half, for he was the handsomest and squarest of all
the goblins, and strutting up to Curdie, planted himself with
outspread feet before him, and said with dignity:
'Pray what right have you in my palace?'
'The right of necessity, Your Majesty,' answered Curdie. 'I lost
my way and did not know where I was wandering to.'
'How did you get in?'
'By a hole in the mountain.'
'But you are a miner! Look at your pickaxe!'
Curdie did look at it, answering:
'I came upon it lying on the ground a little way from here. I
tumbled over some wild beasts who were playing with it. Look, Your
Majesty.' And Curdie showed him how he was scratched and bitten.
The king was pleased to find him behave more politely than he had
expected from what his people had told him concerning the miners,
for he attributed it to the power of his own presence; but he did
not therefore feel friendly to the intruder.
'You will oblige me by walking out of my dominions at once,' he
said, well knowing what a mockery lay in the words.
'With pleasure, if Your Majesty will give me a guide,' said Curdie.
'I will give you a thousand,' said the king with a scoffing air of
'One will be quite sufficient,' said Curdie.
But the king uttered a strange shout, half halloo, half roar, and
in rushed goblins till the cave was swarming. He said something to
the first of them which Curdie could not hear, and it was passed
from one to another till in a moment the farthest in the crowd had
evidently heard and understood it. They began to gather about him
in a way he did not relish, and he retreated towards the wall.
They pressed upon him.
'Stand back,' said Curdie, grasping his pickaxe tighter by his
They only grinned and pressed closer. Curdie bethought himself and
began to rhyme.
'Ten, twenty, thirty -
You're all so very dirty!
Twenty, thirty, forty -
You're all so thick and snorty!
'Thirty, forty, fifty -
You're all so puff-and-snifty!
Forty, fifty, sixty -
Beast and man so mixty!
'Fifty, sixty, seventy -
Mixty, maxty, leaventy!
Sixty, seventy, eighty -
All your cheeks so slaty!
'Seventy, eighty, ninety,
All your hands so flinty!
Eighty, ninety, hundred,
The goblins fell back a little when he began, and made horrible
grimaces all through the rhyme, as if eating something so
disagreeable that it set their teeth on edge and gave them the
creeps; but whether it was that the rhyming words were most of them
no words at all, for, a new rhyme being considered the more
efficacious, Curdie had made it on the spur of the moment, or
whether it was that the presence of the king and queen gave them
courage, I cannot tell; but the moment the rhyme was over they
crowded on him again, and out shot a hundred long arms, with a
multitude of thick nailless fingers at the ends of them, to lay
hold upon him. Then Curdie heaved up his axe. But being as gentle
as courageous and not wishing to kill any of them, he turned the
end which was square and blunt like a hammer, and with that came
down a great blow on the head of the goblin nearest him. Hard as
the heads of all goblins are, he thought he must feel that. And so
he did, no doubt; but he only gave a horrible cry, and sprung at
Curdie's throat. Curdie, however, drew back in time, and just at
that critical moment remembered the vulnerable part of the goblin
body. He made a sudden rush at the king and stamped with all his
might on His Majesty's feet. The king gave a most unkingly howl
and almost fell into the fire. Curdie then rushed into the crowd,
stamping right and left. The goblins drew back, howling on every
side as he approached, but they were so crowded that few of those
he attacked could escape his tread; and the shrieking and roaring
that filled the cave would have appalled Curdie but for the good
hope it gave him. They were tumbling over each other in heaps in
their eagerness to rush from the cave, when a new assailant
suddenly faced him - the queen, with flaming eyes and expanded
nostrils, her hair standing half up from her head, rushed at him.
