George MacDonald.

The Princess and Curdie online

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[Illustration: _Frontispiece. "Come in, Curdie," said the voice._]




With Eleven Illustrations by James Allen

J. B. Lippincott & Co.









































Curdie was the son of Peter the miner. He lived with his father and
mother in a cottage built on a mountain, and he worked with his father
inside the mountain.

A mountain is a strange and awful thing. In old times, without knowing
so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people were yet
more afraid of mountains. But then somehow they had not come to see how
beautiful they are as well as awful, and they hated them, - and what
people hate they must fear. Now that we have learned to look at them
with admiration, perhaps we do not always feel quite awe enough of them.
To me they are beautiful terrors.

I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the heart of
the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below, and rushed up
and out. For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of
blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot melted
metals and stones. And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump
of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried
sunlight - that is what it is. Now think: out of that caldron, where all
the bubbles would be as big as the Alps if it could get room for its
boiling, certain bubbles have bubbled out and escaped - up and away, and
there they stand in the cool, cold sky - mountains. Think of the change,
and you will no more wonder that there should be something awful about
the very look of a mountain: from the darkness - for where the light has
nothing to shine upon, it is much the same as darkness - from the heat,
from the endless tumult of boiling unrest - up, with a sudden heavenward
shoot, into the wind, and the cold, and the starshine, and a cloak of
snow that lies like ermine above the blue-green mail of the glaciers;
and the great sun, their grandfather, up there in the sky; and their
little old cold aunt, the moon, that comes wandering about the house at
night; and everlasting stillness, except for the wind that turns the
rocks and caverns into a roaring organ for the young archangels that
are studying how to let out the pent-up praises of their hearts, and the
molten music of the streams, rushing ever from the bosoms of the
glaciers fresh-born. Think too of the change in their own substance - no
longer molten and soft, heaving and glowing, but hard and shining and
cold. Think of the creatures scampering over and burrowing in it, and
the birds building their nests upon it, and the trees growing out of its
sides, like hair to clothe it, and the lovely grass in the valleys, and
the gracious flowers even at the very edge of its armour of ice, like
the rich embroidery of the garment below, and the rivers galloping down
the valleys in a tumult of white and green! And along with all these,
think of the terrible precipices down which the traveller may fall and
be lost, and the frightful gulfs of blue air cracked in the glaciers,
and the dark profound lakes, covered like little arctic oceans with
floating lumps of ice. All this outside the mountain! But the inside,
who shall tell what lies there? Caverns of awfullest solitude, their
walls miles thick, sparkling with ores of gold or silver, copper or
iron, tin or mercury, studded perhaps with precious stones - perhaps a
brook, with eyeless fish in it, running, running ceaseless, cold and
babbling, through banks crusted with carbuncles and golden topazes, or
over a gravel of which some of the stones are rubies and emeralds,
perhaps diamonds and sapphires - who can tell? - and whoever can't tell
is free to think - all waiting to flash, waiting for millions of
ages - ever since the earth flew off from the sun, a great blot of fire,
and began to cool. Then there are caverns full of water, numbing cold,
fiercely hot - hotter than any boiling water. From some of these the
water cannot get out, and from others it runs in channels as the blood
in the body: little veins bring it down from the ice above into the
great caverns of the mountain's heart, whence the arteries let it out
again, gushing in pipes and clefts and ducts of all shapes and kinds,
through and through its bulk, until it springs newborn to the light, and
rushes down the mountain side in torrents, and down the valleys in
rivers - down, down, rejoicing, to the mighty lungs of the world, that is
the sea, where it is tossed in storms and cyclones, heaved up in
billows, twisted in waterspouts, dashed to mist upon rocks, beaten by
millions of tails, and breathed by millions of gills, whence at last,
melted into vapour by the sun, it is lifted up pure into the air, and
borne by the servant winds back to the mountain tops and the snow, the
solid ice, and the molten stream.

Well, when the heart of the earth has thus come rushing up among her
children, bringing with it gifts of all that she possesses, then
straightway into it rush her children to see what they can find there.
With pickaxe and spade and crowbar, with boring chisel and blasting
powder, they force their way back: is it to search for what toys they
may have left in their long-forgotten nurseries? Hence the mountains
that lift their heads into the clear air, and are dotted over with the
dwellings of men, are tunnelled and bored in the darkness of their
bosoms by the dwellers in the houses which they hold up to the sun and

Curdie and his father were of these: their business was to bring to
light hidden things; they sought silver in the rock and found it, and
carried it out. Of the many other precious things in their mountain they
knew little or nothing. Silver ore was what they were sent to find, and
in darkness and danger they found it. But oh, how sweet was the air on
the mountain face when they came out at sunset to go home to wife and
mother! They did breathe deep then!

