CHAPTER EIGHT: TWO NARROW ESCAPES
EVERYONE was cheerful as the Dawn Treader sailed from Dragon Island. They had fair winds as soon as they were out of the bay and came early next morning to the unknown land which some of them had seen when flying over the mountains while Eustace was still a dragon. It was a low green island inhabited by nothing but rabbits and a few goats, but from the ruins of stone huts, and from blackened places where fires had been, they judged that it had been peopled not long before. There were also some bones and broken weapons.
“Pirates’ work,” said Caspian.
“Or the dragon’s,” said Edmund.
The only other thing they found there was a little skin boat, or coracle, on the sands. It was made of hide stretched over a wicker framework. It was a tiny boat, barely four feet long, and the paddle which still lay in it was in proportion. They thought that either it had been made for a child or else that the people of that country had been Dwarfs. Reepicheep decided to keep it, as it was just the right size for him; so it was taken on board. They called that land Burnt Island, and sailed away before noon.
For some five days they ran before a south-south-east wind, out of sight of all lands and seeing neither fish nor gull. Then they had a day when it rained hard till the afternoon. Eustace lost two games of chess to Reepicheep and began to get like his old and disagreeable self again, and Edmund said he wished they could have gone to America with Susan. Then Lucy looked out of the stern windows and said:
“Hello! I do believe it’s stopping. And what’s that?”
They all tumbled up to the poop at this and found that the rain had stopped and that Drinian, who was on watch, was also staring hard at something astern. Or rather, at several things. They looked a little like smooth rounded rocks, a whole line of them with intervals of about forty feet in between.
“But they can’t be rocks,” Drinian was saying, “because they weren’t there five minutes ago.”
“And one’s just disappeared,” said Lucy.
“Yes, and there’s another one coming up,” said Edmund.
“And nearer,” said Eustace.
“Hang it!” said Caspian. “The whole thing is moving this way.”
“And moving a great deal quicker than we can sail, Sire,” said Drinian. “It’ll be up with us in a minute.”
They all held their breath, for it is not at all nice to be pursued by an unknown something either on land or sea. But what it turned out to be was far worse than anyone had suspected. Suddenly, only about the length of a cricket pitch from their port side, an appalling head reared itself out of the sea. It was all greens and vermilions with purple blotches – except where shell fish clung to it – and shaped rather like a horse’s, though without ears. It had enormous eyes, eyes made for staring through the dark depths of the ocean, and a gaping mouth filled with double rows of sharp fish-like teeth. It came up on what they first took to be a huge neck, but as more and more of it emerged everyone knew that this was not its neck but its body and that at last they were seeing what so many people have foolishly wanted to see – the great Sea Serpent. The folds of its gigantic tail could be seen far away, rising at intervals from the surface. And now its head was towering up higher than the mast.
Every man rushed to his weapon, but there was nothing to be done, the monster was out of reach. “Shoot! Shoot!” cried the Master Bowman, and several obeyed, but the arrows glanced off the Sea Serpent’s hide as if it was ironplated. Then, for a dreadful minute, everyone was still, staring up at its eyes and mouth and wondering where it would pounce.
But it didn’t pounce. It shot its head forward across the ship on a level with the yard of the mast. Now its head was just beside the fighting top. Still it stretched and stretched till its head was over the starboard bulwark. Then down it began to come – not on to the crowded deck but into the water, so that the whole ship was under an arch of serpent. And almost at once that arch began to get smaller: indeed on the starboard the Sea Serpent was now almost touching the Dawn Treader’s side.
Eustace (who had really been trying very hard to behave well, till the rain and the chess put him back) now did the first brave thing he had ever done. He was wearing a sword that Caspian had lent him. As soon as the serpent’s body was near enough on the starboard side he jumped on to the bulwark and began hacking at it with all his might. It is true that he accomplished nothing beyond breaking Caspian’s second-best sword into bits, but it was a fine thing for a beginner to have done.
Others would have joined him if at that moment Reepicheep had not called out, “Don’t fight! Push!” It was so unusual for the Mouse to advise anyone not to fight that, even in that terrible moment, every eye turned to him. And when he jumped up on to the bulwark, forward of the snake, and set his little furry back against its huge scaly, slimy back, and began pushing as hard as he could, quite a number of people saw what he meant and rushed to both sides of the ship to do the same. And when, a moment later, the Sea Serpent’s head appeared again, this time on the port side, and this time with its back to them, then everyone understood.
The brute had made a loop of itself round the Dawn Treader and was beginning to draw the loop tight. When it got quite tight – snap! – there would be floating matchwood where the ship had been and it could pick them out of the water one by one. Their only chance was to push the loop backward till it slid over the stern; or else (to put the same thing another way) to push the ship forward out of the loop.
Reepicheep alone had, of course, no more chance of doing this than of lifting up a cathedral, but he had nearly killed himself with trying before others shoved him aside. Very soon the whole ship’s company except Lucy and the Mouse (which was fainting) was in two long lines along the two bulwarks, each man’s chest to the back of the man in front, so that the weight of the whole line was in the last man, pushing for their lives. For a few sickening seconds (which seemed like hours) nothing appeared to happen. Joints cracked, sweat dropped, breath came in grunts and gasps. Then they felt that the ship was moving. They saw that the snake-loop was further from the mast than it had been. But they also saw that it was smaller. And now the real danger was at hand. Could they get it over the poop, or was it already too tight? Yes. It would just fit. It was resting on the poop rails. A dozen or more sprang up on the poop. This was far better. The Sea Serpent’s body was so low now that they could make a line across the poop and push side by side. Hope rose high till everyone remembered the high carved stern, the dragon tail, of the Dawn Treader. It would be quite impossible to get the brute over that.
“An axe,” cried Caspian hoarsely, “and still shove.” Lucy, who knew where everything was, heard him where she was standing on the main deck staring up at the poop. In a few seconds she had been below, got the axe, and was rushing up the ladder to the poop. But just as she reached the top there came a great crashing noise like a tree coming down and the ship rocked and darted forward. For at that very moment, whether because the Sea Serpent was being pushed so hard, or because it foolishly decided to draw the noose tight, the whole of the carved stern broke off and the ship was free.
The others were too exhausted to see what Lucy saw. There, a few yards behind them, the loop of Sea Serpent’s body got rapidly smaller and disappeared into a splash. Lucy always said (but of course she was very excited at the moment, and it may have been only imagination) that she saw a look of idiotic satisfaction on the creature’s face. What is certain is that it was a very stupid animal, for instead of pursuing the ship it turned its head round and began nosing all along its own body as if it expected to find the wreckage of the Dawn Treader there. But the Dawn Treader was already well away, running before a fresh breeze, and the men lay and sat panting and groaning all about the deck, till presently they were able to talk about it, and then to laugh about it. And when some rum had been served out they even raised a cheer; and everyone praised the valour of Eustace (though it hadn’t done any good) and of Reepicheep.
After this they sailed for three days more and saw nothing but sea and sky. On the fourth day the wind changed to the north and the seas began to rise; by the afternoon it had nearly become a gale. But at the same time they sighted land on their port bow.
“By your leave, Sire,” said Drinian, “we will try to get under the lee of that country by rowing and lie in harbour, maybe till this is over.” Caspian agreed, but a long row against the gale did not bring them to the land before evening. By the last light of that day they steered into a natural harbour and anchored, but no one went ashore that night. In the morning they found themselves in the green bay of a rugged, lonely-looking country which sloped up to a rocky summit. From the windy north beyond that summit clouds came streaming rapidly. They lowered the boat and loaded
her with any of the water casks which were now empty.
“Which stream shall we water at, Drinian?” said Caspian as he took his seat in the stern-sheets of the boat. “There seem to be two coming down into the bay.”
“It makes little odds, Sire,” said Drinian. “But I think it’s a shorter pull to that on the starboard-the eastern one.”
“Here comes the rain,” said Lucy.
“I should think it does!” said Edmund, for it was already pelting hard. “I say, let’s go to the other stream. There are trees there and we’ll have some shelter.”
“Yes, let’s,” said Eustace. “No point in getting wetter than we need.”
But all the time Drinian was steadily steering to the starboard, like tiresome people in cars who continue at forty miles an hour while you are explaining to them that they are on the wrong road.
“They’re right, Drinian,” said Caspian. “Why don’t you bring her head round and make for the western stream?”
“As your Majesty pleases,” said Drinian a little shortly. He had had an anxious day with the weather yesterday, and he didn’t like advice from landsmen. But he altered course; and it turned out afterwards that it was a good thing he did.
