فصل 07 - 09

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فصل 07 - 09

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SEVEN

THE HILL OF THE STRANGE TRENCHES

THERE IS NO DENYING IT WAS A BEAST of a day. Overhead was a sunless sky, muffled in clouds that were heavy with snow; underfoot, a black frost; blowing over it, a wind that felt as if it would take your skin off. When they got down into the plain they found that this part of the ancient road was much more ruinous than any they had yet seen. They had to pick their way over great broken stones and between boulders and across rubble: hard going for sore feet. And, however tired they got, it was far too cold for a halt.

At about ten o’clock the first tiny snow flakes came loitering down and settled on Jill’s arm. Ten minutes later they were falling quite thickly. In twenty minutes the ground was noticeably white. And by the end of half an hour a good steady snowstorm, which looked as if it meant to last all day, was driving in their faces so that they could hardly see.

In order to understand what followed, you must keep on remembering how little they could see. As they drew near the low hill which separated them from the place where the lighted windows had appeared, they had no general view of it at all. It was a question of seeing the next few paces ahead, and, even for that, you had to screw up your eyes. Needless to say, they were not talking.

When they reached the foot of the hill they caught a glimpse of what might be rocks on each side—squarish rocks, if you looked at them carefully, but no one did. All were more concerned with the ledge right in front of them which barred their way. It was about four feet high. The Marsh-wiggle, with his long legs, had no difficulty in jumping onto the top of it, and he then helped the others up. It was a nasty wet business for them, though not for him, because the snow now lay quite deep on the ledge. They then had a stiff climb—Jill fell once—up very rough ground for about a hundred yards, and came to a second ledge. There were four of these ledges altogether, at quite irregular intervals.

As they struggled onto the fourth ledge, there was no mistaking the fact that they were now at the top of the flat hill. Up till now the slope had given them some shelter; here, they got the full fury of the wind. For the hill, oddly enough, was quite as flat on top as it had looked from a distance: a great level tableland which the storm tore across without resistance. In most places the snow was still hardly lying at all, for the wind kept catching it up off the ground in sheets and clouds, and hurling it in their faces. And round their feet little eddies of snow ran about as you sometimes see them doing over ice. And, indeed, in many places, the surface was almost as smooth as ice. But to make matters worse it was crossed and crisscrossed with curious banks or dikes, which sometimes divided it up into squares and oblongs. All these of course had to be climbed; they varied from two to five feet in height and were about a couple of yards thick. On the north side of each bank the snow already lay in deep drifts; and after each climb you came down into the drift and got wet.

Fighting her way forward with hood up and head down and numb hands inside her cloak, Jill had glimpses of other odd things on that horrible tableland—things on her right that looked vaguely like factory chimneys, and, on her left, a huge cliff, straighter than any cliff ought to be. But she wasn’t at all interested and didn’t give them a thought. The only things she thought about were her cold hands (and nose and chin and ears) and hot baths and beds at Harfang.

Suddenly she skidded, slid about five feet, and found herself to her horror sliding down into a dark, narrow chasm which seemed that moment to have appeared in front of her. Half a second later she had reached the bottom. She appeared to be in a kind of trench or groove, only about three feet wide. And though she was shaken by the fall, almost the first thing she noticed was the relief of being out of the wind; for the walls of the trench rose high above her. The next thing she noticed was, naturally, the anxious faces of Scrubb and Puddleglum looking down at her from the edge.

“Are you hurt, Pole?” shouted Scrubb.

“Both legs broken, I shouldn’t wonder,” shouted Puddleglum.

Jill stood up and explained that she was all right, but they’d have to help her out.

“What is it you’ve fallen into?” asked Scrubb.

“It’s a kind of trench, or it might be a kind of sunken lane or something,” said Jill. “It runs quite straight.”

“Yes, by Jove,” said Scrubb. “And it runs due north! I wonder is it a sort of road? If it was, we’d be out of this infernal wind down there. Is there a lot of snow at the bottom?”

“Hardly any. It all blows over the top, I suppose.”

“What happens farther on?”

“Half a sec. I’ll go and see,” said Jill. She got up and walked along the trench; but before she had gone far, it turned sharply to the right. She shouted this information back to the others.

“What’s round the corner?” asked Scrubb.

Now it happened that Jill had the same feeling about twisty passages and dark places underground, or even nearly underground, that Scrubb had about the edges of cliffs. She had no intention of going round that corner alone; especially when she heard Puddleglum bawling out from behind her: “Be careful, Pole. It’s just the sort of place that might lead to a dragon’s cave. And in a giant country, there might be giant earth-worms or giant beetles.”

“I don’t think it goes anywhere much,” said Jill, coming hastily back.

“I’m jolly well going to have a look,” said Scrubb. “What do you mean by anywhere much, I should like to know?” So he sat down on the edge of the trench (everyone was too wet by now to bother about being a bit wetter) and then dropped in. He pushed past Jill and, though he didn’t say anything, she felt sure that he knew she had funked it. So she followed him close, but took care not to get in front of him.

It proved, however, to be a disappointing exploration. They went round the right-hand turn and straight on for a few paces. Here there was a choice of ways: straight on again, or sharp to the right. “That’s no good,” said Scrubb glancing down the right-hand turn, “that would be taking us back—south.” He went straight on, but once more, in a few steps, they found a second turn to the right. But this time there was no choice of ways, for the trench they had been following here came to a dead end.

“No good,” grunted Scrubb. Jill lost no time in turning and leading the way back. When they returned to the place where Jill had first fallen in, the Marsh-wiggle with his long arms had no difficulty in pulling them out.

But it was dreadful to be out on top again. Down in those narrow slits of trenches, their ears had almost begun to thaw. They had been able to see clearly and breathe easily and hear each other speak without shouting. It was absolute misery to come back into the withering coldness. And it did seem hard when Puddleglum chose that moment for saying: “Are you still sure of those signs, Pole? What’s the one we ought to be after now?”

“Oh, come on! Bother the signs,” said Pole. “Something about someone mentioning Aslan’s name, I think. But I’m jolly well not going to give a recitation here.”

As you see, she had got the order wrong. That was because she had given up saying the signs over every night. She still really knew them, if she troubled to think: but she was no longer so “pat” in her lesson as to be sure of reeling them off in the right order at a moment’s notice and without thinking. Puddleglum’s question annoyed her because, deep down inside her, she was already annoyed with herself for not knowing the Lion’s lesson quite so well as she felt she ought to have known it. This annoyance, added to the misery of being very cold and tired, made her say, “Bother the signs.” She didn’t perhaps quite mean it.

“Oh, that was next, was it?” said Puddleglum. “Now I wonder, are you right? Got ‘em mixed, I shouldn’t wonder. It seems to me, this hill, this flat place we’re on, is worth stopping to have a look at. Have you noticed—”

“Oh Lor!” said Scrubb, “is this a time for stopping to admire the view? For goodness’ sake let’s get on.”

“Oh, look, look, look,” cried Jill and pointed. Everyone turned, and everyone saw. Some way off to the north, and a good deal higher up than the tableland on which they stood, a line of lights had appeared. This time, even more obviously than when the travelers had seen them the night before, they were windows: smaller windows that made one think deliciously of bedrooms, and larger windows that made one think of great halls with fires roaring on the hearth and hot soup or juicy sirloins smoking on the table.

“Harfang!” exclaimed Scrubb.

“That’s all very well,” said Puddleglum. “But what I was saying was—”

“Oh, shut up,” said Jill crossly. “We haven’t a moment to lose. Don’t you remember what the Lady said about their locking up so early? We must get there in time, we must, we must. We’ll die if we’re shut out on a night like this.”

“Well, it isn’t exactly a night, not yet,” began Puddleglum; but the two children both said, “Come on,” and began stumbling forward on the slippery tableland as quickly as their legs would carry them. The Marsh-wiggle followed them: still talking, but now that they were forcing their way into the wind again, they could not have heard him even if they had wanted to. And they didn’t want. They were thinking of baths and beds and hot drinks; and the idea of coming to Harfang too late and being shut out was almost unbearable.

In spite of their haste, it took them a long time to cross the flat top of that hill. And even when they had crossed it, there were still several ledges to climb down on the far side. But at last they reached the bottom and could see what Harfang was like.

It stood on a high crag, and in spite of its many towers was more a huge house than a castle. Obviously, the Gentle Giants feared no attack. There were windows in the outside wall quite close to the ground—a thing no one would have in a serious fortress. There were even odd little doors here and there, so that it would be quite easy to get in and out of the castle without going through the courtyard. This raised the spirits of Jill and Scrubb. It made the whole place look more friendly and less forbidding.

