THE DOGS OF GWYNTYSTORM.
THE steep street led them straight up to a large market-place, with butchers' shops, about which were many dogs. The moment they caught sight of Lina, one and all they came rushing down upon her, giving her no chance of explaining herself. When Curdie saw the dogs coming he heaved up his mattock over his shoulder, and was ready, if they would have it so. Seeing him thus prepared to defend his follower, a great ugly bull-dog flew at him. With the first blow Curdie struck him through the brain, and the brute fell dead at his feet. But he could not at once recover his weapon, which stuck in the skull of his foe, and a huge mastiff, seeing him thus hampered, flew at him next. Now Lina, who had shown herself so brave upon the road thither, had grown shy upon entering the city, and kept always at Curdie's heel. But it was her turn now. The moment she saw her master in danger she seemed to go mad with rage. As the mastiff jumped at Curdie's throat, Lina flew at his, seized him with her tremendous jaws, gave one roaring grind, and he lay beside the bull-dog with his neck broken. They were the best dogs in the market, after the judgment of the butchers of Gwyntystorm. Down came their masters, knife in hand.
Curdie drew himself up fearlessly, mattock on shoulder, and awaited their coming, while at his heel his awful attendant showed not only her outside fringe of icicle-teeth, but a double row of right serviceable fangs she wore inside her mouth, and her green eyes flashed yellow as gold. The butchers not liking the look either of them or of the dogs at their feet, drew back, and began to remonstrate in the manner of outraged men.
"Stranger," said the first, "that bull-dog is mine."
"Take him, then," said Curdie, indignant.
"You've killed him!"
"Yes else he would have killed me."
"That's no business of mine,"
"That makes it the more mine, then."
"This sort of thing won't do, you know," said the other butcher.
"That's true," said Curdie.
"That's my mastiff," said the butcher.
"And as he ought to be," said Curdie.
"Your brute shall be burnt alive for it," said the butcher.
"Not yet," answered Curdie. "We have done no wrong. We were walking quietly up your street, when your dogs flew at us. If you don't teach your dogs how to treat strangers, you must take the consequences."
"They treat them quite properly," said the butcher.
"What right has any one to bring an abomination like that into our city? The horror is enough to make an idiot of every child in the place."
"We are both subjects of the king, and my poor animal can't help her looks. How would you like to be served like that because you were ugly? She's not a bit fonder of her looks than you are only what can she do to change them?"
"I'll do to change them," said the fellow.
Thereupon the butchers brandished their long knives and advanced, keeping their eyes upon Lina.
"Don't be afraid, Lina," cried Curdie. "I'll kill one—you kill the other."
Lina gave a howl that might have terrified an army, and crouched ready to spring. The butchers turned and ran.
By this time a great crowd had gathered behind the butchers, and in it a number of boys returning from school, who began to stone the strangers. It was a way they had with man or beast they did not expect to make anything by. One of the stones struck Lina; she caught it in her teeth and crunched it that it fell in gravel from her mouth. Some of the foremost of the crowd saw this, and it terrified them. They drew back; the rest took fright from their retreat; the panic spread; and at last the crowd scattered in all directions. They ran, and cried out, and said the devil and his dam were come to Gwyntystorm. So Curdie and Lina were left standing unmolested in the market-place. But the terror of them spread throughout the city, and everybody began to shut and lock his door, so that by the time the setting sun shone down the street, there was not a shop left open, for fear of the devil and his horrible dam. But all the upper windows within sight of them were crowded with heads watching them where they stood lonely in the deserted market-place.
Curdie looked carefully all round, but could not see one open door. He caught sight of the sign of an inn however, and laying down his mattock, and telling Lina to take care of it, walked up to the door of it and knocked. But the people in the house, instead of opening the door, threw things at him from the windows. They would not listen to a word he said, but sent him back to Lina with the blood running down his face. When Lina saw that, she leaped up in a fury and was rushing at the house, into which she would certainly have broken; but Curdie called her, and made her lie down beside him while he bethought him what next he should do.
"Lina," he said, "the people keep their gates open, but their houses and their hearts shut."
As if she knew it was her presence that had brought this trouble upon him, she rose, and went round and round him, purring like a tigress, and rubbing herself against his legs.
Now there was one little thatched house that stood squeezed in between two tall gables, and the sides of the two great houses shot out projecting windows that nearly met across the roof of the little one, so that it lay in the street like a doll's house. In this house lived a poor old woman, with a grandchild. And because she never gossiped or quarrelled, or chaffered in the market, but went without what she could not afford, the people called her a witch, and would have done her many an ill turn if they had not been afraid of her. Now while Curdie was looking in another direction the door opened, and out came a little dark-haired, black-eyed, gipsy-looking child, and toddled across the market-place towards the outcasts. The moment they saw her coming, Lina lay down flat on the road, and with her two huge forepaws covered her mouth, while Curdie went to meet her, holding out his arms. The little one came straight to him, and held up her mouth to be kissed. Then she took him by the hand, and drew him towards the house, and Curdie yielded to the silent invitation. But when Lina rose to follow, the child shrunk from her, frightened a little. Curdie took her up, and holding her on one arm, patted Lina with the other hand. Then the child wanted also to pat doggy, as she called her by a right bountiful stretch of courtesy, and having once patted her, nothing would serve but Curdie must let her have a ride on doggy. So he set her on Lina's back, holding her hand, and she rode home in merry triumph, all unconscious of the hundreds of eyes staring at her foolhardiness from the windows about the market-place, or the murmur of deep disapproval that rose from as many lips. At the door stood the grandmother to receive them. She caught the child to her bosom with delight at her courage, welcomed Curdie, and showed no dread of Lina. Many were the significant nods exchanged, and many a one said to another that the devil and the witch were old friends. But the woman was only a wise woman, who having seen how Curdie and Lina behaved to each other, judged from that what sort they were, and so made them welcome to her house. She was not like her fellow-townspeople, for that they were strangers recommended them to her.
The moment her door was shut, the other doors began to open, and soon there appeared little groups about here and there a threshold, while a few of the more courageous ventured out upon the square—all ready to make for their houses again, however, upon the least sign of movement in the little thatched one.
The baker and the barber had joined one of these groups, and were busily wagging their tongues against Curdie and his horrible beast.
"He can't be honest," said the barber; "for he paid me double the worth of the pane he broke in my window."
And then he told them how Curdie broke his window by breaking a stone in the street with his hammer. There the baker struck in.
"Now that was the stone," said he, "over which I had fallen three times within the last month: could it be by fair means he broke that to pieces at the first blow? Just to make up my mind on that point I tried his own hammer against a stone in the gate; it nearly broke both my arms, and loosened half the teeth in my head!"