Chapter 10: THE SPELL BEGINS TO BREAK
Now we must go back to Mr and Mrs Beaver and the three other children. As soon as Mr Beaver said, “There’s no time to lose,” everyone began bundling themselves into coats, except Mrs Beaver, who started picking up sacks and laying them on the table and said: “Now, Mr Beaver, just reach down that ham. And here’s a packet of tea, and there’s sugar, and some matches. And if someone will get two or three loaves out of the crock over there in the corner.”
“What are you doing, Mrs Beaver?” exclaimed Susan.
“Packing a load for each of us, dearie,” said Mrs Beaver very coolly. “You didn’t think we’d set out on a journey with nothing to eat, did you?”
“But we haven’t time!” said Susan, buttoning the collar of her coat. “She may be here any minute.”
“That’s what I say,” chimed in Mr Beaver.
“Get along with you all,” said his wife. “Think it over, Mr Beaver. She can’t be here for quarter of an hour at least.”
“But don’t we want as big a start as we can possibly get,” said Peter, “if we’re to reach the Stone Table before her?”
“You’ve got to remember that, Mrs Beaver,” said Susan. “As soon as she has looked in here and finds we’re gone she’ll be off at top speed.”
“That she will,” said Mrs Beaver. “But we can’t get there before her whatever we do, for she’ll be on a sledge and we’ll be walking.”
“Then – have we no hope?” said Susan.
“Now don’t you get fussing, there’s a dear,” said Mrs Beaver, “but just get half a dozen clean handkerchiefs out of the drawer. ‘Course we’ve got a hope. We can’t get there before her but we can keep under cover and go by ways she won’t expect and perhaps we’ll get through.”
“That’s true enough, Mrs Beaver,” said her husband. “But it’s time we were out of this.”
“And don’t you start fussing either, Mr Beaver,” said his wife. “There. That’s better. There’s five loads and the smallest for the smallest of us: that’s you, my dear,” she added, looking at Lucy.
“Oh, do please come on,” said Lucy.
“Well, I’m nearly ready now,” answered Mrs Beaver at last, allowing her husband to help her into; her snow-boots. “I suppose the sewing machine’s took heavy to bring?”
“Yes. It is,” said Mr Beaver. “A great deal too heavy. And you don’t think you’ll be able to use it while we’re on the run, I suppose?”
“I can’t abide the thought of that Witch fiddling with it,” said Mrs Beaver, “and breaking it or stealing it, as likely as not.”
“Oh, please, please, please, do hurry!” said the three children. And so at last they all got outside and Mr Beaver locked the door (“It’ll delay her a bit,” he said) and they set off, all carrying their loads over their shoulders.
The snow had stopped and the moon had come out when they began their journey. They went in single file – first Mr Beaver, then Lucy, then Peter, then Susan, and Mrs Beaver last of all. Mr Beaver led them across the dam and on to the right bank of the river and then along a very rough sort of path among the trees right down by the river-bank. The sides of the valley, shining in the moonlight, towered up far above them on either hand. “Best keep down here as much as possible,” he said. “She’ll have to keep to the top, for you couldn’t bring a sledge down here.”
It would have been a pretty enough scene to look at it through a window from a comfortable armchair; and even as things were, Lucy enjoyed it at first. But as they went on walking and walking – and walking and as the sack she was carrying felt heavier and heavier, she began to wonder how she was going to keep up at all. And she stopped looking at the dazzling brightness of the frozen river with all its waterfalls of ice and at the white masses of the tree-tops and the great glaring moon and the countless stars and could only watch the little short legs of Mr Beaver going pad-pad-pad-pad through the snow in front of her as if they were never going to stop. Then the moon disappeared and the snow began to fall once more. And at last Lucy was so tired that she was almost asleep and walking at the same time when suddenly she found that Mr Beaver had turned away from the river-bank to the right and was leading them steeply uphill into the very thickest bushes. And then as she came fully awake she found that Mr Beaver was just vanishing into a little hole in the bank which had been almost hidden under the bushes until you were quite on top of it. In fact, by the time she realized what was happening, only his short flat tail was showing.
Lucy immediately stooped down and crawled in after him. Then she heard noises of scrambling and puffing and panting behind her and in a moment all five of them were inside.
“Wherever is this?” said Peter’s voice, sounding tired and pale in the darkness. (I hope you know what I mean by a voice sounding pale.)
“It’s an old hiding-place for beavers in bad times,” said Mr Beaver, “and a great secret. It’s not much of a place but we must get a few hours’ sleep.”
“If you hadn’t all been in such a plaguey fuss when we were starting, I’d have brought some pillows,” said Mrs Beaver.
It wasn’t nearly such a nice cave as Mr Tumnus’s, Lucy thought – just a hole in the ground but dry and earthy. It was very small so that when they all lay down they were all a bundle of clothes together, and what with that and being warmed up by their long walk they were really rather snug. If only the floor of the cave had been a little smoother! Then Mrs Beaver handed round in the dark a little flask out of which everyone drank something – it made one cough and splutter a little and stung the throat, but it also made you feel deliciously warm after you’d swallowed it and everyone went straight to sleep.
It seemed to Lucy only the next minute (though really it was hours and hours later) when she woke up feeling a little cold and dreadfully stiff and thinking how she would like a hot bath. Then she felt a set of long whiskers tickling her cheek and saw the cold daylight coming in through the mouth of the cave. But immediately after that she was very wide awake indeed, and so was everyone else. In fact they were all sitting up with their mouths and eyes wide open listening to a sound which was the very sound they’d all been thinking of (and sometimes imagining they heard) during their walk last night. It was a sound of jingling bells.
Mr Beaver was out of the cave like a flash the moment he heard it. Perhaps you think, as Lucy thought for a moment, that this was a very silly thing to do? But it was really a very sensible one. He knew he could scramble to the top of the bank among bushes and brambles without being seen; and he wanted above all things to see which way the Witch’s sledge went. The others all sat in the cave waiting and wondering. They waited nearly five minutes. Then they heard something that frightened them very much. They heard voices. “Oh,” thought Lucy, “he’s been seen. She’s caught him!”
Great was their surprise when a little later, they heard Mr Beaver’s voice calling to them from just outside the cave.
“It’s all right,” he was shouting. “Come out, Mrs Beaver. Come out, Sons and Daughters of Adam. It’s all right! It isn’t Her!” This was bad grammar of course, but that is how beavers talk when they are excited; I mean, in Narnia – in our world they usually don’t talk at all.
So Mrs Beaver and the children came bundling out of the cave, all blinking in the daylight, and with earth all over them, and looking very frowsty and unbrushed and uncombed and with the sleep in their eyes.
“Come on!” cried Mr Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. “Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling.”
“What do you mean, Mr Beaver?” panted Peter as they all scrambled up the steep bank of the valley together.
“Didn’t I tell you,” answered Mr Beaver, “that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!”
And then they were all at the top and did see.
It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man. in a bright red robe (bright as hollyberries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard, that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.
Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world – the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”
And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.
“And now,” said Father Christmas, “for your presents. There is a new and better sewing machine for you, Mrs Beaver. I will drop it in your house as, I pass.”
“If you please, sir,” said Mrs Beaver, making a curtsey. “It’s locked up.”
“Locks and bolts make no difference to me,” said Father Christmas. “And as for you, Mr Beaver, when you get home you will find your dam finished and mended and all the leaks stopped and a new sluicegate fitted.”
Mr Beaver was so pleased that he opened his mouth very wide and then found he couldn’t say anything at all.
“Peter, Adam’s Son,” said Father Christmas.
“Here, sir,” said Peter.
“These are your presents,” was the answer, “and they are tools not toys. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. Bear them well.” With these words he handed to Peter a shield and a sword. The shield was the colour of silver and across it there ramped a red lion, as bright as a ripe strawberry at the moment when you pick it. The hilt of the sword was of gold and it had a sheath and a sword belt and everything it needed, and it was just the right size and weight for Peter to use. Peter was silent and solemn as he received these gifts, for he felt they were a very serious kind of present.
“Susan, Eve’s Daughter,” said Father Christmas. “These are for you,” and he handed her a bow and a quiver full of arrows and a little ivory horn. “You must use the bow only in great need,” he said, “for I do not mean you to fight in the battle. It does not easily miss. And when you put this horn to your lips; and blow it, then, wherever you are, I think help of some kind will come to you.”
Last of all he said, “Lucy, Eve’s Daughter,” and Lucy came forward. He gave her a little bottle of what looked like glass (but people said afterwards that it was made of diamond) and a small dagger. “In this bottle,” he said, “there is cordial made of the juice of one of the fireflowers that grow in the mountains of the sun. If you or any of your friends is hurt, a few drops of this restore them. And the dagger is to defend yourse at great need. For you also are not to be in battle.”
“Why, sir?” said Lucy. “I think – I don’t know but I think I could be brave enough.”
“That is not the point,” he said. “But battles are ugly when women fight. And now” – here he suddenly looked less grave – “here is something for the moment for you all!” and he brought out (I suppose from the big bag at his back, but nobody quite saw him do it) a large tray containing five cups and saucers, a bowl of lump sugar, a jug of cream, and a great big teapot all sizzling and piping hot. Then he cried out “Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!” and cracked his whip, and he and the reindeer and the sledge and all were out of sight before anyone realized that they had started.
Peter had just drawn his sword out of its sheath and was showing it to Mr Beaver, when Mrs Beaver said:
“Now then, now then! Don’t stand talking there till the tea’s got cold. Just like men. Come and help to carry the tray down and we’ll have breakfast. What a mercy I thought of bringing the bread-knife.”
So down the steep bank they went and back to the cave, and Mr Beaver cut some of the bread and ham into sandwiches and Mrs Beaver poured out the tea and everyone enjoyed themselves. But long before they had finished enjoying themselves Mr Beaver said, “Time to be moving on now.”