The Princess and Curdie/Chapter 4

The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
Chapter IV. Curdie's Father and Mother



THE eyes of the fathers and mothers are quick to read their children's looks, and when Curdie entered the cottage, his parents saw at once that something unusual had taken place. When he said to his mother, "I beg your pardon for being so late," there was something in the tone beyond the politeness that went to her heart, for it seemed to come from the place where all lovely things were born before they began to grow in this world. When he set his father's chair to the table, an attention he had not shown him for a long time, Peter thanked him with more gratitude than the boy had ever yet felt in all his life. It was a small thing to do for the man who had been serving him since ever he was born, but I suspect there is nothing a man can be so grateful for as that to which he has the most right. There was a change upon Curdie, and father and mother felt there must be something to account for it, and therefore were pretty sure he had something to tell them. For when a child's heart is all right, it is not likely he will want to keep anything from his parents. But the story of the evening was too solemn for Curdie to come out with all at once. He must wait until they had had their porridge, and the affairs of this world were over for the day. But when they were seated on the grassy bank of the brook that went so sweetly blundering over the great stones of its rocky channel, for the whole meadow lay on the top of a huge rock, then he felt that the right hour had come for sharing with them the wonderful things that had come to him. It was perhaps the loveliest of all hours in the year. The summer was young and soft, and this was the warmest evening they had yet had—dusky, dark even below, while above the stars were bright and large and sharp in the blackest blue sky. The night came close around them, clasping them in one universal arm of love, and although it neither spoke nor smiled, seemed all eye and ear, seemed to see and hear and know everything they said and did. It is a way the night has sometimes, and there is a reason for it. The only sound was that of the brook, for there was no wind, and no trees for it to make its music upon if there had been, for the cottage was high up on the mountain, on a great shoulder of stone where trees would not grow. There, to the accompaniment of the water, as it hurried down to the valley and the sea, talking busily of a thousand true things which it could not understand, Curdie told his tale, outside and in, to his father and mother. What a world had slipped in between the mouth of the mine and his mother's cottage! Neither of them said a word until he had ended.

"Now what am I to make of it, mother? It's so strange!" he said, and stopped.

"It's easy enough to see what Curdie has got to make of it—isn't it, Peter?" said the good woman, turning her face towards all she could see of her husband's.

"It seems so to me," answered Peter, with a smile, which only the night saw, but his wife felt in the tone of his words. They were the happiest couple in that country, because they always understood each other, and that was because they always meant the same thing, and that was because they always loved what was fair and true and right better—not than anything else, but than everything else put together.

"Then will you tell Curdie?" said she.

"You can talk best, Joan," said he. "You tell him, and I will listen—and learn how to say what I think" he added, laughing.

"I," said Curdie, "don't know what to think."

"It does not matter so much," said his mother. "If only you know what to make of a thing, you'll know soon enough what to think of it. Now I needn't tell you, surely, Curdie, what you've got to do with this?"

"I suppose you mean, mother," answered Curdie, "that I must do as the old lady told me?"

"That is what I mean: what else could it be? Am I not right, Peter?"

"Quite right, Joan," answered Peter, "so far as my judgment goes. It is a very strange story, but you see the question is not about believing it, for Curdie knows what came to him."

"And you remember, Curdie," said his mother, " that when the princess took you up that tower once before, and there talked to her great-great-grandmother, you came home quite angry with her, and said there was nothing in the place but an old tub, a heap of straw—oh, I remember your inventory quite well!—an old tub, a heap of straw, a withered apple, and a sunbeam. According to your eyes, that was all there was in the great old musty garret. But now you have had a glimpse of the old princess herself!"

"Yes, mother, I did see her—or if I didn't,—" said Curdie very thoughtfully—then began again. "The hardest thing to believe, though I saw it with my own eyes, was when the thin, filmy creature, that seemed almost to float about in the moonlight like a bit of the silver paper they put over pictures, or like a handkerchief made of spider-threads, took my hand, and rose up. She was taller and stronger than you, mother, ever so much!—at least, she looked so."

"And most certainly was so, Curdie, if she looked so," said Mrs. Peterson.

"Well, I confess," returned her son, "that one thing, if there were no other, would make me doubt whether I was not dreaming after all, for as wide awake as I fancied myself to be."

"Of course," answered his mother, "it is not for me to say whether you were dreaming or not if you are doubtful of it yourself; but it doesn't make me think I am dreaming when in the summer I hold in my hand the bunch of sweet-peas that make my heart glad with their colour and scent, and remember the dry, withered-looking little thing I dibbled into the hole in the same spot in the spring. I only think how wonderful and lovely it all is. It seems just as full of reason as it is of wonder. How it is done I can't tell, only there it is! And there is this in it too, Curdie—of which you would not be so ready to think—that when you come home to your father and mother, and they find you behaving more like a dear good son than you have behaved for a long time, they at least are not likely to think you were only dreaming."

"Still," said Curdie, looking a little ashamed, "I might have dreamed my duty."

"Then dream often, my son; for there must then be more truth in your dreams than in your waking thoughts. But however any of these things may be, this one point remains certain: there can be no harm in doing as she told you. And, indeed, until you are sure there is no such person, you are bound to do it, for you promised."

"It seems to me," said his father, "that if a lady comes to you in a dream, Curdie, and tells you not to talk about her when you wake, the least you can do is to hold your tongue."

"True, father!—Yes, mother, I'll do it," said Curdie. Then they went to bed, and sleep, which is the night of the soul, next took them in its arms and made them well.