By the time they had finished watering, the rain was over and Caspian, with Eustace, the Pevensies, and Reepicheep, decided to walk up to the top of the hill and see what could be seen. It was a stiffish climb through coarse grass and heather and they saw neither man nor beast, except seagulls. When they reached the top they saw that it was a very small island, not more than twenty acres; and from this height the sea looked larger and more desolate than it did from the deck, or even the fighting top, of the Dawn Treader.
“Crazy, you know,” said Eustace to Lucy in a low voice, looking at the eastern horizon. “Sailing on and on into that with no idea what we may get to.” But he only said it out of habit, not really nastily as he would have done at one time.
It was too cold to stay long on the ridge for the wind still blew freshly from the north.
“Don’t let’s go back the same way,” said Lucy as they turned; “let’s go along a bit and come down by the other stream, the one Drinian wanted to go to.”
Everyone agreed to this and after about fifteen minutes they were at the source of the second river. It was a more interesting place than they had expected; a deep little mountain lake, surrounded by cliffs except for a narrow channel on the seaward side out of which the water flowed. Here at last they were out of the wind, and all sat down in the heather above the cliff for a rest.
All sat down, but one (it was Edmund) jumped up again very quickly.
“They go in for sharp stones on this island,” he said, groping about in the heather. “Where is the wretched thing? . . . Ah, now I’ve got it . . . Hullo! It wasn’t a stone at all, it’s a sword-hilt. No, by jove, it’s a whole sword; what the rust has left of it. It must have lain here for ages.”
“Narnian, too, by the look of it,” said Caspian, as they all crowded round.
“I’m sitting on something too,” said Lucy. “Something hard.” It turned out to be the remains of a mail-shirt. By this time everyone was on hands and knees, feeling in the thick heather in every direction. Their search revealed, one by one, a helmet, a dagger, and a few coins; not Calormen crescents but genuine Narnian “Lions” and “Trees” such as you might see any day in the market-place of Beaversdam or Beruna.
“Looks as if this might be all that’s left of one of our seven lords,” said Edmund.
“Just what I was thinking,” said Caspian. “I wonder which it was. There’s nothing on the dagger to show. And I wonder how he died.”
“And how we are to avenge him,” added Reepicheep.
Edmund, the only one of the party who had read several detective stories, had meanwhile been thinking.
“Look here,” he said, “there’s something very fishy about this. He can’t have been killed in a fight.”
“Why not?” asked Caspian.
“No bones,” said Edmund. “An enemy might take the armour and leave the body. But who ever heard of a chap who’d won a fight carrying away the body and leaving the armour?”
“Perhaps he was killed by a wild animal,” Lucy suggested.
“It’d be a clever animal,” said Edmund, “that would take a man’s mail shirt off.”
“Perhaps a dragon?” said Caspian.
“Nothing doing,” said Eustace. “A dragon couldn’t do it. I ought to know.”
“Well, let’s get away from the place, anyway,” said Lucy. She had not felt like sitting down again since Edmund had raised the question of bones.
“If you like,” said Caspian, getting up. “I don’t think any of this stuff is worth taking away.”
They came down and round to the little opening where the stream came out of the lake, and stood looking at the deep water within the circle of cliffs. If it had been a hot day, no doubt some would have been tempted to bathe and everyone would have had a drink. Indeed, even as it was, Eustace was on the very point of stooping down and scooping up some water in his hands when Reepicheep and Lucy both at the same moment cried, “Look,” so he forgot about his drink and looked.
The bottom of the pool was made of large greyish-blue stones and the water was perfectly clear, and on the bottom lay a life-size figure of a man, made apparently of gold. It lay face downwards with its arms stretched out above its head. And it so happened that as they looked at it, the clouds parted and the sun shone out. The golden shape was lit up from end to end. Lucy thought it was the most beautiful statue she had ever seen.
“Well!” whistled Caspian. “That was worth coming to see! I wonder, can we get it out?”
“We can dive for it, Sire,” said Reepicheep.
“No good at all,” said Edmund. “At least, if it’s really gold – solid gold – it’ll be far too heavy to bring up. And that pool’s twelve or fifteen feet deep if it’s an inch. Half a moment, though. It’s a good thing I’ve brought a hunting spear with me. Let’s see what the depth is like. Hold on to my hand, Caspian, while I lean out over the water a bit.” Caspian took his hand and Edmund, leaning forward, began to lower his spear into the water.
