CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF JILL
THE patch of light did not show up anything down in the darkness where they were standing. The others could only hear, not see, Jill’s efforts to get on to the Marsh-wiggle’s back. That is, they heard him saying, “You needn’t put your finger in my eye,” and, “Nor your foot in my mouth either,” and, “That’s more like it,” and, “Now, I’ll hold on to your legs. That’ll leave your arms free to steady yourself against the earth.”
Then they looked up and soon they saw the black shape of Jill’s head against the patch of light.
“Well?” they all shouted up anxiously.
“It’s a hole,” called Jill’s voice. “I could get through it if I was a little bit higher.”
“What do you see through it?” asked Eustace.
“Nothing much yet,” said Jill. “I say, Puddleglum, let go my legs so that I can stand on your shoulders instead of sitting on them. I can steady myself all right against the edge.”
They could hear her moving and then much more of her came into sight against the greyness of the opening; in fact all of her down to the waist.
“I say -” began Jill, but suddenly broke off with a cry: not a sharp cry. It sounded more as if her mouth had been muffled up or had something pushed into it. After that she found her voice and seemed to be shouting out as loud as she could, but they couldn’t hear the words. Two things then happened at the same moment. The patch of light was completely blocked up for a second or so; and they heard both a scuffling, struggling sound and the voice of the Marsh-wiggle gasping: “Quick! Help! Hold on to her legs.
Someone’s pulling her. There! No, here. Too late!”
The opening, and the cold light which filled it, were now perfectly clear again. Jill had vanished.
“Jill! Jill!” they shouted frantically, but there was no answer.
“Why the dickens couldn’t you have held her feet?” said Eustace.
“I don’t know, Scrubb,” groaned Puddleglum. “Born to be a misfit, I shouldn’t wonder. Fated. Fated to be Pole’s death, just as I was fated to eat Talking Stag at Harfang. Not that it isn’t my own fault as well, of course.”
“This is the greatest shame and sorrow that could have fallen on us,” said the Prince. “We have sent a brave lady into the hands of enemies and stayed behind in safety.”
“Don’t paint it too black, Sir,” said Puddleglum. “We’re not very safe except for death by starvation in this hole.”
“I wonder am I small enough to get through where Jill did?” said Eustace.
What had really happened to Jill was this. As soon as she got her head out of the hole she found that she was looking down as if from an upstairs window, not up as if through a trap-door. She had been so long in the dark that her eyes couldn’t at first take in what they were seeing: except that she was not looking at the daylit, sunny world which she so wanted to see. The air seemed to be deadly cold, and the light was pale and blue. There was also a good deal of noise going on and a lot of white objects flying about in the air. It was at that moment that she had shouted down to Puddleglum to let her stand up on his shoulders.
When she had done this, she could see and hear a good deal better. The noises she had been hearing turned out to be of two kinds: the rhythmical thump of several feet, and the music of four fiddles, three flutes, and a drum. She also got her own position clear. She was looking out of a hole in a steep bank which sloped down and reached the level about fourteen feet below her. Everything was very white. A lot of people were moving about. Then she gasped! The people were trim little Fauns, and Dryads with leafcrowned hair floating behind them. For a second they looked as if they were moving anyhow; then she saw that they were really doing a dance – a dance with so many complicated steps and figures that it took you some time to understand it. Then it came over her like a thunderclap that the pale, blue light was really moonlight, and the white stuff on the ground was really snow. And of course! There were the stars staring in a black frosty sky overhead. And the tall black things behind the dancers were trees. They had not only got out into the upper world at last, but had come out in the heart of Narnia. Jill felt she could have fainted with delight; and the music – the wild music, intensely sweet and yet just the least bit eerie too, and full of good magic as the Witch’s thrumming had been full of bad magic – made her feel it all the more.
All this takes a long time to tell, but of course it took a very short time to see. Jill turned almost at once to shout down to the others, “I say! It’s all right. We’re out, and we’re home.” But the reason she never got further than “I say” was this. Circling round and round the dancers was a ring of Dwarfs, all dressed in their finest clothes; mostly scarlet with fur-lined hoods and golden tassels and big furry top-boots. As they circled round they were all diligently throwing snowballs. (Those were the white things that Jill had seen flying through the air.) They weren’t throwing them at the dancers as silly boys might have been doing in England. They were throwing them through the dance in such perfect time with the music and with such perfect aim that if all the dancers were in exactly the right places at exactly the right moments, no one would be hit. This is called the Great Snow Dance and it is done every year in Narnia on the first moonlit night when there is snow on the ground. Of course it is a kind of game as well as a dance, because every now and then some dancer will be the least little bit wrong and get a snowball in the face, and then everyone laughs. But a good team of dancers, Dwarfs, and musicians will keep it up for hours without a single hit. On fine nights when the cold and the drum-taps, and the hooting of the owls, and the moonlight, have got into their wild, woodland blood and made it even wilder, they will dance till daybreak. I wish you could see it for yourselves.
