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|The Silver Chair(Chronicles of Narnia #4) by C.S.Lewis|
"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 travellers 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 towards 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 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 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 at 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.
"Oho!" 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 colour. 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 colour 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 - afire. 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 salt-cellar 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: Marshwiggle."
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 respectabiggle."
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 a 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.
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 honour, 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-adaisy" 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.