She trusted in her shoes: they were of granite - hollowed like
French sabots. Curdie would have endured much rather than hurt a
woman, even if she was a goblin; but here was an affair of life and
death: forgetting her shoes, he made a great stamp on one of her
feet. But she instantly returned it with very different effect,
causing him frightful pain, and almost disabling him. His only
chance with her would have been to attack the granite shoes with
his pickaxe, but before he could think of that she had caught him
up in her arms and was rushing with him across the cave. She
dashed him into a hole in the wall, with a force that almost
stunned him. But although he could not move, he was not too far
gone to hear her great cry, and the rush of multitudes of soft
feet, followed by the sounds of something heaved up against the
rock; after which came a multitudinous patter of stones falling
near him. The last had not ceased when he grew very faint, for his
head had been badly cut, and at last insensible.
When he came to himself there was perfect silence about him, and
utter darkness, but for the merest glimmer in one tiny spot. He
crawled to it, and found that they had heaved a slab against the
mouth of the hole, past the edge of which a poor little gleam found
its way from the fire. He could not move it a hairbreadth, for
they had piled a great heap of stones against it. He crawled back
to where he had been lying, in the faint hope of finding his
pickaxe, But after a vain search he was at last compelled to
acknowledge himself in an evil plight. He sat down and tried to
think, but soon fell fast asleep.
He must have slept a long time, for when he awoke he felt
wonderfully restored - indeed almost well - and very hungry. There
were voices in the outer cave.
Once more, then, it was night; for the goblins slept during the day
and went about their affairs during the night.
In the universal and constant darkness of their dwelling they had
no reason to prefer the one arrangement to the other; but from
aversion to the sun-people they chose to be busy when there was
least chance of their being met either by the miners below, when
they were burrowing, or by the people of the mountain above, when
they were feeding their sheep or catching their goats. And indeed
it was only when the sun was away that the outside of the mountain
was sufficiently like their own dismal regions to be endurable to
their mole eyes, so thoroughly had they become unaccustomed to any
light beyond that of their own fires and torches.
Curdie listened, and soon found that they were talking of himself.
'How long will it take?' asked Harelip.
'Not many days, I should think,' answered the king. 'They are poor
feeble creatures, those sun-people, and want to be always eating.
We can go a week at a time without food, and be all the better for
it; but I've been told they eat two or three times every day! Can
you believe it? They must be quite hollow inside - not at all like
us, nine-tenths of whose bulk is solid flesh and bone. Yes - I
judge a week of starvation will do for him.'
'If I may be allowed a word,' interposed the queen, - 'and I think
I ought to have some voice in the matter -'
'The wretch is entirely at your disposal, my spouse,' interrupted
the king. 'He is your property. You caught him yourself.We should
never have done it.'
The queen laughed. She seemed in far better humour than the night
'I was about to say,' she resumed, 'that it does seem a pity to
waste so much fresh meat.'
'What are you thinking of, my love?' said the king. 'The very
notion of starving him implies that we are not going to give him
any meat, either salt or fresh.'
'I'm not such a stupid as that comes to,' returned Her Majesty.
'What I mean is that by the time he is starved there will hardly be
a picking upon his bones.'
The king gave a great laugh.
'Well, my spouse, you may have him when you like,' he said. 'I
don't fancy him for my part. I am pretty sure he is tough eating.'
'That would be to honour instead of punish his insolence,' returned
the queen. 'But why should our poor creatures be deprived of so
much nourishment? Our little dogs and cats and pigs and small
bears would enjoy him very much.'
'You are the best of housekeepers, my lovely queen!' said her
husband. 'Let it be so by all means. Let us have our people in,
and get him out and kill him at once. He deserves it. The
mischief he might have brought upon us, now that he had penetrated
so far as our most retired citadel, is incalculable. Or rather let
us tie him hand and foot, and have the pleasure of seeing him torn
to pieces by full torchlight in the great hall.'
'Better and better!' cried the queen and the prince together, both
of them clapping their hands. And the prince made an ugly noise
with his hare-lip, just as if he had intended to be one at the
'But,' added the queen, bethinking herself, 'he is so troublesome.