Before it was half-way in Lucy said, “I don’t believe the statue is gold at all. It’s only the light. Your spear looks just the same colour.”
“What’s wrong?” asked several voices at once; for Edmund had suddenly let go of the spear.
“I couldn’t hold it,” gasped Edmund, “it seemed so heavy.”
“And there it is on the bottom now,” said Caspian, “and Lucy is right. It looks just the same colour as the statue.”
But Edmund, who appeared to be having some trouble with his boots – at least he was bending down and looking at them – straightened himself all at once and shouted out in the sharp voice which people hardly ever disobey:
“Get back! Back from the water. All of you. At once!!”
They all did and stared at him.
“Look,” said Edmund, “look at the toes of my boots.”
“They look a bit yellow,” began Eustace.
“They’re gold, solid gold,” interrupted Edmund. “Look at them. Feel them. The leather’s pulled away from it already. And they’re as heavy as lead.”
“By Aslan!” said Caspian. “You don’t mean to say-?”
“Yes, I do,” said Edmund. “That water turns things into gold. It turned the spear into gold, that’s why it got so heavy. And it was just lapping against my feet (it’s a good thing I wasn’t barefoot) and it turned the toe-caps into gold. And that poor fellow on the bottom – well, you see.”
“So it isn’t a statue at all,” said Lucy in a low voice.
“No. The whole thing is plain now. He was here on a hot day. He undressed on top of the cliff – where we were sitting. The clothes have rotted away or been taken by birds to line nests with; the armour’s still there. Then he dived and -“
“Don’t,” said Lucy. “What a horrible thing.”
“And what a narrow shave we’ve had,” said Edmund.
“Narrow indeed,” said Reepicheep. “Anyone’s finger, anyone’s foot, anyone’s whisker, or anyone’s tail, might have slipped into the water at any moment.”
“All the same,” said Caspian, “we may as well test it.” He stooped down and wrenched up a spray of heather. Then, very cautiously, he knelt beside the pool and dipped it in. It was heather that he dipped; what he drew out was a perfect model of heather made of the purest gold, heavy and soft as lead.
“The King who owned this island,” said Caspian slowly, and his face flushed as he spoke, “would soon be the richest of all the Kings of the world. I claim this land for ever as a Narnian possession. It shall be called Goldwater Island. And I bind all of you to secrecy. No one must know of this. Not even Drinian – on pain of death, do you hear?”
“Who are you talking to?” said Edmund. “I’m no subject of yours. If anything it’s the other way round. I am one of the four ancient sovereigns of Narnia and you are under allegiance to the High King my brother.”
“So it has come to that, King Edmund, has it?” said Caspian, laying his hand on his sword-hilt.
“Oh, stop it, both of you,” said Lucy. “That’s the worst of doing anything with boys. You’re all such swaggering, bullying idiots – oooh! -” Her voice died away into a gasp. And everyone else saw what she had seen.
Across the grey hillside above them – grey, for the heather was not yet in bloom – without noise, and without looking at them, and shining as if he were in bright sunlight though the sun had in fact gone in, passed with slow pace the hugest lion that human eyes have ever seen. In describing the scene Lucy said afterwards, “He was the size of an elephant,” though at another time she only said, “The size of a cart-horse.” But it was not the size that mattered. Nobody dared to ask what it was. They knew it was Aslan.
And nobody ever saw how or where he went. They looked at one another like people waking from sleep.
“What were we talking about?” said Caspian. “Have I been making rather an ass of myself?”
“Sire,” said Reepicheep, “this is a place with a curse on it. Let us get back on board at once. And if I might have the honour of naming this island, I should call it Deathwater.”
“That strikes me as a very good name, Reep,” said Caspian, “though now that I come to think of it, I don’t know why. But the weather seems to be settling and I dare say Drinian would like to be off. What a lot we shall have to tell him.”
But in fact they had not much to tell for the memory of the last hour had all become confused.
“Their Majesties all seemed a bit bewitched when they came aboard,” said Drinian to Rhince some hours later when the Dawn Treader was once more under sail and Deathwater Island already below the horizon. “Something happened to them in that place. The only thing I could get clear was that they think they’ve found the body of one of these lords we’re looking for.”
“You don’t say so, Captain,” answered Rhince. “Well, that’s three. Only four more. At this rate we might be home soon after the New Year. And a good thing too. My baccy’s running a bit low. Good night, Sir.”