J UST as the consolation of this resolve dawned upon his mind, and he was turning away for the cellar to follow the goblins into their hole, something touched his hand. It was the slightest touch, and when he looked he could see nothing. Feeling and peering about in the gray of the dawn, his fingers came upon a tight thread. He looked again, and narrowly, but still could see nothing. It flashed upon him that this must be the princess's thread. Without saying a word, for he knew no one would believe him any more than he had believed the princess, he followed the thread with his finger, contrived to give Lootie the slip, and was soon out of the house, and on the mountain-side—surprised that, if the thread were indeed her grandmother's messenger, it should have led the princess, as he supposed it must, into the mountain, where she would be certain to meet the goblins rushing back enraged from their defeat. But he hurried on in the hope of overtaking her first. When he arrived, however, at the place where the path turned off for the mine, he found that the thread did not turn with it, but went straight up the mountain. Could it be that the thread was leading him home to his mother's cottage? Could the princess be there? He bounded up the mountain like one of its own goats, and before the sun was up, the thread had brought him indeed to his mother's door. There it vanished from his fingers, and he could not find it, search as he might.
The door was on the latch, and he entered. There sat his mother by the fire, and in her arms lay the princess fast asleep.
"Hush, Curdie!" said his mother. "Do not wake her. I'm so glad you're come! I thought the cobs must have got you again!"
With a heart full of delight, Curdie sat down at a corner of the hearth, on a stool opposite his mother's chair, and gazed at the princess, who slept as peacefully as if she had been in her own bed. All at once she opened her eyes and fixed them on him.
"Oh, Curdie! you're come!" she said quietly. "I thought you would!"
Curdie rose and stood before her with downcast eyes.
"Irene," he said, "I am very sorry I did not believe you."
"Oh, never mind, Curdie!" answered the princess. "You couldn't, you know. You do believe me now, don't you?"
"I can't help it now. I ought to have helped it before."
"Why can't you help it now?"
"Because, just as I was going into the mountain to look for you, I got hold of your thread, and it brought me here."
"Then you've come from my house, have you?"
"Yes, I have."
"I didn't know you were there."
"I've been there two or three days, I believe."
"And I never knew it!—Then perhaps you can tell me why my grandmother has brought me here? I can't think. Something woke me—I didn't know what, but I was frightened, and I felt for the thread, and there it was! I was more frightened still when it brought me out on the mountain, for I thought it was going to take me into it again, and I like the outside of it best. I supposed you were in trouble again, and I had to get you out, but it brought me here instead; and, oh, Curdie! your mother has been so kind to me—just like my own grandmother!"
Here Curdie's mother gave the princess a hug, and the princess turned and gave her a sweet smile, and held up her mouth to kiss her.
"Then you didn't see the cobs?" asked Curdie.
"No; I haven't been into the mountain, I told you, Curdie."
"But the cobs have been into your house—all over it—and into your bedroom making such a row!"
"What did they want there? It was very rude of them."
"They wanted you—to carry you off into the mountain with them, for a wife to their prince Harelip."
"Oh, how dreadful!" cried the princess, shuddering.
"But you needn't be afraid, you know. Your grandmother takes care of you."
"Ah! you do believe in my grandmother then? I'm so glad! She made me think you would some day."
All at once Curdie remembered his dream, and was silent, thinking.
"But how did you come to be in my house, and me not know it?" asked the princess.
Then Curdie had to explain everything—how he had watched for her sake, how he had been wounded and shut up by the soldiers, how he heard the noises and could not rise, and how the beautiful old lady had come to him, and all that followed.
"Poor Curdie! to lie there hurt and ill, and me never to know it!" exclaimed the princess, stroking his rough hand. "I would not have hesitated to come and nurse you, if they had told me."
"I didn't see you were lame," said his mother.
"Am I, mother? Oh—yes—I suppose I ought to be. I declare I've never thought of it since I got up to go down amongst the cobs!"
"Let me see the wound," said his mother.
He pulled down his stocking—when behold, except a great scar, his leg was perfectly sound!
Curdie and his mother gazed in each other's eyes, full of wonder,
but Irene called
"I thought so, Curdie! I was sure it wasn't a dream. I was sure my grandmother had been to see you.—Don't you smell the roses? It was my grandmother healed your leg, and sent you to help me."
"No, Princess Irene," said Curdie; "I wasn't good enough to be allowed to help you: I didn't believe you. Your grandmother took care of you without me."
"She sent you to help my people, anyhow. I wish my king-papa would come. I do want so to tell him how good you have been!"
"But," said the mother, "we are forgetting how frightened your people must be.—You must take the princess home at once, Curdie—or at least go and tell them where she is."
"Yes, mother. Only I'm dreadfully hungry. Do let me have some breakfast first. They ought to have listened to me, and then they wouldn't have been taken by surprise as they were."
"That is true, Curdie; but it is not for you to blame them much. You remember?"
"Yes, mother, I do. Only I must really have something to eat."
"You shall, my boy—as fast as I can get it," said his mother, rising and setting the princess on her chair.
But before his breakfast was ready, Curdie jumped up so suddenly as to startle both his companions.
"Mother, mother!" he cried, "I was forgetting. You must take the princess home yourself. I must go and wake my father."
Without a word of explanation, he rushed to the place where his father was sleeping. Having thoroughly roused him with what he told him, he darted out of the cottage.