For poor creatures as they are, there is something about those
sun-people that is very troublesome. I cannot imagine how it is
that with such superior strength and skill and understanding as
ours, we permit them to exist at all. Why do we not destroy them
entirely, and use their cattle and grazing lands at our pleasure?
Of course we don't want to live in their horrid country! It is far
too glaring for our quieter and more refined tastes. But we might
use it as a sort of outhouse, you know. Even our creatures' eyes
might get used to it, and if they did grow blind that would be of
no consequence, provided they grew fat as well. But we might even
keep their great cows and other creatures, and then we should have
a few more luxuries, such as cream and cheese, which at present we
only taste occasionally, when our brave men have succeeded in
carrying some off from their farms.'
'It is worth thinking of,' said the king; 'and I don't know why you
should be the first to suggest it, except that you have a positive
genius for conquest. But still, as you say, there is something
very troublesome about them; and it would be better, as I
understand you to suggest, that we should starve him for a day or
two first, so that he may be a little less frisky when we take him
'Once there was a goblin
Living in a hole;
Busy he was cobblin'
A shoe without a sole.
'By came a birdie:
"Goblin, what do you do?"
"Cobble at a sturdie
Upper leather shoe."
'"What's the good o' that, Sir?"
Said the little bird.
"Why it's very Pat, Sir -
Plain without a word.
'"Where 'tis all a hole, Sir,
Never can be holes:
Why should their shoes have soles, Sir,
When they've got no souls?"'
'What's that horrible noise?' cried the queen, shuddering from
pot-metal head to granite shoes.
'I declare,' said the king with solemn indignation, 'it's the
sun-creature in the hole!'
'Stop that disgusting noise!' cried the crown prince valiantly,
getting up and standing in front of the heap of stones, with his
face towards Curdie's prison. 'Do now, or I'll break your head.'
'Break away,' shouted Curdie, and began singing again:
'Once there was a goblin, Living in a hole -'
'I really cannot bear it,' said the queen. 'If I could only get at
his horrid toes with my slippers again!'
'I think we had better go to bed,' said the king.
'It's not time to go to bed,' said the queen.
'I would if I was you,' said Curdie.
'Impertinent wretch!' said the queen, with the utmost scorn in her
'An impossible if,' said His Majesty with dignity.
'Quite,' returned Curdie, and began singing again:
'Go to bed,
Help the queen
Take off her shoe.
'If you do,
It will disclose
A horrid set
Of sprouting toes.'
'What a lie!' roared the queen in a rage.
'By the way, that reminds me,' said the king, 'that for as long as
we have been married, I have never seen your feet, queen. I think
you might take off your shoes when you go to bed! They positively
hurt me sometimes.'
'I will do as I like,' retorted the queen sulkily.
'You ought to do as your own hubby wishes you,' said the king.
'I will not,' said the queen.
'Then I insist upon it,' said the king.
Apparently His Majesty approached the queen for the purpose of
following the advice given by Curdie, for the latter heard a
scuffle, and then a great roar from the king.
'Will you be quiet, then?' said the queen wickedly.
'Yes, yes, queen. I only meant to coax you.'
'Hands off!' cried the queen triumphantly. 'I'm going to bed. You
may come when you like. But as long as I am queen I will sleep in
my shoes. It is my royal privilege. Harelip, go to bed.'
'I'm going,' said Harelip sleepily.
'So am I,' said the king.
'Come along, then,' said the queen; 'and mind you are good, or
'Oh, no, no, no!' screamed the king in the most supplicating of
Curdie heard only a muttered reply in the distance; and then the
cave was quite still.
They had left the fire burning, and the light came through brighter
than before. Curdie thought it was time to try again if anything
could be done. But he found he could not get even a finger through
the chink between the slab and the rock. He gave a great rush with
his shoulder against the slab, but it yielded no more than if it
had been part of the rock. All he could do was to sit down and
By and by he came to the resolution to pretend to be dying, in the
hope they might take him out before his strength was too much
exhausted to let him have a chance. Then, for the creatures, if he
could but find his axe again, he would have no fear of them; and if
it were not for the queen's horrid shoes, he would have no fear at
Meantime, until they should come again at night, there was nothing
for him to do but forge new rhymes, now his only weapons. He had
no intention of using them at present, of course; but it was well
to have a stock, for he might live to want them, and the
manufacture of them would help to while away the time.