At first the height and steepness of the crag frightened them, but presently they noticed that there was an easier way up on the left and that the road wound up toward it. It was a terrible climb, after the journey they had already had, and Jill nearly gave up. Scrubb and Puddleglum had to help her for the last hundred yards. But in the end they stood before the castle gate. The portcullis was up and the gate was open.

However tired you are, it takes some nerve to walk up to a giant’s front door. In spite of all his previous warnings against Harfang, it was Puddleglum who showed the most courage.

“Steady pace, now,” he said. “Don’t look frightened, whatever you do. We’ve done the silliest thing in the world by coming at all: but now that we are here, we’d best put a bold face on it.”

With these words he strode forward into the gateway, stood still under the arch where the echo would help his voice, and called out as loud as he could.

“Ho! Porter! Guests who seek lodging.”

And while he was waiting for something to happen, he took off his hat and knocked off the heavy mass of snow which had gathered on its wide brim.

“I say,” whispered Scrubb to Jill. “He may be a wet blanket, but he has plenty of pluck—and cheek.”

A door opened, letting out a delicious glow of firelight, and the Porter appeared. Jill bit her lips for fear she should scream. He was not a perfectly enormous giant; that is to say, he was rather taller than an apple tree but nothing like so tall as a telegraph pole. He had bristly red hair, a leather jerkin with metal plates fastened all over it so as to make a kind of mail shirt, bare knees (very hairy indeed) and things like puttees on his legs. He stooped down and goggled at Puddleglum.

“And what sort of creature do you call yourself,” he said.

Jill took her courage in both hands. “Please,” she said, shouting up to the giant. “The Lady of the Green Kirtle salutes the King of the Gentle Giants, and has sent us two Southern children and this Marsh-wiggle (his name’s Puddleglum) to your Autumn Feast.—If it’s quite convenient, of course,” she added.

“O-ho!” said the Porter. “That’s quite a different story. Come in, little people, come in. You’d best come into the lodge while I’m sending word to his Majesty.” He looked at the children with curiosity. “Blue faces,” he said. “I didn’t know they were that color. Don’t care about it myself. But I dare say you look quite nice to one another. Beetles fancy other beetles, they do say.” “Our faces are only blue with cold,” said Jill. “We’re not this color really.”

“Then come in and get warm. Come in, little shrimps,” said the Porter. They followed him into the lodge. And though it was rather terrible to hear such a big door clang shut behind them, they forgot about it as soon as they saw the thing they had been longing for ever since supper time last night—a fire. And such a fire! It looked as if four or five whole trees were blazing on it, and it was so hot they couldn’t go within yards of it. But they all flopped down on the brick floor, as near as they could bear the heat, and heaved great sighs of relief.

“Now, youngster,” said the Porter to another giant who had been sitting in the back of the room, staring at the visitors till it looked as if his eyes would start out of his head, “run across with this message to the House.” And he repeated what Jill had said to him. The younger giant, after a final stare, and a great guffaw, left the room.

“Now, Froggy,” said the Porter to Puddleglum, “you look as if you wanted some cheering up.” He produced a black bottle very like Puddleglum’s own, but about twenty times larger. “Let me see, let me see,” said the Porter. “I can’t give you a cup or you’ll drown yourself. Let me see. This saltcellar will be just the thing. You needn’t mention it over at the House. The silver will keep on getting over here, and it’s not my fault.” The salt-cellar was not very like one of ours, being narrower and more upright, and made quite a good cup for Puddleglum, when the giant set it down on the floor beside him. The children expected Puddleglum to refuse it, distrusting the Gentle Giants as he did. But he muttered, “It’s rather late to be thinking of precautions now that we’re inside and the door shut behind us.” Then he sniffed at the liquor. “Smells all right,” he said. “But that’s nothing to go by. Better make sure,” and took a sip. “Tastes all right, too,” he said. “But it might do that at the first sip. How does it go on?” He took a larger sip. “Ah!” he said. “But is it the same all the way down?” and took another. “There’ll be something nasty at the bottom, I shouldn’t wonder,” he said, and finished the drink. He licked his lips and remarked to the children, “This’ll be a test, you see. If I curl up, or burst, or turn into a lizard, or something, then you’ll know not to take anything they offer you.” But the giant, who was too far up to hear the things Puddleglum had been saying under his breath, roared with laughter and said, “Why, Froggy, you’re a man. See him put it away!” “Not a man … Marsh-wiggle,” replied Puddleglum in a somewhat indistinct voice. “Not frog, either: Marsh-wiggle.”

