CHAPTER NINE: THE ISLAND OF THE VOICES
AND now the winds which had so long been from the north-west began to blow from the west itself and every morning when the sun rose out of the sea the curved prow of the Dawn Treader stood up right across the middle of the sun. Some thought that the sun looked larger than it looked from Narnia, but others disagreed. And they sailed and sailed before a gentle yet steady breeze and saw neither fish nor gull- nor ship nor shore. And stores began to get low again, and it crept into their hearts that perhaps they might have come to a sea which went on for ever. But when the very last day on which they thought they could risk continuing their eastward voyage dawned, it showed, right ahead between them and the sunrise, a low land lying like a cloud.
They made harbour in a wide bay about the middle of the afternoon and landed. It was a very different country from any they had yet seen. For when they had crossed the sandy beach they found all silent and empty as if it were an uninhabited land, but before them there were level lawns in which the grass was as smooth and short as it used to be in the grounds of a great English house where ten gardeners were kept. The trees, of which there were many, all stood well apart from one another, and there were no broken branches and no leaves lying on the ground. Pigeons sometimes cooed but there was no other noise.
Presently they came to a long, straight, sanded path with not a weed growing on it and trees on either hand. Far off at the other end of this avenue they now caught sight of a house – very long and grey and quiet-looking in the afternoon sun.
Almost as soon as they entered this path Lucy noticed that she had a little stone in her shoe. In that unknown place it might have been wiser for her to ask the others to wait while she took it out. But she didn’t; she just dropped quietly behind and sat down to take off her shoe. Her lace had got into a knot.
Before she had undone the knot the others were a fair distance ahead. By the time she had got the stone out and was putting the shoe on again she could no longer hear them. But almost at once she heard something else. It was not coming from the direction of the house.
What she heard was a thumping. It sounded as if dozens of strong workmen were hitting the ground as hard as they could with great wooden mallets. And it was very quickly coming nearer. She was already sitting with her back to a tree, and as the tree was not one she could climb, there was really nothing to do but to sit dead still and press herself against the tree and hope she wouldn’t be seen.
Thump, thump, thump . . . and whatever it was must be very close now for she could feel the ground shaking. But she could see nothing. She thought the thing – or things must be just behind her. But then there came a thump on the path right in front of her. She knew it was on the path not only by the sound but because she saw the sand scatter as if it had been struck a heavy blow. But she could see nothing that had struck it. Then all the thumping noises drew together about twenty feet away from her and suddenly ceased. Then came the Voice.
It was really very dreadful because she could still see nobody at all. The whole of that park-like country still looked as quiet and empty as it had looked when they first landed. Nevertheless, only a few feet away from her, a voice spoke. And what it said was:
“Mates, now’s our chance.”
Instantly a whole chorus of other voices replied, “Hear him. Hear him. `Now ‘s our chance’, he said. Well done, Chief. You never said a truer word.”
“What I say,” continued the first voice, “is, get down to the shore between them and their boat, and let every mother’s son look to his weapons. Catch ’em when they try to put to sea.”
“Eh, that’s the way,” shouted all the other voices. “You never made a better plan, Chief. Keep it up, Chief. You couldn’t have a better plan than that.”
“Lively, then, mates, lively,” said the first voice. “Off we go.
“Right again, Chief,” said the others. “Couldn’t have a better order. Just what we were going to say ourselves. Off we go.”
Immediately the thumping began again – very loud at first but soon fainter and fainter, till it died out in the direction of the sea.
Lucy knew there was no time to sit puzzling as to what these invisible creatures might be. As soon as the thumping noise had died away she got up and ran along the path after the others as quickly as her legs would carry her. They must at all costs be warned.
While this had been happening the others had reached the house. It was a low building – only two stories high made of a beautiful mellow stone, many-windowed, and partially covered with ivy. Everything was so still that Eustace said, “I think it’s empty,” but Caspian silently pointed to the column of smoke which rose from one chimney.
They found a wide gateway open and passed through it into a paved courtyard. And it was here that they had their first indication that there was something odd about this island. In the middle of the courtyard stood a pump, and beneath the pump a bucket. There was nothing odd about that. But the pump handle was moving up and down, though there seemed to be no one moving it.
“There’s some magic at work here,” said Caspian.
“Machinery!” said Eustace. “I do believe we’ve come to a civilized country at last.”
At that moment Lucy, hot and breathless, rushed into the courtyard behind them. In a low voice she tried to make them understand what she had overheard. And when they had partly understood it even the bravest of them did not look very happy.
“Invisible enemies,” muttered Caspian. “And cutting us off from the boat. This is an ugly furrow to plough.”
“You’ve no idea what sort of creatures they are, Lu?” asked Edmund.
“How can I, Ed, when I couldn’t see them?”
“Did they sound like humans from their footsteps?”
“I didn’t hear any noise of feet – only voices and this frightful thudding and thumping – like a mallet.”
“I wonder,” said Reepicheep, “do they become visible when you drive a sword into them?”
“It looks as if we shall find out,” said Caspian. “But let’s get out of this gateway. There’s one of these gentry at that pump listening to all we say.”
They came out and went back on to the path where the trees might possibly make them less conspicuous. “Not that it’s any good really,” said Eustace, “trying to hide from people you can’t see. They may be all round us.”
“Now, Drinian,” said Caspian. “How would it be if we gave up the boat
for lost, went down to another part of the bay, and signalled to the Dawn Treader to stand in and take us aboard?”
“Not depth for her, Sire,” said Drinian.
“We could swim,” said Lucy.
“Your Majesties all,” said Reepicheep, “hear me. It is folly to think of avoiding an invisible enemy by any amount of creeping and skulking. If these creatures mean to bring us to battle, be sure they will succeed. And whatever comes of it I’d sooner meet them face to face than be caught by the tail.”
“I really think Reep is in the right this time,” said Edmund.
“Surely,” said Lucy, “if Rhince and the others on the Dawn Treader see us fighting on the shore they’ll be able to do something.”
“But they won’t see us fighting if they can’t see any enemy,” said Eustace miserably. “They’ll think we’re just swinging our swords in the air for fun.”
There was an uncomfortable pause.
“Well,” said Caspian at last, “let’s get on with it. We must go and face them. Shake hands all round – arrow on the string, Lucy – swords out, everyone else – and now for it. Perhaps they’ll parley.”
It was strange to see the lawns and the great trees looking so peaceful as they marched back to the beach. And when they arrived there, and saw the boat lying where they had left her, and the smooth sand with no one to be seen on it, more than one doubted whether Lucy had not merely imagined all she had told them. But before they reached the sand, a voice spoke out of the air.
“No further, masters, no further now,” it said. “We’ve got to talk with you first. There’s fifty of us and more here with weapons in our fists.”
“Hear him, hear him,” came the chorus. “That’s our Chief. You can depend on what he says. He’s telling you the truth, he is.”
“I do not see these fifty warriors,” observed Reepicheep.
“That’s right, that’s right,” said the Chief Voice. “You don’t see us. And why not? Because we’re invisible.”
“Keep it up, Chief, keep it up,” said the Other Voices. “You’re talking like a book. They couldn’t ask for a better answer than that.”
“Be quiet, Reep,” said Caspian, and then added in a louder voice, “You invisible people, what do you want with us? And what have we done to earn your enmity?”
“We want something that little girl can do for us,” said the Chief Voice. (The others explained that this was just what they would have said themselves.)
“Little girl!” said Reepicheep. “The lady is a queen.”
“We don’t know about queens,” said the Chief Voice.
(“No more we do, no more we do,” chimed in the others.) “But we want something she can do.”
“What is it?” said Lucy.
“And if it is anything against her Majesty’s honour or safety,” added Reepicheep, “you will wonder to see how many we can kill before we die.”
“Well,” said the Chief Voice. “It’s a long story. Suppose we all sit down?” ,
The proposal was warmly approved by the other voices but the Narnians remained standing.
“Well,” said the Chief Voice. “It’s like this. This island has been the property of a great magician time out of mind. And we all are – or perhaps in a manner of speaking, I might say, we were – his servants. Well, to cut a long story short, this magician that I was speaking about, he told us to do something we didn’t like. And why not? Because we didn’t want to. Well, then, this same magician he fell into a great rage; for I ought to tell you he owned the island and he wasn’t used to being crossed. He was terribly downright, you know. But let me see, where am I? Oh yes, this magician then, he goes upstairs (for you must know he kept all his magic things up there and we all lived down below), I say he goes upstairs and puts a spell on us. An uglifying spell. If you saw us now, which in my opinion you may thank your stars you can’t, you wouldn’t believe what we looked like before we were uglified. You wouldn’t really. So there we all were so ugly we couldn’t bear to look at one another. So then what did we do? Well, I’ll tell you what we did. We waited till we thought this same magician would be asleep in the afternoon and we creep upstairs and go to his magic book, as bold as brass, to see if we can do anything about this uglification. But we were all of a sweat and a tremble, so I won’t deceive you. But, believe me or believe me not, I do assure you that we couldn’t find any thing in the way of a spell for taking off the ugliness. And what with time getting on and being afraid that the old gentleman might wake up any minute – I was all of a muck sweat, so I won’t deceive you – well, to cut a long story short, whether we did right or whether we did wrong, in the end we see a spell for making people invisible. And we thought we’d rather be invisible than go on being as ugly as all that. And why? Because we’d like it better. So my little girl, who’s just about your little girl’s age, and a sweet child she was before she was uglified, though now – but least said soonest mended – I say, my little girl she says the spell, for it’s got to be a little girl or else the magician himself, if you see my meaning, for otherwise it won’t work. And why not? Because nothing happens. So my Clipsie says the spell, for I ought to have told you she reads beautifully, and there we all were as invisible as you could wish to see. And I do assure you it was a relief not to see one another’s faces. At first, anyway. But the long and the short of it is we’re mortal tired of being invisible. And there’s another thing. We never reckoned on this magician (the one I was telling you about before) going invisible too. But we haven’t ever seen him since. So we don’t know if he’s dead, or gone .away, or whether he’s just sitting upstairs being invisible, and perhaps coming down and being invisible there. And, believe me, it’s no manner of use listening because he always did go about with his bare feet on, making no more noise than a great big cat. And I’ll tell all you gentlemen straight, it’s getting more than what our nerves can stand.”