That same morning early, the princess woke in a terrible fright.
There was a hideous noise in her room - creatures snarling and
hissing and rocketing about as if they were fighting. The moment
she came to herself, she remembered something she had never thought
of again - what her grandmother told her to do when she was
frightened. She immediately took off her ring and put it under her
pillow. As she did so she fancied she felt a finger and thumb take
it gently from under her palm. 'It must be my grandmother!' she
said to herself, and the thought gave her such courage that she
stopped to put on her dainty little slippers before running from
the room. While doing this she caught sight of a long cloak of
sky-blue, thrown over the back of a chair by the bedside. She had
never seen it before but it was evidently waiting for her. She put
it on, and then, feeling with the forefinger of her right hand,
soon found her grandmother's thread, which she proceeded at once to
follow, expecting it would lead her straight up the old stair.
When she reached the door she found it went down and ran along the
floor, so that she had almost to crawl in order to keep a hold of
it. Then, to her surprise, and somewhat to her dismay, she found
that instead of leading her towards the stair it turned in quite
the opposite direction. It led her through certain narrow passages
towards the kitchen, turning aside ere she reached it, and guiding
her to a door which communicated with a small back yard. Some of
the maids were already up, and this door was standing open. Across
the yard the thread still ran along the ground, until it brought
her to a door in the wall which opened upon the Mountainside. When
she had passed through, the thread rose to about half her height,
and she could hold it with ease as she walked. It led her straight
up the mountain.
The cause of her alarm was less frightful than she supposed. The
cook's great black cat, pursued by the housekeeper's terrier, had
bounced against her bedroom door, which had not been properly
fastened, and the two had burst into the room together and
commenced a battle royal. How the nurse came to sleep through it
was a mystery, but I suspect the old lady had something to do with
It was a clear warm morning. The wind blew deliciously over the
Mountainside. Here and there she saw a late primrose but she did
not stop to call upon them. The sky was mottled with small clouds.
The sun was not yet up, but some of their fluffy edges had caught
his light, and hung out orange and gold-coloured fringes upon the
air. The dew lay in round drops upon the leaves, and hung like
tiny diamond ear-rings from the blades of grass about her path.
'How lovely that bit of gossamer is!' thought the princess, looking
at a long undulating line that shone at some distance from her up
the hill. It was not the time for gossamers though; and Irene soon
discovered that it was her own thread she saw shining on before her
in the light of the morning. It was leading her she knew not
whither; but she had never in her life been out before sunrise, and
everything was so fresh and cool and lively and full of something
coming, that she felt too happy to be afraid of anything.
After leading her up a good distance, the thread turned to the
left, and down the path upon which she and Lootie had met Curdie.
But she never thought of that, for now in the morning light, with
its far outlook over the country, no path could have been more open
and airy and cheerful. She could see the road almost to the
horizon, along which she had so often watched her king-papa and his
troop come shining, with the bugle- blast cleaving the air before
them; and it was like a companion to her. Down and down the path
went, then up, and then down and then up again, getting rugged and
more rugged as it went; and still along the path went the silvery
thread, and still along the thread went Irene's little rosy-tipped
forefinger. By and by she came to a little stream that jabbered
and prattled down the hill, and up the side of the stream went both
path and thread. And still the path grew rougher and steeper, and
the mountain grew wilder, till Irene began to think she was going
a very long way from home; and when she turned to look back she saw
that the level country had vanished and the rough bare mountain had
closed in about her. But still on went the thread, and on went the
princess. Everything around her was getting brighter and brighter
as the sun came nearer; till at length his first rays all at once
alighted on the top of a rock before her, like some golden creature
fresh from the sky. Then she saw that the little stream ran out of
a hole in that rock, that the path did not go past the rock, and
that the thread was leading her straight up to it. A shudder ran
through her from head to foot when she found that the thread was
actually taking her into the hole out of which the stream ran. It
ran out babbling joyously, but she had to go in.
