The Princess and Curdie/Chapter 15

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
Chapter XV. Derba and Barbara


MEANTIME the wanderers were hospitably entertained by the old woman and her grandchild, and they were all very comfortable and happy together. Little Barbara sat upon Curdie's knee, and he told her stories about the mines and his adventures in them. But he never mentioned the king or the princess, for all that story was hard to believe. And he told her about his mother and his father, and how good they were. And Derba sat and listened. At last little Barbara fell asleep in Curdie's arms, and her grandmother carried her to bed.

It was a poor little house, and Derba gave up her own room to Curdie, because he was honest and talked wisely. Curdie saw how it was, and begged her to allow him to lie on the floor, but she would not hear of it.

In the night he was waked by Lina pulling at him. As soon as he spoke to her she ceased, and Curdie, listening, thought he heard some one trying to get in. He rose, took his mattock, and went about the house, listening and watching; but although he heard noises now at one place, now at another, he could not think what they meant, for no one appeared. Certainly, considering how she had frightened them all in the day, it was not likely any one would attack Lina at night. By-and-by the noises ceased, and Curdie went back to his bed, and slept undisturbed.

In the morning, however, Derba came to him in great agitation, and said they had fastened up the door, so that she could not get out. Curdie rose immediately and went with her: they found that not only the door, but every window in the house was so secured on the outside that it was impossible to open one of them without using great force. Poor Derba looked anxiously in Curdie's face. He broke out laughing.

"They are much mistaken," he said, "if they fancy they could keep Lina and a miner in any house in Gwyntystorm—even if they built up doors and windows."

With that he shouldered his mattock. But Derba begged him not to make a hole in her house just yet. She had plenty for breakfast, she said, and before it was time for dinner they would know what the people meant by it.

And indeed they did. For within an hour appeared one of the chief magistrates of the city, accompanied by a score of soldiers with drawn swords, and followed by a great multitude of the people, requiring the miner and his brute to yield themselves, the one that he might be tried for the disturbance he had occasioned and the injury he had committed, the other that she might be roasted alive for her part in killing two valuable and harmless animals belonging to worthy citizens. The summons was preceded and followed by flourish of trumpet, and was read with every formality by the city marshal himself.

The moment he ended, Lina ran into the little passage, and stood opposite the door.

"I surrender," cried Curdie.

"Then tie up your brute, and give her here."

"No, no," cried Curdie through the door. "I surrender; but I'm not going to do your hangman's work. If you want my dog, you must take her."

"Then we shall set the house on fire, and burn witch and all."

"It will go hard with us but we shall kill a few dozen of you first," cried Curdie. "We're not the least afraid of you."

With that Curdie turned to Derba, and said:—

"Don't be frightened. I have a strong feeling that all will be well. Surely no trouble will come to you for being good to strangers."

"But the poor dog!" said Derba.

Now Curdie and Lina understood each other more than a little by this time, and not only had he seen that she understood the proclamation, but when she looked up at him after it was read, it was with such a grin, and such a yellow flash, that he saw also she was determined to take care of herself.

"The dog will probably give you reason to think a little more of her ere long," he answered. "But now," he went on, "I fear I must hurt your house a little. I have great confidence, however, that I shall be able to make up to you for it one day."

"Never mind the house, if only you can get safe off," she answered. "I don't think they will hurt this precious lamb," she added, clasping little Barbara to her bosom. "For myself, it is all one; I am ready for anything."

"It is but a little hole for Lina I want to make," said Curdie. "She can creep through a much smaller one than you would think."

Again he took his mattock, and went to the back wall "They won't burn the house," he said to himself "There is too good a one on each side of it."

The tumult had kept increasing every moment, and the city marshal had been shouting, but Curdie had not listened to him. When now they heard the blows of his mattock, there went up a great cry, and the people taunted the soldiers that they were afraid of a dog and his miner. The soldiers therefore made a rush at the door, and cut its fastenings.

The moment they opened it, out leaped Lina, with a roar so unnaturally horrible that the sword-arms of the soldiers dropped by their sides, paralysed with the terror of that cry; the crowd fled in every direction, shrieking and yelling with mortal dismay; and without even knocking down with her tail, not to say biting a man of them with her pulverizing jaws, Lina vanished—no one knew whither, for not one of the crowd had had courage to look upon her.

The moment she was gone, Curdie advanced and gave himself up. The soldiers were so filled with fear, shame, and chagrin, that they were ready to kill him on the spot. But he stood quietly facing them, with his mattock on his shoulder; and the magistrate wishing to examine him, and the people to see him made an example of, the soldiers had to content themselves with taking him. Partly for derision, partly to hurt him, they laid his mattock against his back, and tied his arms to it.

They led him up a very steep street, and up another still, all the crowd following. The king's palace-castle rose towering above them; but they stopped before they reached it, at a low-browed door in a great, dull, heavy-looking building.

The city marshal opened it with a key which hung at his girdle, and ordered Curdie to enter. The place within was dark as night, and while he was feeling his way with his feet, the marshal gave him a rough push. He fell, and rolled once or twice over, unable to help himself because his hands were tied behind him.

It was the hour of the magistrate's second and more important breakfast, and until that was over he never found himself capable of attending to a case with concentration sufficient to the distinguishing of the side upon which his own advantage lay; and hence was this respite for Curdie, with time to collect his thoughts. But indeed he had very few to collect, for all he had to do, so far as he could see, was to wait for what would come next. Neither had he much power to collect them, for he was a good deal shaken.

In a few minutes he discovered, to his great relief, that, from the projection of the pick-end of his mattock beyond his body, the fall had loosened the ropes tied round it. He got one hand disengaged, and then the other; and presently stood free, with his good mattock once more in right serviceable relation to his arms and legs.