THE SUBTERRANEAN WATERS
HE king's harper, who always formed a part of his escort, was
chanting a ballad which he made as he went on playing on his
instrument—about the princess and the goblins, and the prowess of
Curdie, when all at once he ceased, with his eyes on one of the
doors of the hall. Thereupon the eyes of the king and his guests
turned thitherward also. The next moment, through the open doorway
came the princess Irene. She went straight up to her father, with
her right hand stretched out a little sideways, and her forefinger,
as her father and Curdie understood, feeling its way along the
invisible thread. The king took her on his knee, and she said in
"King-papa, do you hear that noise?"
"I hear nothing," said the king.
"Listen," she said, holding up her forefinger.
The king listened, and a great stillness fell
 upon the company.
Each man, seeing that the king listened, listened also, and the
harper sat with his harp between his arms, and his finger silent
upon the strings.
"I do hear a noise," said the king at length—"a noise as of
distant thunder. It is coming nearer and nearer. What can it be?"
They all heard it now, and each seemed ready to start to his feet
as he listened. Yet all sat perfectly still. The noise came
"What can it be?" said the king again.
"I think it must be another storm coming over the mountain," said
Then Curdie, who at the first word of the king had slipped from his
seat, and laid his ear to the ground, rose up quickly, and
approaching the king said, speaking very fast—
"Please, Your Majesty, I think I know what it is. I have no time
to explain, for that might make it too late for some of us. Will
Your Majesty give orders that everybody leave the house as quickly
as possible and get up the mountain?"
The king, who was the wisest man in the kingdom, knew well there
was a time when things must be done and questions left till
 He had faith in Curdie, and rose instantly, with Irene
in his arms.
"Every man and woman follow me," he said, and strode
out into the darkness.
Before he had reached the gate, the noise had grown to a great
thundering roar, and the ground trembled beneath their feet, and
before the last of them had crossed the court, out after them from
the great hall door came a huge rush of turbid water, and almost
swept them away. But they got safe out of the gate and up the
mountain, while the torrent went roaring down the road into the
Curdie had left the king and the princess to look after his mother,
whom he and his father, one on each side, caught up when the stream
overtook them and carried safe and dry.
When the king had got out of the way of the water, a little up the
mountain, he stood with the princess in his arms, looking back with
amazement on the issuing torrent, which glimmered fierce and foamy
through the night. There Curdie rejoined them.
"Now, Curdie," said the king, "what does it mean? Is this what you
 "It is, Your Majesty," said Curdie; and proceeded to tell him about
the second scheme of the goblins, who, fancying the miners of more
importance to the upper world than they were, had resolved, if they
should fail in carrying off the king's daughter, to flood the mine
and drown the miners. Then he explained what the miners had done
to prevent it. The goblins had, in pursuance of their design, let
loose all the underground reservoirs and streams, expecting the
water to run down into the mine, which was lower than their part of
the mountain, for they had, as they supposed, not knowing of the
solid wall close behind, broken a passage through into it. But the
readiest outlet the water could find had turned out to be the
tunnel they had made to the king's house, the possibility of which
catastrophe had not occurred to the young miner until he had laid
his ear to the floor of the hall.
What was then to be done? The house appeared in danger of falling,
and every moment the torrent was increasing.
"We must set out at once," said the king. "But how to get at the
 "Shall I see if we can manage that?" said Curdie.
"Do," said the king.
Curdie gathered the men-at-arms, and took them over the garden
wall, and so to the stables. They found their horses in terror;
the water was rising fast around them, and it was quite time they
were got out. But there was no way to get them out, except by
riding them through the stream, which was now pouring from the
lower windows as well as the door. As one horse was quite enough
for any man to manage through such a torrent, Curdie got on the
king's white charger and, leading the way, brought them all in
safety to the rising ground.
"Look, look, Curdie!" cried Irene, the moment that, having
dismounted, he led the horse up to the king.
Curdie did look, and saw, high in the air, somewhere about the top
of the king's house, a great globe of light shining like the purest
"Oh!" he cried in some consternation, "that is your grandmother's
lamp! We must get her out. I will go an find her. The house may
fall, you know."
 "My grandmother is in no danger," said Irene, smiling.
"Here, Curdie, take the princess while I get on my horse," said the
Curdie took the princess again, and both turned their eyes to the
globe of light. The same moment there shot from it a white bird,
which, descending with outstretched wings, made one circle round
the king an Curdie and the princess, and then glided up again. The
light and the pigeon vanished together.
"Now, Curdie!" said the princess, as he lifted her to her father's
arms, "you see my grandmother knows all about it, and isn't
frightened. I believe she could walk through that water and it
wouldn't wet her a bit."
"But, my child," said the king, "you will be cold if you haven't
Something more on. Run, Curdie, my boy, and fetch anything you can
lay your hands on, to keep the princess warm. We have a long ride
Curdie was gone in a moment, and soon returned with a great rich
fur, and the news that dead goblins were tossing about in the
current through the house. They had been caught in
 their own
snare; instead of the mine they had flooded their own country,
whence they were now swept up drowned. Irene shuddered, but the
king held her close to his bosom. Then he turned to Sir Walter,
"Bring Curdie's father and mother here."
"I wish," said the king, when they stood before him, "to take your
son with me. He shall enter my bodyguard at once, and wait further
Peter and his wife, overcome, only murmured almost inaudible
thanks. But Curdie spoke aloud.
"Please, Your Majesty," he said, "I cannot leave my father and
"That's right, Curdie!" cried the princess. "I wouldn't if I was
The king looked at the princess and then at Curdie with a glow of
satisfaction on his countenance.
"I too think you are right, Curdie," he said, "and I will not ask
you again. But I shall have a chance of doing something for you
"Your Majesty has already allowed me to serve you," said Curdie.
 "But, Curdie," said his mother, "why shouldn't you go with the
king? We can get on very well without you."
"But I can't get on very well without you," said Curdie. "The king
is very kind, but I could not be half the use to him that I am to
you. Please, Your Majesty, if you wouldn't mind giving my mother
a red petticoat! I should have got her one long ago, but for the
"As soon as we get home," said the king, "Irene and I will search
out the warmest one to be found, and send it by one of the
"Yes, that we will, Curdie!" said the princess.
"And next summer
we'll come back and see you wear it, Curdie's mother," she added.
"Shan't we, king-papa?"
"Yes, my love; I hope so," said the king.
Then turning to the miners, he said—
"Will you do the best you can for my servants to-night? I hope they
will be able to return to the house to-morrow."
The miners with one voice promised their hospitality.
Then the king commanded his servants to
 mind whatever Curdie should
say to them, and after shaking hands with him and his father and
mother, the king and the princess and all their company rode away
down the side of the new stream, which had already devoured half
the road, into the starry night.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics