CHAPTER TEN: THE FIRST JOKE AND OTHER MATTERS
IT was of course the Lion’s voice. The children had long felt sure that he could speak: yet it was a lovely and terrible shock when he did.
Out of the trees wild people stepped forth, gods and goddesses of the wood; with them came Fauns and Satyrs and Dwarfs. Out of the river rose the river god with his Naiad daughters. And all these and all the beasts and birds in their different voices, low or high or thick or clear, replied:
“Hail, Aslan. We hear and obey. We are awake. We love. We think. We speak. We know.”
“But please, we don’t know very much yet,” said a nosey and snorty kind of voice. And that really did make the children jump, for it was the cab-horse who had spoken.
“Good old Strawberry,” said Polly. “I am glad he was one of the ones picked out to be a Talking Beast.” And the Cabby, who was now standing beside the children, said, “Strike me pink. I always did say that ‘oss ‘ad a lot of sense, though.”
“Creatures, I give you yourselves,” said the strong, happy voice of Aslan. “I give to you forever this land of Narnia. I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers. I give you the stars and I give you myself. The Dumb Beasts whom I have not chosen are yours also. Treat them gently and cherish them but do not go back to their ways lest you cease to be Talking Beasts. For out of them you were taken and into them you can return. Do not so.”
“No, Aslan, we won’t, we won’t,” said everyone. But one perky jackdaw added in a loud voice, “No fear!” and everyone else had finished just before he said it so that his words came out quite clear in a dead silence; and perhaps you have found out how awful that can be – say, at a party. The Jackdaw became so embarrassed that it hid its head under its wings as if it was going to sleep. And all the other animals began making various queer noises which are their ways of laughing and which, of course, no one has ever heard in our world. They tried at first to repress it, but Aslan said:
“Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.”
So they all let themselves go. And there was such merriment that the Jackdaw himself plucked up courage again and perched on the cab-horse’s head, between its ears, clapping its wings, and said:
“Aslan! Aslan! Have I made the first joke? Will everybody always be told how I made the first joke?”
“No, little friend,” said the Lion. “You have not made the first joke; you have only been the first joke.” Then everyone laughed more than ever; but the Jackdaw didn’t mind and laughed just as loud till the horse shook its head and the Jackdaw lost its balance and fell off, but remembered its wings (they were still new to it) before it reached the ground.
“And now,” said Aslan, “Narnia is established. We must next take thought for keeping it safe. I will call some of you to my council. Come hither to me, you the chief Dwarf, and you the River-god, and you Oak and the Owl, and both the Ravens and the Bull-Elephant. We must talk together. For though the world is not five hours old an evil has already entered it.”
The creatures he had named came forward and he turned away eastward with them. The others all began talking, saying things like “What did he say had entered the world? – A Neevil – What’s a Neevil? – No, he didn’t say a Neevil, he said a weevil – Well, what’s that?”
“Look here,” said Digory to Polly, “I’ve got to go after him – Aslan, I mean, the Lion. I must speak to him.”
“Do you think we can?” said Polly. “I wouldn’t dare.”
“I’ve got to,” said Digory. “It’s about Mother. If anyone could give me something that would do her good, it would be him.”
“I’ll come along with you,” said the Cabby. “I liked the looks of ‘im. And I don’t reckon these other beasts will go for us. And I want a word with old Strawberry.”
So all three of them stepped out boldly – or as boldly as they could – towards the assembly of animals. The creatures were so busy talking to one another and making friends that they didn’t notice the three humans until they were very close; nor did they hear Uncle Andrew, who was standing trembling in his buttoned boots a good way off and shouting (but by no means at the top of his voice).
“Digory! Come back! Come back at once when you’re told. I forbid you to go a step further.”
When at last they were right in among the animals, the animals all stopped talking and stared at them.
“Well?” said the He-Beaver at last, “what, in the name of Aslan, are these?”
“Please,” began Digory in rather a breathless voice, when a Rabbit said, “They’re a kind of large lettuce, that’s my belief.”
“No, we’re not, honestly we’re not,” said Polly hastily. “We’re not at all nice to eat.”
“There!” said the Mole. “They can talk. Who ever heard of a talking lettuce?”
“Perhaps they’re the Second joke,” suggested the Jackdaw.
A Panther, which had been washing its face, stopped for a moment to say, “Well, if they are, they’re nothing like so good as the first one. At least, 1 don’t see anything very funny about them.” It yawned and went on with its wash.
“Oh, please,” said Digory. “I’m in such a hurry. I want to see the Lion.”
All this time the Cabby had been trying to catch Strawberry’s eye. Now he did. “Now, Strawberry, old boy,” he said. “You know me. You ain’t going to stand there and say as you don’t know me.”
“What’s the Thing talking about, Horse?” said several voices.
“Well,” said Strawberry very slowly, “I don’t exactly know, I think most of us don’t know much about any
thing yet. But I’ve a sort of idea I’ve seen a thing like this before. I’ve a feeling I lived somewhere else – or was something else – before Aslan woke us all up a few minutes ago. It’s all very muddled. Like a dream. But there were things like these three in the dream.”
“What?” said the Cabby. “Not know me? Me what used to bring you a hot mash of an evening when you was out of sorts? Me what rubbed you down proper? Me what never forgot to put your cloth on you if you was standing in the cold? I wouldn’t ‘ave thought it of you, Strawberry.”
“It does begin to come back,” said the Horse thoughtfully. “Yes. Let me think now, let me think. Yes, you used to tie a horrid black thing behind me and then hit me to make me run, and however far I ran this black thing would always be coming rattle-rattle behind me.”
“We ‘ad our living to earn, see,” said the Cabby. “Yours the same as mine. And if there ‘adn’t been no work and no whip there’d ‘ave been no stable, no hay, no mash, and no oats. For you did get a taste of oats when I could afford ’em, which no one can deny.”
“Oats?” said the Horse, pricking up his ears. “Yes, I remember something about that. Yes, I remember more and more. You were always sitting up somewhere behind, and I was always running in front, pulling you and the black thing. I know I did all the work.”
“Summer, I grant you,” said the Cabby. “‘Ot work for you and a cool seat for me. But what about winter, old boy, when you was keeping yourself warm and I was sitting up there with my feet like ice and my nose fair pinched off me with the wind, and my ‘ands that numb I couldn’t ‘ardly ‘old the reins?”
“It was a hard, cruel country,” said Strawberry. “There was no grass. All hard stones.”
“Too true, mate, too true!” said the Cabby. “A ‘ard world it was. I always did say those paving-stones weren’t fair on any ‘oss. That’s Lunn’on, that is. I didn’t like it no more than what you did. You were a country ‘oss, and I was a country man. Used to sing in the choir, I did, down at ‘ome. But there wasn’t a living for me there.”
“Oh please, please,” said Digory. “Could we get on? The Lion’s getting further and further away. And I do want to speak to him so dreadfully badly.”
“Look ‘ere, Strawberry,” said the Cabby. “This young gen’leman ‘as something on his mind that he wants to talk to the Lion about; ‘im you call Aslan. Suppose you was to let ‘im ride on your back (which ‘e’d take it very kindly) and trot ‘im over to where the Lion is. And me and the little girl will be following along.”
“Ride?” said Strawberry. “Oh, I remember now. That means sitting on my back. I remember there used to be a little one of you two-leggers who used to do that long ago. He used to have little hard, square lumps of some white stuff that he gave me. They tasted – oh, wonderful, sweeter than grass.”
“Ah, that’d be sugar,” said the Cabby.
“Please, Strawberry,” begged Digory, “do, do let me get up and take me to Aslan.”
“Well, I don’t mind,” said the Horse. “Not for once in a way. Up you get.”
“Good old Strawberry,” said the Cabby. “‘Ere, young ‘un, I’ll give you a lift.” Digory was soon on Strawberry’s back, and quite comfortable, for he had ridden bare-back before on his own pony.
“Now, do gee up, Strawberry,” he said.
“You don’t happen to have a bit of that white stuff about you, I suppose?” said the Horse.
“No. I’m afraid I haven’t,” said Digory.
“Well, it can’t be helped,” said Strawberry, and off they went.
At that moment a large Bulldog, who had been sniffing and staring very hard, said:
“Look. Isn’t there another of these queer creatures over there, beside the river, under the trees?”
Then all the animals looked and saw Uncle Andrew, standing very still among the rhododendrons and hoping he wouldn’t be noticed.
“Come on!” said several voices. “Let’s go and find out.” So, while Strawberry was briskly trotting away with Digory in one direction (and Polly and the Cabby were following on foot) most of the creatures rushed towards Uncle Andrew with roars, barks, grunts, and various noises of cheerful interest.
We must now go back a bit and explain what the whole scene had looked like from Uncle Andrew’s point of view. It had not made at’ all the same impression on him as on the Cabby and the children. For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.
Ever since the animals had first appeared, Uncle Andrew had been shrinking further and further back into the thicket. He watched them very hard of course; but he wasn’t really interested in seeing what they were doing, only in seeing whether they were going to make a rush at him. Like the Witch, he was dreadfully practical. He simply didn’t notice that Aslan was choosing one pair out of every kind of beasts. All he saw, or thought he saw, was a lot of dangerous wild animals walking vaguely about. And he kept on wondering why the other animals didn’t run away from the big Lion.
When the great moment came and the Beasts spoke, he missed the whole point; for a rather interesting reason. When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing – only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings, and howlings. And when they laughed – well, you can imagine. That was worse for Uncle Andrew than anything that had happened yet. Such a horrid, bloodthirsty din of hungry and angry brutes he had never heard in his life. Then, to his utter rage and horror, he saw the other three humans actually walking out into the open to meet the animals.
“The fools!” he said to himself. “Now those brutes will eat the rings along with the children and I’ll never be able to get home again. What a selfish little boy that Digory is! And the others are just as bad. If they want to throw away their own lives, that’s their business. But what about me? They don’t seem to think of that. No one thinks of me.”
Finally, when a whole crowd of animals came rushing towards him, he turned and ran for his life. And now anyone could see that the air of that young world was really doing the old gentleman good. In London he had been far too old to run: now, he ran at a speed which would have made him certain to win the hundred yards’ race at any Prep school in England. His coattails flying out behind him were a fine sight. But of course it was no use. Many of the animals behind him were swift ones; it was the first run they had ever taken in their lives and they were all longing to use their new muscles. “After him! After him!” they shouted. “Perhaps he’s that Neevil! Tally-ho! Tantivy! Cut him off! Round him up! Keep it up! Hurrah!”
In a very few minutes some of them got ahead of him. They lined up in a row and barred his way. Others hemmed him in from behind. Wherever he looked he saw terrors. Antlers of great elks and the huge face of an elephant towered over him. Heavy, serious-minded bears and boars grunted behind him. Cool-looking leopards and panthers with sarcastic faces (as he thought) stared at him and waved their tails. What struck him most of all was the number of open mouths. The animals had really opened their mouths to pant; he thought they had opened their mouths to eat him.
Uncle Andrew stood trembling and swaying this way and that. He had never liked animals at the best of times, being usually rather afraid of them; and of course years of doing cruel experiments on animals had made him hate and fear them far more.
“Now, sir,” said the Bulldog in his business-like way, “are you animal, vegetable, or mineral?” That was what it really said; but all Uncle Andrew heard was “Gr-r-rarrh-ow!”