Such was the Chief Voice’s story, but very much shortened, because I have left out what the Other Voices said. Actually he never got out more than six or seven words without being interrupted by their agreements and encouragements, which drove the Narnians nearly out of their minds with impatience. When it was over there was a very long silence.
“But,” said Lucy at last, “what’s all this got to do with us? I don’t understand.”
“Why, bless me, if I haven’t gone and left out the whole point,” said the Chief Voice.
“That you have, that you have,” roared the Other Voices with great enthusiasm. “No one couldn’t have left it out cleaner and better. Keep it up, Chief, keep it up.”
“Well, I needn’t go over the whole story again,” began the Chief Voice.
“No. Certainly not,” said Caspian and Edmund.
“Well, then, to put it in a nutshell,” said the Chief Voice, “we’ve been waiting for ever so long for a nice little girl from foreign parts, like it might be you, Missie – that would go upstairs and go to the magic book and find the spell that takes off the invisibleness, and say it. And we all swore that the first strangers as landed on this island (having a nice little girl with them, I mean, for if they hadn’t it’d be another matter) we wouldn’t let them go away alive unless they’d done the needful for us. And that’s why, gentlemen, if your little girl doesn’t come up to scratch, it will be our painful duty to cut all your throats. Merely in the way of business, as you might say, and no offence, I hope.”
“I don’t see all your weapons,” said Reepicheep. “Are they invisible too?” The words were scarcely out of his mouth before they heard a whizzing sound and next moment a spear had stuck, quivering, in one of the trees behind them.
“That’s a spear, that is,” said the Chief Voice.
“That it is, Chief, that it is,” said the others. “You couldn’t have put it better.”
“And it came from my hand,” the Chief Voice continued. “They get visible when they leave us.”
“But why do you want me to do this?” asked Lucy.
“Why can’t one of your own people? Haven’t you got any girls?”
“We dursen’t, we dursen’t,” said all the Voices. “We’re not going upstairs again.”
“In other words,” said Caspian, “you are asking this lady to face some danger which you daren’t ask your own sisters and daughters to face!”
“That’s right, that’s right,” said all the Voices cheerfully. “You couldn’t have said it better. Eh, you’ve had some education, you have. Anyone can see that.”
“Well, of all the outrageous – ” began Edmund, but Lucy interrupted.
“Would I have to go upstairs at night, or would it do in daylight?”
“Oh, daylight, daylight, to be sure,” said the Chief Voice. “Not at night. No one’s asking you to do that. Go upstairs in the dark? Ugh.”
“All right, then, I’ll do it,” said Lucy. “No,” she said, turning to the others, “don’t try to stop me. Can’t you see it’s no use? There are dozens of them there. We can’t fight them. And the other way there is a chance.”
“But a magician!” said Caspian.
“I know,” said Lucy. “But he mayn’t be as bad as they make out. Don’t you get the idea that these people are not very brave?”
“They’re certainly not very clever,” said Eustace.
“Look here, Lu,” said Edmund. “We really can’t let you do a thing like this. Ask Reep, I’m sure he’ll say just the same.”
“But it’s to save my own life as well as yours,” said Lucy. “I don’t want to be cut to bits with invisible swords any more than anyone else.”
“Her Majesty is in the right,” said Reepicheep. “If we had any assurance of saving her by battle, our duty would be very-plain. It appears to me that we have none. And the service they ask of her is in no way contrary to her Majesty’s honour, but a noble and heroical act. If the Queen’s heart moves her to risk the magician, I will not speak against it.”
As no one had ever known Reepicheep to be afraid of anything, he could say this without feeling at all awkward. But the boys, who had all been afraid quite often, grew very red. None the less, it was such obvious sense that they had to give in. Loud cheers broke from the invisible people when their decision was announced, and the Chief Voice (warmly supported by all the others) invited the Narnians to come to supper and spend the night. Eustace didn’t want to accept, but Lucy said, “I’m sure they’re not treacherous. They’re not like that at all,” and the others agreed. And so, accompanied by an enormous noise of thumpings (which became louder when they reached the flagged and echoing courtyard) they all went back to the house.