She did not hesitate. Right into the hole she went, which was high
enough to let her walk without stooping. For a little way there
was a brown glimmer, but at the first turn it all but ceased, and
before she had gone many paces she was in total darkness. Then she
began to be frightened indeed. Every moment she kept feeling the
thread backwards and forwards, and as she went farther and farther
into the darkness of the great hollow mountain, she kept thinking
more and more about her grandmother, and all that she had said to
her, and how kind she had been, and how beautiful she was, and all
about her lovely room, and the fire of roses, and the great lamp
that sent its light through stone walls. And she became more and
more sure that the thread could not have gone there of itself, and
that her grandmother must have sent it. But it tried her
dreadfully when the path went down very steep, and especially When
she came to places where she had to go down rough stairs, and even
sometimes a ladder. Through one narrow passage after another, over
lumps of rock and sand and clay, the thread guided her, until she
came to a small hole through which she had to creep. Finding no
change on the other side, 'Shall I ever get back?' she thought,
over and over again, wondering at herself that she was not ten
times more frightened, and often feeling as if she were only
walking in the story of a dream. Sometimes she heard the noise of
water, a dull gurgling inside the rock. By and by she heard the
sounds of blows, which came nearer and nearer; but again they grew
duller, and almost died away. In a hundred directions she turned,
obedient to the guiding thread.
At last she spied a dull red shine, and came up to the mica window,
and thence away and round about, and right, into a cavern, where
glowed the red embers of a fire. Here the thread began to rise.
It rose as high as her head and higher still. What should she do
if she lost her hold? She was pulling it down: She might break it!
She could see it far up, glowing as red as her fire-opal in the
light of the embers.
But presently she came to a huge heap of stones, piled in a slope
against the wall of the cavern. On these she climbed, and soon
recovered the level of the thread only however to find, the next
moment, that it vanished through the heap of stones, and left her
standing on it, with her face to the solid rock. For one terrible
moment she felt as if her grandmother had forsaken her. The thread
which the spiders had spun far over the seas, which her grandmother
had sat in the moonlight and spun again for her, which she had
tempered in the rose-fire and tied to her opal ring, had left her
- had gone where she could no longer follow it - had brought her
into a horrible cavern, and there left her! She was forsaken
'When shall I wake?' she said to herself in an agony, but the same
moment knew that it was no dream. She threw herself upon the heap,
and began to cry. It was well she did not know what creatures, one
of them with stone shoes on her feet, were lying in the next cave.
But neither did she know who was on the other side of the slab.
At length the thought struck her that at least she could follow the
thread backwards, and thus get out of the mountain, and home. She
rose at once, and found the thread. But the instant she tried to
feel it backwards, it vanished from her touch. Forwards, it led
her hand up to the heap of stones - backwards it seemed nowhere.
Neither could she see it as before in the light of the fire. She
burst into a wailing cry, and again threw herself down on the
As the princess lay and sobbed she kept feeling the thread
mechanically, following it with her finger many times up to the
stones in which it disappeared. By and by she began, still
mechanically, to poke her finger in after it between the stones as
far as she could. All at once it came into her head that she might
remove some of the stones and see where the thread went next.
Almost laughing at herself for never having thought of this before,
she jumped to her feet. Her fear vanished; once more she was
certain her grandmother's thread could not have brought her there
just to leave her there; and she began to throw away the stones
from the top as fast as she could, sometimes two or three at a
handful, sometimes taking both hands to lift one. After clearing
them away a little, she found that the thread turned and went
straight downwards. Hence, as the heap sloped a good deal, growing
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