At that moment the door opened behind them and the younger giant came in saying, “They’re to go to the throne-room at once.”

The children stood up but Puddleglum remained sitting and said, “Marsh-wiggle. Marsh-wiggle. Very respectable Marsh-wiggle. Respectowiggle.”

“Show them the way, young ‘un,” said the giant Porter. “You’d better carry Froggy. He’s had a drop more than’s good for him.”

“Nothing wrong with me,” said Puddleglum. “Not a frog. Nothing frog with me. I’m a repectabiggle.”

But the young giant caught him up by the waist and signed to the children to follow. In this undignified way they crossed the courtyard. Puddleglum, held in the giant’s fist, and vaguely kicking the air, did certainly look very like a frog. But they had little time to notice this, for they soon entered the great doorway of the main castle—both their hearts beating faster than usual—and, after pattering along several corridors at a trot to keep up with the giant’s paces, found themselves blinking in the light of an enormous room, where lamps glowed and fire roared on the hearth and both were reflected from the gilding of roof and cornice. More giants than they could count stood on their left and right, all in magnificent robes; and on two thrones at the far end, sat two huge shapes that appeared to be the King and Queen.

About twenty feet from the thrones, they stopped. Scrubb and Jill made an awkward attempt at a bow (girls are not taught how to curtsey at Experiment House) and the young giant carefully put Puddleglum down on the floor, where he collapsed into a sort of sitting position. With his long limbs he looked, to tell the truth, uncommonly like a large spider.

EIGHT

THE HOUSE OF HARFANG

“GO ON, POLE, DO YOUR STUFF,” WHISPERED Scrubb.

Jill found that her mouth was so dry that she couldn’t speak a word. She nodded savagely at Scrubb.

Thinking to himself that he would never forgive her (or Puddleglum either), Scrubb licked his lips and shouted up to the King giant.

“If you please, Sire, the Lady of the Green Kirtle salutes you by us and said you’d like to have us for your Autumn Feast.”

The giant King and Queen looked at each other, nodded to each other, and smiled in a way that Jill didn’t exactly like. She liked the King better than the Queen. He had a fine, curled beard and a straight eagle-like nose, and was really rather good-looking as giants go. The Queen was dreadfully fat and had a double chin and a fat, powdered face—which isn’t a very nice thing at the best of times, and of course looks much worse when it is ten times too big. Then the King put out his tongue and licked his lips. Anyone might do that: but his tongue was so very large and red, and came out so unexpectedly, that it gave Jill quite a shock.

“Oh, what good children!” said the Queen. (“Perhaps she’s the nice one after all,” thought Jill.)

“Yes indeed,” said the King. “Quite excellent children. We welcome you to our court. Give me your hands.”

He stretched down his great right hand—very clean and with any number of rings on the fingers, but also with terrible pointed nails. He was much too big to shake the hands which the children, in turn, held up to him; but he shook the arms.

“And what’s that?” asked the King, pointing to Puddleglum.

“Reshpeckobiggle,” said Puddleglum.

“Oh!” screamed the Queen, gathering her skirts close about her ankles. “The horrid thing! It’s alive.”

“He’s quite all right, your Majesty, really, he is,” said Scrubb hastily. “You’ll like him much better when you get to know him. I’m sure you will.”

I hope you won’t lose all interest in Jill for the rest of the book if I tell you that at this moment she began to cry. There was a good deal of excuse for her. Her feet and hands and ears and nose were still only just beginning to thaw; melted snow was trickling off her clothes; she had had hardly anything to eat or drink that day; and her legs were aching so that she felt she could not go on standing much longer. Anyway, it did more good at the moment than anything else would have done, for the Queen said:

“Ah, the poor child! My lord, we do wrong to keep our guests standing. Quick, some of you! Take them away. Give them food and wine and baths. Comfort the little girl. Give her lollipops, give her dolls, give her physics, give her all you can think of—possets and comfits and caraways and lullabies and toys. Don’t cry, little girl, or you won’t be good for anything when the feast comes.” Jill was just as indignant as you and I would have been at the mention of toys and dolls; and, though lollipops and comfits might be all very well in their way, she very much hoped that something more solid would be provided. The Queen’s foolish speech, however, produced excellent results, for Puddleglum and Scrubb were at once picked up by gigantic gentlemen-in-waiting, and Jill by a gigantic maid of honor, and carried off to their rooms.

