|The Princess and Curdie|
|by George MacDonald|
|Sequel to The Princess and the Goblin in which Curdie travels to Gwyntystorm, the capital city, with many adventures along the way. There he finds a group of corrupt courtiers plotting to seize the throne. With the aid of Lina, a curious monster, and forty-nine other strange animals, he clears the palaces of these conspirators, eventually marrying the princess and becoming heir to the kingdom. In the sphere of fantasy, author George MacDonald has few equals, and his rare touch of many aspects of life invariably gives to his stories a deeper meaning of the highest value. Ages 7-10 |
THE WINE CELLAR
 HE lighted his candle and examined it. Decayed and broken as it was, it was strongly secured in its place by
hinges on the one side, and either lock or bolt, he could not tell which, on the other. A brief use of his
pocket-knife was enough to make room for his hand and arm to get through, and then he found a great iron
bolt—but so rusty that he could not move it.
Lina whimpered. He took his knife again, made the hole bigger, and stood back. In she shot her small head and
long neck, seized the bolt with her teeth, and dragged it, grating and complaining, back. A push then opened
the door. it was at the foot of a short flight of steps. They ascended, and at the top Curdie
 found himself in a space which, from the echo to his stamp, appeared of some size, though of what sort he
could not at first tell, for his hands, feeling about, came upon nothing. Presently, however, they fell on a
great thing: it was a wine cask.
He was just setting out to explore the place thoroughly, when he heard steps coming down a stair. He stood
still, not knowing whether the door would open an inch from his nose or twenty yards behind his back. It did
neither. He heard the key turn in the lock, and a stream of light shot in, ruining the darkness, about fifteen
yards away on his right.
A man carrying a candle in one hand and a large silver flagon in the other, entered, and came toward him. The
light revealed a row of huge wine casks, that stretched away into the darkness of the other end of the long
vault. Curdie retreated into the recess of the stair, and peeping round the corner of it, watched him,
thinking what he could do to prevent him from locking them in. He came on and on, until curdie feared he would
pass the recess and see them. He was just preparing to rush out, and master him before he should give alarm,
not in the least
know-  ing what he should do next, when, to his relief, the man stopped at the third cask from where he stood. He set
down his light on the top of it, removed what seemed a large vent-peg, and poured into the cask a quantity of
something from the flagon. Then he turned to the next cask, drew some wine, rinsed the flagon, threw the wine
away, drew and rinsed and threw away again, then drew and drank, draining to the bottom. Last of all, he
filled the flagon from the cask he had first visited, replaced then the vent-peg, took up his candle, and
turned toward the door.
"There is something wrong here!" thought Curdie.
"Speak to him, Lina," he whispered.
The sudden howl she gave made Curdie himself start and tremble for a moment. As to the man, he answered Lina's
with another horrible howl, forced from him by the convulsive shudder of every muscle of his body, then reeled
gasping to and fro, and dropped his candle. But just as Curdie expected to see him fall dead he recovered
himself, and flew to the door, through which he darted, leaving it open behind him. The
mo-  ment he ran, Curdie stepped out, picked up the candle still alight, sped after him to the door, drew out the
key, and then returned to the stair and waited. in a few minutes he heard the sound of many feet and voices.
Instantly he turned the tap of the cask from which the man had been drinking, set the candle beside it on the
floor, went down the steps and out of the little door, followed by Lina, and closed it behind them.
Through the hole in it he could see a little, and hear all. He could see how the light of many candles filled
the place, and could hear how some two dozen feet ran hither and thither through the echoing cellar; he could
hear the clash of iron, probably spits and pokers, now and then; and at last heard how, finding nothing
remarkable except the best wine running to waste, they all turned on the butler and accused him of having
fooled them with a drunken dream. He did his best to defend himself, appealing to the evidence of their own
senses that he was as sober as they were. They replied that a fright was no less a fright that the cause was
imaginary, and a dream no less a dream that the fright had waked him from it.
When he discovered, and triumphantly
 adduced as corroboration, that the key was gone from the door, they said it merely showed how drunk he had
been—either that or how frightened, for he had certainly dropped it. In vain he protested that he had
never taken it out of the lock—that he never did when he went in, and certainly had not this time
stopped to do so when he came out; they asked him why he had to go to the cellar at such a time of the day,
and said it was because he had already drunk all the wine that was left from dinner. He said if he had dropped
the key, the key was to be found, and they must help him to find it. They told him they wouldn't move a peg
for him. He declared, with much language, he would have them all turned out of the king's service. They said
they would swear he was drunk.
And so positive were they about it, that at last the butler himself began to think whether it was possible
they could be in the right. For he knew that sometimes when he had been drunk he fancied things had taken
place which he found afterward could not have happened. Certain of his fellow servants, however, had all the
time a doubt whether the cellar goblin had not appeared to
 him, or at least roared at him, to protect the wine. in any case nobody wanted to find the key for him;
nothing could please them better than that the door of the wine cellar should never more be locked. By degrees
the hubbub died away, and they departed, not even pulling to the door, for there was neither handle nor latch
As soon as they were gone, Curdie returned, knowing now that they were in the wine cellar of the palace, as
indeed, he had suspected. Finding a pool of wine in a hollow of the floor, Lina lapped it up eagerly: she had
had no breakfast, and was now very thirsty as well as hungry. Her master was in a similar plight, for he had
but just begun to eat when the magistrate arrived with the soldiers. If only they were all in bed, he thought,
that he might find his way to the larder! For he said to himself that, as he was sent there by the young
princess's great-great-grandmother to serve her or her father in some way, surely he must have a right to his
food in the Palace, without which he could do nothing. He would go at once and reconnoitre.
So he crept up the stair that led from the cellar. At the top was a door, opening on a
 long passage dimly
lighted by a lamp. He told Lina to lie down upon the stair while he went on. At the end of the passage he
found a door ajar, and, peering through, saw right into a great stone hall, where a huge fire was blazing, and
through which men in the king's livery were constantly coming and going. Some also in the same livery were
lounging about the fire. He noted that their colours were the same as those he himself, as king's miner, wore;
but from what he had seen and heard of the habits of the place, he could not hope they would treat him the
better for that.
The one interesting thing at the moment, however, was the plentiful supper with which the table was spread. It
was something at least to stand in sight of food, and he was unwilling to turn his back on the prospect so
long as a share in it was not absolutely hopeless. Peeping thus, he soon made UP his mind that if at any
moment the hall should be empty, he would at that moment rush in and attempt to carry off a dish. That he
might lose no time by indecision, he selected a large pie upon which to pounce instantaneously. But after he
had watched for some minutes, it did not seem at all likely the chance would arrive
 before suppertime, and he was just about to turn away and rejoin Lina, when he saw that there was not a person
in the place. Curdie never made up his mind and then hesitated. He darted in, seized the pie, and bore it
swiftly and noiselessly to the cellar stair.
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