What had stopped Jill when she got as far as the say of “I say” was of course simply a fine big snowball that came sailing through the dance from a Dwarf on the far side and got her fair and square in the mouth. She didn’t in the least mind; twenty snowballs would not have damped her spirits at that moment. But however happy you are feeling, you can’t talk with your mouth full of snow. And when, after considerable spluttering, she could speak again, she quite forgot in her excitement that the others, down in the dark, behind her, still didn’t know the good news. She simply leaned as far out of the hole as she could, and yelled to the dancers.
“Help! Help! We’re buried in the hill. Come and dig us out.”
The Narnians, who had not even noticed the little hole in the hillside, were of course very surprised, and looked about in several wrong directions before they found out where the voice was coming from. But when they caught sight of Jill they all came running towards her, and as many as could scrambled up the bank, and a dozen or more hands were stretched up to help her. And Jill caught hold of them and thus got out of the hole and came slithering down the bank head first, and then picked herself up and said:
“Oh, do go and dig the others out. There are three others, besides the horses. And one of them is Prince Rilian.”
She was already in the middle of a crowd when she said this, for besides the dancers all sorts of people who had been watching the dance, and whom she had not seen at first, came running up. Squirrels came out of the trees in showers, and so did Owls. Hedgehogs came waddling as fast as their short legs would carry them. Bears and Badgers followed at a slower pace. A great Panther, twitching its tail in excitement, was the last to join the party.
But as soon as they understood what Jill was saying, they all became active. “Pick and shovel, boys, pick and shovel. Off for our tools!” said the Dwarfs, and dashed away into the woods at top speed. “Wake up some Moles, they’re the chaps for digging. They’re quite as good as Dwarfs,” said a voice. “What was that she said about Prince Rilian?” said another. “Hush!” said the Panther. “The poor child’s crazed, and no wonder after being lost inside the hill. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.” “That’s right,” said an old Bear. “Why, she said Prince Rilian was a horse!” “No, she didn’t,” said a Squirrel, very pert. “Yes, she did,” said another Squirrel, even perter.
“It’s quite t-t-t-true. D-d-don’t be so silly,” said Jill. She spoke like that because her teeth were now chattering with the cold.
Immediately one of the Dryads flung round her a furry cloak which some Dwarf had dropped when he rushed to fetch his mining tools, and an obliging Faun trotted off among the trees to a place where Jill could see firelight in the mouth of a cave, to get her a hot drink. But before it came, all the Dwarfs reappeared with spades and pick-axes and charged at the hillside. Then Jill heard cries of “Hi! What are you doing? Put that sword down,” and “Now, young ‘un: none of that,” and, “He’s a vicious one, now, isn’t he?” Jill hurried to the spot and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when she saw Eustace’s face, very pale and dirty, projecting from the blackness of the hole, and Eustace’s right hand brandishing a sword with which he made lunges at anyone who came near him.
For of course Eustace had been having a very different time from Jill during the last few minutes. He had heard Jill cry out and seen her disappear into the unknown. Like the Prince and Puddleglum, he thought that some enemies had caught her. And from down below he didn’t see that the pale, blueish light was moonlight. He thought the hole would lead only into some other cave, lit by some ghostly phosphorescence and filled with goodness-knows-what evil creatures of the Underworld. So that when he had persuaded Puddleglum to give him a back, and drawn his sword, and poked out his head, he had really been doing a very brave thing. The others would have done it first if they could, but the hole was too small for them to climb through. Eustace was a little bigger, and a lot clumsier, than Jill, so that when he looked out he bumped his head against the top of the hole and brought a small avalanche of snow down on his face. And so, when he could see again, and saw dozens of figures coming at him as hard as they could run, it is not surprising that he tried to ward them off.
“Stop, Eustace, stop,” cried Jill. “They’re all friends. Can’t you see? We’ve come up in Narnia. Everything’s all right.”
Then Eustace did see, and apologized to the Dwarfs (and the Dwarfs said not to mention it), and dozens of thick, hairy, dwarfish hands helped him out just as they had helped Jill out a few minutes before. Then Jill scrambled up the bank and put her head in at the dark opening and shouted the good news in to the prisoners. As she turned away she heard Puddleglum mutter. “Ah, poor Pole. It’s been too much for her, this last bit. Turned her head, I shouldn’t wonder. She’s beginning to see things.”
Jill rejoined Eustace and they shook one another by both hands and took in great deep breaths of the free midnight air. And a warm cloak was brought for Eustace and hot drinks, for both. While they were sipping it, the Dwarfs had already got all the snow and all the sods off a large strip of the hillside round the original hole, and the pickaxes and spades were now going as merrily as the feet of Fauns and Dryads had been going in the dance ten minutes before. Only ten minutes! Yet already it felt to Jill and Eustace as if all their dangers in the dark and heat and general smotheriness of the earth must have been only a dream. Out here, in the cold, with the moon and the huge stars overhead (Narnian stars are nearer than stars in our world) and with kind, merry faces all round them, one couldn’t quite believe in Underland.
Before they had finished their hot drinks, a dozen or so Moles, newly waked and still very sleepy, and not well pleased, had arrived. But as soon as they understood what it was all about, they joined in with a will. Even the Fauns made themselves useful by carting away the earth in little barrows, and the Squirrels danced and leaped to and fro in great excitement, though Jill never found out exactly what they thought they were doing. The Bears and Owls contented themselves with giving advice, and kept on asking the children if they wouldn’t like to come into the cave (that was where Jill had seen the firelight) and get warm and have supper. But the children couldn’t bear to go without seeing their friends set free.
No one in our world can work at a job of that sort as Dwarfs and Talking Moles work in Narnia; but then, of course, Moles and Dwarfs don’t look on it as work. They like digging. It was therefore not really long before they had opened a great black chasm in the hillside. And out from the blackness into the moonlight – this would have been rather dreadful if one hadn’t known who they were came, first, the long, leggy, steeple-hatted figure of the Marsh-wiggle, and then, leading two great horses, Rilian the Prince himself.
As Puddleglum appeared shouts broke out on every side: “Why, it’s a Wiggle – why, it’s old Puddleglum – old Puddleglum from the Eastern Marshes – what ever have you been doing, Puddleglum? – there’ve been search-parties out for you – the Lord Trumpkin has been putting up notices there’s a reward offered!” But all this died away, all in one moment, into dead silence, as quickly as the noise dies away in a rowdy dormitory if the Headmaster opens the door. For now they saw the Prince.
No one doubted for a moment who he was. There were plenty of Beasts and Dryads and Dwarfs and Fauns who remembered him from the days before his enchanting. There were some old ones who could just remember how his father, King Caspian, had looked when he was a young man, and saw the likeness. But I think they would have known him anyway. Pale though he was from long imprisonment in the Deep Lands, dressed in black, dusty, dishevelled, and weary, there was something in his face and air which no one could mistake. That look is in the face of all true kings of Narnia, who rule by the will of Aslan and sit at Cair Paravel on the throne of Peter the High King.
Instantly every head was bared and every knee was bent; a moment later such cheering and shouting, such jumps and reels of joy, such hand-shakings and kissings and embracings of everybody by everybody else broke out that the tears came into Jill’s eyes. Their quest had been worth all the pains it cost.
“Please it your Highness,” said the oldest of the Dwarfs, “there is some attempt at a supper in the cave yonder, prepared against the ending of the snow-dance -“
“With a good will, Father,” said the Prince. “For never had any Prince, Knight, Gentleman, or Bear so good a stomach to his victuals as we four wanderers have tonight.”
The whole crowd began to move away through the trees towards the cave. Jill heard Puddleglum saying to those who pressed round him. “No, no, my story can wait.
Nothing worth talking about has happened to me. I want to hear the news. Don’t try breaking it to me gently, for I’d rather have it all at once. Has the King been shipwrecked? Any forest fires? No wars on the Calormen border? Or a few dragons, I shouldn’t wonder?” And all the creatures laughed aloud and said, “Isn’t that just like a Marshwiggle?”
The two children were nearly dropping with tiredness and hunger, but the warmth of the cave, and the very sight of it, with the firelight dancing on the walls and dressers and cups and saucers and plates and on the smooth stone floor, just as it does in a farmhouse kitchen, revived them a little. All the same they went fast asleep while supper was being got ready. And while they slept Prince Rilian was talking over the whole adventure with the older and wiser Beasts and Dwarfs. And now they all saw what it meant; how a wicked Witch (doubtless the same kind as that White Witch who had brought the Great Winter on Narnia long ago) had contrived the whole thing, first killing Rilian’s mother and enchanting Rilian himself. And they saw how she had dug right under Narnia and was going to break out and rule it through Rilian: and how he had never dreamed that the country of which she would make him king (king in name, but really her slave) was his own country. And from the children’s part of the story they saw how she was in league and friendship with the dangerous giants of Harfang. “And the lesson of it all is, your Highness,” said the oldest Dwarf, “that those Northern Witches always mean the same thing, but in every age they have a different plan for getting it.”