The mines belonged to the king of the country, and the miners were his
servants, working under his overseers and officers. He was a real
king - that is one who ruled for the good of his people, and not to
please himself, and he wanted the silver not to buy rich things for
himself, but to help him to govern the country, and pay the armies that
defended it from certain troublesome neighbours, and the judges whom he
set to portion out righteousness amongst the people, that so they might
learn it themselves, and come to do without judges at all. Nothing that
could be got from the heart of the earth could have been put to better
purposes than the silver the king's miners got for him. There were
people in the country who, when it came into their hands, degraded it by
locking it up in a chest, and then it grew diseased and was called
_mammon_, and bred all sorts of quarrels; but when first it left the
king's hands it never made any but friends, and the air of the world
kept it clean.

About a year before this story began, a series of very remarkable events
had just ended. I will narrate as much of them as will serve to show the
tops of the roots of my tree.

Upon the mountain, on one of its many claws, stood a grand old house,
half farmhouse, half castle, belonging to the king; and there his only
child, the Princess Irene, had been brought up till she was nearly nine
years old, and would doubtless have continued much longer, but for the
strange events to which I have referred.

At that time the hollow places of the mountain were inhabited by
creatures called goblins, who for various reasons and in various ways
made themselves troublesome to all, but to the little princess
dangerous. Mainly by the watchful devotion and energy of Curdie,
however, their designs had been utterly defeated, and made to recoil
upon themselves to their own destruction, so that now there were very
few of them left alive, and the miners did not believe there was a
single goblin remaining in the whole inside of the mountain.

The king had been so pleased with the boy - then approaching thirteen
years of age - that when he carried away his daughter he asked him to
accompany them; but he was still better pleased with him when he found
that he preferred staying with his father and mother. He was a right
good king, and knew that the love of a boy who would not leave his
father and mother to be made a great man, was worth ten thousand offers
to die for his sake, and would prove so when the right time came. For
his father and mother, they would have given him up without a grumble,
for they were just as good as the king, and he and they perfectly
understood each other; but in this matter, not seeing that he could do
anything for the king which one of his numerous attendants could not do
as well, Curdie felt that it was for him to decide. So the king took a
kind farewell of them all and rode away, with his daughter on his horse
before him.

A gloom fell upon the mountain and the miners when she was gone, and
Curdie did not whistle for a whole week. As for his verses, there was no
occasion to make any now. He had made them only to drive away the
goblins, and they were all gone - a good riddance - only the princess was
gone too! He would rather have had things as they were, except for the
princess's sake. But whoever is diligent will soon be cheerful, and
though the miners missed the household of the castle, they yet managed
to get on without them.

Peter and his wife, however, were troubled with the fancy that they had
stood in the way of their boy's good fortune. It would have been such a
fine thing for him and them too, they thought, if he had ridden with the
good king's train. How beautiful he looked, they said, when he rode the
king's own horse through the river that the goblins had sent out of the
hill! He might soon have been a captain, they did believe! The good,
kind people did not reflect that the road to the next duty is the only
straight one, or that, for their fancied good, we should never wish our
children or friends to do what we would not do ourselves if we were in
their position. We must accept righteous sacrifices as well as make



When in the winter they had had their supper and sat about the fire, or
when in the summer they lay on the border of the rock-margined stream
that ran through their little meadow, close by the door of their
cottage, issuing from the far-up whiteness often folded in clouds,
Curdie's mother would not seldom lead the conversation to one peculiar
personage said and believed to have been much concerned in the late
issue of events. That personage was the great-great-grandmother of the
princess, of whom the princess had often talked, but whom neither Curdie
nor his mother had ever seen. Curdie could indeed remember, although
already it looked more like a dream than he could account for if it had
really taken place, how the princess had once led him up many stairs to
what she called a beautiful room in the top of the tower, where she went
through all the - what should he call it? - the behaviour of presenting
him to her grandmother, talking now to her and now to him, while all the
time he saw nothing but a bare garret, a heap of musty straw, a sunbeam,
and a withered apple. Lady, he would have declared before the king
himself, young or old, there was none, except the princess herself, who
was certainly vexed that he could not see what she at least believed she
saw. And for his mother, she had once seen, long before Curdie was born,
a certain mysterious light of the same description with one Irene spoke
of, calling it her grandmother's moon; and Curdie himself had seen this
same light, shining from above the castle, just as the king and princess
were taking their leave. Since that time neither had seen or heard
anything that could be supposed connected with her. Strangely enough,
however, nobody had seen her go away. If she was such an old lady, she
could hardly be supposed to have set out alone and on foot when all the
house was asleep. Still, away she must have gone, for of course, if she
was so powerful, she would always be about the princess to take care of

