H E must have slept a long time, for when he awoke, he felt wonderfully restored—indeed he felt almost well, and he was also very hungry. There were voices in the outer cave.
Once more then, it was night; for the goblins slept during the day, and went about their affairs during the night.
In the universal and constant darkness of their dwelling, they had no reason to prefer the one arrangement to the other; but from aversion to the sun-people, they chose to be busy when there was least chance of their being met either by the miners below, when they were burrowing, or by the people of the mountain above, when they were feeding their sheep or catching their goats. And indeed it was only when the sun was away that the outside of the mountain was sufficiently like their own dismal regions to be endurable to their mole-eyes, so thoroughly had they become disused to any light beyond that of their own fires and torches.
Curdie listened, and soon found that they were talking of himself.
"How long will it take?" asked Harelip.
"Not many days, I should think," answered the king. "They are poor feeble creatures, those sun-people, and want to be always eating. We can go a week at a time without food, and be all the better for it; but I've been told they eat two or three times every day! Can you believe it?—They must be quite hollow inside—not at all like us, nine-tenths of whose bulk is solid flesh and bone. Yes—I judge a week of starvation will do for him."
"If I may be allowed a word," interposed the queen,
"The wretch is entirely at your disposal, my spouse," interrupted the king. "He is your property. You caught him yourself. We should never have done it."
The queen laughed. She seemed in far better humor than the night before.
"I was about to say," she resumed, "that it does seem a pity to waste so much fresh meat."
"What are you thinking of, my love?" said the king. "The very notion of starving him implies that we are not going to give him any meat, either salt or fresh."
"I'm not such a stupid as that comes to," returned her Majesty. "What I mean is, that by the time he is starved, there will hardly be a picking upon his bones."
The king gave a great laugh.
"Well, my spouse, you may have him when you like," he said. "I don't fancy him for my part. I am pretty sure he is tough eating."
"That would be to honor instead of punish his insolence," returned the queen. "But why should our poor creatures be deprived of so much nourishment? Our little dogs and cats and pigs and small bears would enjoy him very much."
"You are the best of housekeepers, my lovely queen!" said her husband. "Let it be so by all means. Let us have our people in, and get him out and kill him at once. He deserves it. The mischief he might have brought upon us, now that he had penetrated so far as our most retired citadel, is incalculable. Or rather let us tie him hand and foot, and have the pleasure of seeing him torn to pieces by full torchlight in the great hall."
"Better and better!" cried the queen and prince together, both of them clapping their hands. And the prince made an ugly noise with his hare-lip, just as if he had intended to be one at the feast.
"But," added the queen, bethinking herself, "he is so troublesome. For as poor creatures as they are, there is something about those sun-people that is very troublesome. I cannot imagine how it is that with such superior strength and skill and understanding as ours, we permit them to exist at all. Why do we not destroy them entirely, and use their cattle and grazing lands at our pleasure? Of course, we don't want to live in their horrid country! It is far too glaring for our quieter and more refined tastes. But we might use it for a sort of outhouse, you know. Even our creatures' eyes might get used to it, and if they did grow blind, that would be of no consequence, provided they grew fat as well. But we might even keep their great cows and other creatures, and then we should have a few more luxuries, such as cream and cheese, which at present we only taste occasionally, when our brave men have succeeded in carrying some off from their farms."
"It is worth thinking of," said the king; "and I don't know why you should be the first to suggest it, except that you have a positive genius for conquest. But still, as you say, there is something very troublesome about them; and it would be better, as I understand you to suggest, that we should starve him for a day or two first, so that he may be a little less frisky when we take him out."
"What's that horrible noise?" cried the queen, shuddering from pot-metal head to granite shoes.
"I declare," said the king with solemn indignation, "it's the sun-creature in the hole!"
"Stop that disgusting noise!" cried the crown-prince valiantly, getting up and standing in front of the heap of stones, with his face toward Curdie's prison.—"Do now, or I'll break your head."
"Break away," shouted Curdie, and began singing
"I really cannot bear it," said the queen. "If I could only get at his horrid toes with my slippers again!"
"I think we had better go to bed," said the king.
"It's not time to go to bed," said the queen.
"I would if I was you," said Curdie.
"Impertinent wretch!" said the queen, with the utmost scorn in her voice.
"An impossible if," said his Majesty with dignity.
"Quite," returned Curdie, and began singing
"What a lie!" roared the queen in a rage.
"By the way, that reminds me," said the king, "that, for as long as we have been married, I have never seen your feet, queen. I think you might take off your shoes when you go to bed! They positively hurt me sometimes."
"I will do just as I like," retorted the queen sulkily.
"You ought to do as your own hubby wishes you," said the king.
"I will not," said the queen.
"Then I insist upon it," said the king.
Apparently his Majesty approached the queen for the purpose of following the advice given by Curdie, for the latter heard a scuffle, and then a great roar from the king.
"Will you be quiet then?" said the queen wickedly.
"Yes, yes, queen. I only meant to coax you."
"Hands off!" cried the queen triumphantly. "I'm going to bed. You may come when you like. But as long as I am queen, I will sleep in my shoes. It is my royal privilege. Harelip, go to bed."
"I'm going," said Harelip sleepily.
"So am I," said the king.
"Come along then," said the queen; "and mind you are good, or
"Oh, no, no, no!" screamed the king, in the most supplicating of tones.
Curdie heard only a muttered reply in the distance; and then the cave was quite still.
They had left the fire burning, and the light came through brighter than before. Curdie thought it was time to try again if anything could be done. But he found he could not get even a finger through the chink between the slab and the rock. He gave a great rush with his shoulder against the slab, but it yielded no more than if it had been part of the rock. All he could do was to sit down and think again.
By and by he came to the resolution to pretend to be dying, in the hope they might take him out before his strength was too much exhausted to let him have a chance. Then, for the creatures, if he could but find his axe again, he would have no fear of them; and if it were not for the queen's horrid shoes, he would have no fear at all.
Meantime, until they should come again at night, there was nothing for him to do but forge new rhymes, now his only weapons. He had no intention of using them at present, of course; but it was well to have a stock, for he might live to want them, and the manufacture of them would help to while away the time.