Jill’s room was about the size of a church, and would have been rather grim if it had not had a roaring fire on the hearth and a very thick crimson carpet on the floor. And here delightful things began to happen to her. She was handed over to the Queen’s old Nurse, who was, from the giants’ point of view, a little old woman almost bent double with age, and, from the human point of view, a giantess small enough to go about an ordinary room without knocking her head on the ceiling. She was very capable, though Jill did wish she wouldn’t keep on clicking her tongue and saying things like “Oh, la, la! Ups-a-daisy” and “There’s a duck” and “Now we’ll be all right, my poppet.” She filled a giant foot-bath with hot water and helped Jill into it. If you can swim (as Jill could) a giant bath is a lovely thing. And giant towels, though a bit rough and coarse, are lovely too, because there are acres of them. In fact you don’t need to dry at all, you just roll about on them in front of the fire and enjoy yourself. And when that was over, clean, fresh, warmed clothes were put on Jill: very splendid clothes and a little too big for her, but clearly made for humans not giantesses. “I suppose if that woman in the green kirtle comes here, they must be used to guests of our size,” thought Jill.

She soon saw that she was right about this, for a table and chair of the right height for an ordinary grown-up human were placed for her, and the knives and forks and spoons were the proper size too. It was delightful to sit down, feeling warm and clean at last. Her feet were still bare and it was lovely to tread on the giant carpet. She sank in it well over her ankles and it was just the thing for sore feet. The meal—which I suppose we must call dinner, though it was nearer tea time—was cock-a-leekie soup, and hot roast turkey, and a steamed pudding, and roast chestnuts, and as much fruit as you could eat.

The only annoying thing was that the Nurse kept coming in and out, and every time she came in, she brought a gigantic toy with her—a huge doll, bigger than Jill herself, a wooden horse on wheels, about the size of an elephant, a drum that looked like a young gasometer, and a woolly lamb. They were crude, badly made things, painted in very bright colors, and Jill hated the sight of them. She kept on telling the Nurse she didn’t want them, but the Nurse said:

“Tut-tut-tut-tut. You’ll want ‘em all right when you’ve had a bit of a rest, I know! Te-he-he! Beddy bye, now. A precious poppet!”

The bed was not a giant bed but only a big four-poster, like what you might see in an old-fashioned hotel; and very small it looked in that enormous room. She was very glad to tumble into it.

“Is it still snowing, Nurse?” she asked sleepily.

“No. Raining now, ducky!” said the giantess. “Rain’ll wash away all the nasty snow. Precious poppet will be able to go out and play tomorrow!” And she tucked Jill up and said good night.

I know nothing so disagreeable as being kissed by a giantess. Jill thought the same, but was asleep in five minutes.

The rain fell steadily all that evening and all the night, dashing against the windows of the castle, and Jill never heard it but slept deeply, past supper time and past midnight. And then came the deadest hour of the night and nothing stirred but mice in the house of the giants. At that hour there came to Jill a dream. It seemed to her that she awoke in the same room and saw the fire, sunk low and red, and in the firelight the great wooden horse. And the horse came of its own will, rolling on its wheels across the carpet, and stood at her head. And now it was no longer a horse, but a lion as big as the horse. And then it was not a toy lion, but a real lion, The Real Lion, just as she had seen him on the mountain beyond the world’s end. And a smell of all sweet-smelling things there are filled the room. But there was some trouble in Jill’s mind, though she could not think what it was, and the tears streamed down her face and wet the pillow. The Lion told her to repeat the signs, and she found that she had forgotten them all. At that, a great horror came over her. And Aslan took her up in his jaws (she could feel his lips and his breath but not his teeth) and carried her to the window and made her look out. The moon shone bright; and written in great letters across the world or the sky (she did not know which) were the words UNDER ME. After that, the dream faded away, and when she woke, very late next morning, she did not remember that she had dreamed at all.

She was up and dressed and had finished breakfast in front of the fire when the Nurse opened the door and said: “Here’s pretty poppet’s little friends come to play with her.”

In came Scrubb and the Marsh-wiggle.

“Hullo! Good morning,” said Jill. “Isn’t this fun? I’ve slept about fifteen hours, I believe. I do feel better, don’t you?”

“I do,” said Scrubb, “but Puddleglum says he has a headache. Hullo!—your window has a window seat. If we got up on that, we could see out.” And at once they all did so: and at the first glance Jill said, “Oh, how perfectly dreadful!”

The sun was shining and, except for a few drifts, the snow had been almost completely washed away by the rain. Down below them, spread out like a map, lay the flat hill-top which they had struggled over yesterday afternoon; seen from the castle, it could not be mistaken for anything but the ruins of a gigantic city. It had been flat, as Jill now saw, because it was still, on the whole, paved, though in places the pavement was broken. The criss-cross banks were what was left of the walls of huge buildings which might once have been giants’ palaces and temples. One bit of wall, about five hundred feet high, was still standing; it was that which she had thought was a cliff. The things that had looked like factory chimneys were enormous pillars, broken off at unequal heights; their fragments lay at their bases like felled trees of monstrous stone. The ledges which they had climbed down on the north side of the hill—and also, no doubt the other ledges which they had climbed up on the south side—were the remaining steps of giant stairs. To crown all, in large, dark lettering across the center of the pavement, ran the words UNDER ME.

The three travelers looked at each other in dismay, and, after a short whistle, Scrubb said what they were all thinking, “The second and third signs muffed.” And at that moment Jill’s dream rushed back into her mind.

“It’s my fault,” she said in despairing tones. “I—I’d given up repeating the signs every night. If I’d been thinking about them I could have seen it was the city, even in all that snow.”

“I’m worse,” said Puddleglum. “I did see, or nearly. I thought it looked uncommonly like a ruined city.”

“You’re the only one who isn’t to blame,” said Scrubb. “You did try to make us stop.”

“Didn’t try hard enough, though,” said the Marsh-wiggle. “And I’d no call to be trying. I ought to have done it. As if I couldn’t have stopped you two with one hand each!”

“The truth is,” said Scrubb, “we were so jolly keen on getting to this place that we weren’t bothering about anything else. At least I know I was. Ever since we met the woman with the knight who didn’t talk, we’ve been thinking about nothing else. We’d nearly forgotten about Prince Rilian.” “I shouldn’t wonder,” said Puddleglum, “if that wasn’t exactly what she intended.”

“What I don’t quite understand,” said Jill, “is how we didn’t see the lettering? Or could it have come there since last night? Could he—Aslan—have put it there in the night? I had such a queer dream.” And she told them all about it.

“Why, you chump!” said Scrubb. “We did see it. We got into the lettering. Don’t you see? We got into the letter E in ME. That was your sunk lane. We walked along the bottom stroke of the E, due north—turned to our right along the upright— came to another turn to the right—that’s the middle stroke—and then went on to the top left-hand corner, or (if you like) the northeastern corner of the letter, and came back. Like the bally idiots that we are.” He kicked the window seat savagely, and went on, “So it’s no good, Pole. I know what you were thinking because I was thinking the same. You were thinking how nice it would have been if Aslan hadn’t put the instructions on the stones of the ruined city till after we’d passed it. And then it would have been his fault, not ours. So likely, isn’t it? No. We must just own up. We’ve only four signs to go by, and we’ve muffed the first three.” “You mean I have,” said Jill. “It’s quite true. I’ve spoiled everything ever since you brought me here. All the same—I’m frightfully sorry and all that—all the same, what are the instructions? UNDER ME doesn’t seem to make much sense.” “Yes it does, though,” said Puddleglum. “It means we’ve got to look for the Prince under that city.”

“But how can we?” asked Jill.

“That’s the question,” said Puddleglum, rubbing his big, frog-like hands together. “How can we now? No doubt, if we’d had our minds on our job when we were at the Ruinous City, we’d have been shown how—found a little door, or a cave, or a tunnel, met someone to help us. Might have been (you never know) Aslan himself. We’d have got down under those paving-stones somehow or other. Aslan’s instructions always work: there are no exceptions. But how to do it now—that’s another matter.” “Well, we shall just have to go back, I suppose,” said Jill.

“Easy, isn’t it?” said Puddleglum. “We might try opening that door to begin with.” And they all looked at the door and saw that none of them could reach the handle, and that almost certainly no one could turn it if they did.

“Do you think they won’t let us out if we ask?” said Jill. And nobody said, but everyone thought, “Supposing they don’t.”

It was not a pleasant idea. Puddleglum was dead against any idea of telling the giants their real business and simply asking to be let out; and of course the children couldn’t tell without his permission, because they had promised. And all three felt pretty sure that there would be no chance of escaping from the castle by night. Once they were in their rooms with the doors shut, they would be prisoners till morning. They might, of course, ask to have their doors left open, but that would rouse suspicions.

“Our only chance,” said Scrubb, “is to try to sneak away by daylight. Mightn’t there be an hour in the afternoon when most of the giants are asleep?—and if we could steal down into the kitchen, mightn’t there be a back door open?”

“It’s hardly what I call a Chance,” said the Marsh-wiggle. “But it’s all the chance we’re likely to get.” As a matter of fact, Scrubb’s plan was not quite so hopeless as you might think. If you want to get out of a house without being seen, the middle of the afternoon is in some ways a better time to try it than in the middle of the night. Doors and windows are more likely to be open; and if you are caught, you can always pretend you weren’t meaning to go far and had no particular plans. (It is very hard to make either giants or grown-ups believe this if you’re found climbing out of a bedroom window at one o’clock in the morning.) “We must put them off their guard, though,” said Scrubb. “We must pretend we love being here and are longing for this Autumn Feast.”

“That’s tomorrow night,” said Puddleglum. “I head one of them say so.”

“I see,” said Jill. “We must pretend to be awfully excited about it, and keep on asking questions. They think we’re absolute infants anyway, which will make it easier.”

“Gay,” said Puddleglum with a deep sigh. “That’s what we’ve got to be. Gay. As if we hadn’t a care in the world. Frolicsome. You two youngsters haven’t always got very high spirits, I’ve noticed. You must watch me, and do as I do. I’ll be gay. Like this”—and he assumed a ghastly grin. “And frolicsome”—here he cut a most mournful caper. “You’ll soon get into it, if you keep your eyes on me. They think I’m a funny fellow already, you see. I dare say you two thought I was a trifle tipsy last night, but I do assure you it was—well, most of it was—put on. I had an idea it would come in useful, somehow.” The children, when they talked over their adventures afterward, could never feel sure whether this last statement was quite strictly true; but they were sure that Puddleglum thought it was true when he made it.

“All right. Gay’s the word,” said Scrubb. “Now, if we could only get someone to open this door. While we’re fooling about and being gay, we’ve got to find out all we can about this castle.”

Luckily, at that very moment the door opened, and the giant Nurse bustled in, saying, “Now, my poppets. Like to come and see the King and all the court setting out on the hunting? Such a pretty sight!”

They lost no time in rushing out past her and climbing down the first staircase they came to. The noise of hounds and horns and giant voices guided them, so that in a few minutes they reached the courtyard. The giants were all on foot, for there are no giant horses in that part of the world, and the giants’ hunting is done on foot; like beagling in England. The hounds also were of normal size. When Jill saw that there were no horses she was at first dreadfully disappointed, for she felt sure that the great fat Queen would never go after hounds on foot; and it would never do to have her about the house all day. But then she saw the Queen in a kind of litter supported on the shoulders of six young giants. The silly old creature was all got up in green and had a horn at her side. Twenty or thirty giants, including the King, were assembled, ready for the sport, all talking and laughing fit to deafen you: and down below, nearer Jill’s level, there were wagging tails, and barking, and loose, slobbery mouths and noses of dogs thrust into your hand. Puddleglum was just beginning to strike what he thought a gay and gamesome attitude (which might have spoiled everything if it had been noticed) when Jill put on her most attractively childish smile, rushed across to the Queen’s litter and shouted up to the Queen.

“Oh, please! You’re not going away, are you? You will come back?”

“Yes, my dear,” said the Queen. “I’ll be back tonight.”

“Oh, good. How lovely!” said Jill. “And we may come to the feast tomorrow night, mayn’t we? We’re so longing for tomorrow night! And we do love being here. And while you’re out, we may run over the whole castle and see everything, mayn’t we? Do say yes.” The Queen did say yes, but the laughter of all the courtiers nearly drowned her voice.

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