But as Curdie grew older, he doubted more and more whether Irene had not
been talking of some dream she had taken for reality: he had heard it
said that children could not always distinguish betwixt dreams and
actual events. At the same time there was his mother's testimony: what
was he to do with that? His mother, through whom he had learned
everything, could hardly be imagined by her own dutiful son to have
mistaken a dream for a fact of the waking world. So he rather shrunk
from thinking about it, and the less he thought about it, the less he
was inclined to believe it when he did think about it, and therefore, of
course, the less inclined to talk about it to his father and mother; for
although his father was one of those men who for one word they say think
twenty thoughts, Curdie was well assured that he would rather doubt his
own eyes than his wife's testimony. There were no others to whom he
could have talked about it. The miners were a mingled company - some
good, some not so good, some rather bad - none of them so bad or so good
as they might have been; Curdie liked most of them, and was a favourite
with all; but they knew very little about the upper world, and what
might or might not take place there. They knew silver from copper ore;
they understood the underground ways of things, and they could look very
wise with their lanterns in their hands searching after this or that
sign of ore, or for some mark to guide their way in the hollows of the
earth; but as to great-great-grandmothers, they would have mocked him
all the rest of his life for the absurdity of not being absolutely
certain that the solemn belief of his father and mother was
nothing but ridiculous nonsense. Why, to them the very word
"great-great-grandmother" would have been a week's laughter! I am not
sure that they were able quite to believe there were such persons as
great-great-grandmothers; they had never seen one. They were not
companions to give the best of help towards progress, and as Curdie
grew, he grew at this time faster in body than in mind - with the usual
consequence, that he was getting rather stupid - one of the chief signs
of which was that he believed less and less of things he had never seen.
At the same time I do not think he was ever so stupid as to imagine that
this was a sign of superior faculty and strength of mind. Still, he was
becoming more and more a miner, and less and less a man of the upper
world where the wind blew. On his way to and from the mine he took less
and less notice of bees and butterflies, moths and dragon-flies, the
flowers and the brooks and the clouds. He was gradually changing into a
commonplace man. There is this difference between the growth of some
human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous
dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. One of the latter sort
comes at length to know at once whether a thing is true the moment it
comes before him; one of the former class grows more and more afraid of
being taken in, so afraid of it that he takes himself in altogether, and
comes at length to believe in nothing but his dinner: to be sure of a
thing with him is to have it between his teeth. Curdie was not in a very
good way then at that time. His father and mother had, it is true, no
fault to find with him - and yet - and yet - neither of them was ready to
sing when the thought of him came up. There must be something wrong when
a mother catches herself sighing over the time when her boy was in
petticoats, or the father looks sad when he thinks how he used to carry
him on his shoulder. The boy should enclose and keep, as his life, the
old child at the heart of him, and never let it go. He must still, to be
a right man, be his mother's darling, and more, his father's pride, and
more. The child is not meant to die, but to be for ever fresh-born.

Curdie had made himself a bow and some arrows, and was teaching himself
to shoot with them. One evening in the early summer, as he was walking
home from the mine with them in his hand, a light flashed across his
eyes. He looked, and there was a snow-white pigeon settling on a rock in
front of him, in the red light of the level sun. There it fell at once
to work with one of its wings, in which a feather or two had got some
sprays twisted, causing a certain roughness unpleasant to the fastidious
creature of the air. It was indeed a lovely being, and Curdie thought
how happy it must be flitting through the air with a flash - a live bolt
of light. For a moment he became so one with the bird that he seemed to
feel both its bill and its feathers, as the one adjusted the other to
fly again, and his heart swelled with the pleasure of its involuntary
sympathy. Another moment and it would have been aloft in the waves of
rosy light - it was just bending its little legs to spring: that moment
it fell on the path broken-winged and bleeding from Curdie's cruel
arrow. With a gush of pride at his skill, and pleasure at its success,
he ran to pick up his prey. I must say for him he picked it up
gently - perhaps it was the beginning of his repentance. But when he had
the white thing in his hands - its whiteness stained with another red
than that of the sunset flood in which it had been revelling - ah God!
who knows the joy of a bird, the ecstasy of a creature that has neither
storehouse nor barn! - when he held it, I say, in his victorious hands,
the winged thing looked up in his face - and with such eyes! asking what
was the matter, and where the red sun had gone, and the clouds, and the
wind of its flight. Then they closed, but to open again presently, with
the same questions in them. And so they closed and opened several times,
but always when they opened, their look was fixed on his. It did not
once flutter or try to get away; it only throbbed and bled and looked at
him. Curdie's heart began to grow very large in his bosom. What could it
mean? It was nothing but a pigeon, and why should he not kill a
pigeon? But the fact was, that not till this very moment had he ever
known what a pigeon was. A good many discoveries of a similar kind have
to be made by most of us. Once more it opened its eyes - then closed them
again, and its throbbing ceased. Curdie gave a sob: its last look
reminded him of the princess - he did not know why. He remembered how
hard he had laboured to set her beyond danger, and yet what dangers she
had had to encounter for his sake: they had been saviours to each
other - and what had he done now? He had stopped saving, and had begun
killing! What had he been sent into the world for? Surely not to be a
death to its joy and loveliness. He had done the thing that was contrary
to gladness; he was a destroyer! He was not the Curdie he had been meant
to be! Then the underground waters gushed from the boy's heart. And with
the tears came the remembrance that a white pigeon, just before the
princess went away with her father, came from somewhere - yes, from the
grandmother's lamp, and flew round the king and Irene and himself, and
then flew away: this might be that very pigeon! Horrible to think! And
if it wasn't, yet it was a white pigeon, the same as it. And if she kept
a great many pigeons - and white ones, as Irene had told him, then whose
pigeon could he have killed but the grand old princess's? Suddenly
everything round about him seemed against him. The red sunset stung
him: the rocks frowned at him; the sweet wind that had been laving his
face as he walked up the hill, dropped - as if he wasn't fit to be kissed
any more. Was the whole world going to cast him out? Would he have to
stand there for ever, not knowing what to do, with the dead pigeon in
his hand? Things looked bad indeed. Was the whole world going to make a
work about a pigeon - a white pigeon? The sun went down. Great clouds
gathered over the west, and shortened the twilight. The wind gave a
howl, and then lay down again. The clouds gathered thicker. Then came a
rumbling. He thought it was thunder. It was a rock that fell inside the
mountain. A goat ran past him down the hill, followed by a dog sent to
fetch him home. He thought they were goblin creatures, and trembled. He
used to despise them. And still he held the dead pigeon tenderly in his
hand. It grew darker and darker. An evil something began to move in his
heart. "What a fool I am!" he said to himself. Then he grew angry, and
was just going to throw the bird from him and whistle, when a brightness
shone all round him. He lifted his eyes, and saw a great globe of
light - like silver at the hottest heat: he had once seen silver run from
the furnace. It shone from somewhere above the roofs of the castle: it
must be the great old princess's moon! How could she be there? Of
course she was not there! He had asked the whole household, and nobody
knew anything about her or her globe either. It couldn't be! And yet
what did that signify, when there was the white globe shining, and here
was the dead white bird in his hand? That moment the pigeon gave a
little flutter. "_It's not dead!_" cried Curdie, almost with a shriek.
The same instant he was running full speed towards the castle, never
letting his heels down, lest he should shake the poor wounded bird.

[Illustration: "_That moment the pigeon fell on the path, broken-winged
and bleeding._"]



When Curdie reached the castle, and ran into the little garden in front
of it, there stood the door wide open. This was as he had hoped, for
what could he have said if he had had to knock at it? Those whose
business it is to open doors, so often mistake and shut them! But the
woman now in charge often puzzled herself greatly to account for the
strange fact that however often she shut the door, which, like the rest,
she took a great deal of unnecessary trouble to do, she was certain, the
next time she went to it, to find it open. I speak now of the great
front door, of course: the back door she as persistently kept wide: if
people _could_ only go in by that, she said, she would then know what
sort they were, and what they wanted. But she would neither have known
what sort Curdie was, nor what he wanted, and would assuredly have
denied him admittance, for she knew nothing of who was in the tower. So
the front door was left open for him, and in he walked.

But where to go next he could not tell. It was not quite dark: a dull,
shineless twilight filled the place. All he knew was that he must go up,

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe Princess and Curdie → online text (page 1 of 13)