فصل 17

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فصل 17

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Seventeen

At this moment, the scene inside the peach itself was one of indescribable chaos. James Henry Trotter was lying bruised and battered on the floor of the room amongst a tangled mass of Centipede and Earthworm and Spider and Ladybird and Glowworm and Old-Green-Grasshopper. In the whole history of the world, no travellers had ever had a more terrible journey than these unfortunate creatures. It had started out well, with much laughing and shouting, and for the first few seconds, as the peach had begun to roll slowly forward, nobody had minded being tumbled about a little bit. And when it went BUMP !, and the Centipede had shouted, ‘That was Aunt Sponge!’ and then BUMP! again, and ‘That was Aunt Spiker!’ there had been a tremendous burst of cheering all round.

But as soon as the peach rolled out of the garden and began to go down the steep hill, rushing and plunging and bounding madly downward, then the whole thing became a nightmare. James found himself being flung up against the ceiling, then back on to the floor, then sideways against the wall, then up on to the ceiling again, and up and down and back and forth and round and round, and at the same time all the other creatures were flying through the air in every direction, and so were the chairs and the sofa, not to mention the forty-two boots belonging to the Centipede. Everything and all of them were being rattled around like peas inside an enormous rattle that was being rattled by a mad giant who refused to stop. To make it worse, something went wrong with the Glow-worm’s lighting system, and the room was in pitchy darkness. There were screams and yells and curses and cries of pain, and everything kept going round and round, and once James made a frantic grab at some thick bars sticking out from the wall only to find that they were a couple of the Centipede’s legs. ‘Let go, you idiot!’ shouted the Centipede, kicking himself free, and James was promptly flung across the room into the Old-Green-Grasshopper’s horny lap. Twice he got tangled up in Miss Spider’s legs (a horrid business), and towards the end, the poor Earthworm, who was cracking himself like a whip every time he flew through the air from one side of the room to the other, coiled himself around James’s body in a panic and refused to unwind.

Oh, it was a frantic and terrible trip!

But it was all over now, and the room was suddenly very still and quiet. Everybody was beginning slowly and painfully to disentangle himself from everybody else.

‘Let’s have some light!’ shouted the Centipede.

‘Yes!’ they cried. ‘Light! Give us some light!’

‘I‘m trying,’ answered the poor Glow-worm. ‘I‘m doing my best. Please be patient.’

They all waited in silence.

Then a faint greenish light began to glimmer out of the Glow-worm’s tail, and this gradually became stronger and stronger until it was anyway enough to see by.

‘Some great journey!’ the Centipede said, limping across the room.

‘I shall never be the same again,’ murmured the Earthworm.

‘Nor I,’ the Ladybird said. ‘It’s taken years off my life.’

‘But my dear friends!’ cried the Old-Green-Grasshopper, trying to be cheerful. ‘We are there!’

‘Where?’ they asked. ‘Where? Where is there?’

‘I don’t know,’ the Old-Green-Grasshopper said. ‘But I’ll bet it’s somewhere good.’

‘We are probably at the bottom of a coal mine,’ the Earthworm said gloomily. ‘We certainly went down and down and down very suddenly at the last moment. I felt it in my stomach. I still feel it.’ ‘Perhaps we are in the middle of a beautiful country full of songs and music,’ the Old-Green-Grasshopper said.

‘Or near the seashore,’ said James eagerly, ‘with lots of other children down on the sand for me to play with!’

‘Pardon me,’ murmured the Ladybird, turning a trifle pale, ‘but am I wrong in thinking that we seem to be bobbing up and down?’

‘Bobbing up and down!’ they cried. ‘What on earth do you mean?’

‘You’re still giddy from the journey,’ the Old-Green-Grasshopper told her. ‘You’ll get over it in a minute. Is everybody ready to go upstairs now and take a look round?’ ‘Yes, yes!’ they chorused. ‘Come on! Let’s go!’

‘I refuse to show myself out of doors in my bare feet,’ the Centipede said. ‘I have to get my boots on again first.’

‘For heaven’s sake, let’s not go through all that nonsense again,’ the Earthworm said.

‘Let’s all lend the Centipede a hand and get it over with,’ the Ladybird said. ‘Come on.’

So they did, all except Miss Spider, who set about weaving a long rope-ladder that would reach from the floor up to a hole in the ceiling. The Old-Green-Grasshopper had wisely said that they must not risk going out of the side entrance when they didn’t know where they were, but must first of all go up on to the top of the peach and have a look round.

So half an hour later, when the rope-ladder had been finished and hung, and the forty-second boot had been laced neatly on to the Centipede’s forty-second foot, they were all ready to go out. Amidst mounting excitement and shouts of ‘Here we go, boys! The Promised Land! I can’t wait to see it!’ the whole company climbed up the ladder one by one and disappeared into a dark soggy tunnel in the ceiling that went steeply, almost vertically, upward.

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