The Old Lady and Curdie
Up the stair then they went, and the next and the next, and through
the long rows of empty rooms, and up the little tower stair, Irene
growing happier and happier as she ascended. There was no answer
when she knocked at length at the door of the workroom, nor could
she hear any sound of the spinning-wheel, and once more her heart
sank within her, but only for one moment, as she turned and knocked
at the other door.
'Come in,' answered the sweet voice of her grandmother, and Irene
opened the door and entered, followed by Curdie.
'You darling!' cried the lady, who was seated by a fire of red
roses mingled with white. 'I've been waiting for you, and indeed
getting a little anxious about you, and beginning to think whether
I had not better go and fetch you myself.'
As she spoke she took the little princess in her arms and placed
her upon her lap. She was dressed in white now, and looking if
possible more lovely than ever.
'I've brought Curdie, grandmother. He wouldn't believe what I told
him and so I've brought him.'
'Yes - I see him. He is a good boy, Curdie, and a brave boy.
Aren't you glad you've got him out?'
'Yes, grandmother. But it wasn't very good of him not to believe
me when I was telling him the truth.'
'People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must
not be hard upon those who believe less. I doubt if you would have
believed it all yourself if you hadn't seen some of it.'
'Ah! yes, grandmother, I dare say. I'm sure you are right. But
he'll believe now.'
'I don't know that,' replied her grandmother.
'Won't you, Curdie?' said Irene, looking round at him as she asked
the question. He was standing in the middle of the floor, staring,
and looking strangely bewildered. This she thought came of his
astonishment at the beauty of the lady.
'Make a bow to my grandmother, Curdie,' she said.
'I don't see any grandmother,' answered Curdie rather gruffly.
'Don't see my grandmother, when I'm sitting in her lap?' exclaimed
'No, I don't,' reiterated Curdie, in an offended tone.
'Don't you see the lovely fire of roses - white ones amongst them
this time?' asked Irene, almost as bewildered as he.
'No, I don't,' answered Curdie, almost sulkily.
'Nor the blue bed? Nor the rose-coloured counterpane? - Nor the
beautiful light, like the moon, hanging from the roof?'
'You're making game of me, Your Royal Highness; and after what we
have come through together this day, I don't think it is kind of
you,' said Curdie, feeling very much hurt.
'Then what do you see?' asked Irene, who perceived at once that for
her not to believe him was at least as bad as for him not to
'I see a big, bare, garret-room - like the one in mother's cottage,
only big enough to take the cottage itself in, and leave a good
margin all round,' answered Curdie.
'And what more do you see?'
'I see a tub, and a heap of musty straw, and a withered apple, and
a ray of sunlight coming through a hole in the middle of the roof
and shining on your head, and making all the place look a curious
dusky brown. I think you had better drop it, princess, and go down
to the nursery, like a good girl.'
'But don't you hear my grandmother talking to me?' asked Irene,
'No. I hear the cooing of a lot of pigeons. If you won't come
down, I will go without you. I think that will be better anyhow,
for I'm sure nobody who met us would believe a word we said to
them. They would think we made it all up. I don't expect anybody
but my own father and mother to believe me. They know I wouldn't
tell a story.'
'And yet you won't believe me, Curdie?' expostulated the princess,
now fairly crying with vexation and sorrow at the gulf between her
'No. I can't, and I can't help it,' said Curdie, turning to leave
'What SHALL I do, grandmother?' sobbed the princess, turning her
face round upon the lady's bosom, and shaking with suppressed sobs.
'You must give him time,' said her grandmother; 'and you must be
content not to be believed for a while. It is very hard to bear;
but I have had to bear it, and shall have to bear it many a time
yet. I will take care of what Curdie thinks of you in the end.
You must let him go now.'
'You're not coming, are you?' asked Curdie.
'No, Curdie; my grandmother says I must let you go. Turn to the
right when you get to the bottom of all the stairs, and that will
take you to the hall where the great door is.'
'Oh! I don't doubt I can find my way - without you, princess, or
your old grannie's thread either,' said Curdie quite rudely.
'Oh, Curdie! Curdie!'
'I wish I had gone home at once. I'm very much obliged to you,
Irene, for getting me out of that hole, but I wish you hadn't made
a fool of me afterwards.'
He said this as he opened the door, which he left open, and,
without another word, went down the stair. Irene listened with
dismay to his departing footsteps. Then turning again to the lady:
'What does it all mean, grandmother?' she sobbed, and burst into
'It means, my love, that I did not mean to show myself. Curdie is
not yet able to believe some things. Seeing is not believing - it
is only seeing. You remember I told you that if Lootie were to see
me, she would rub her eyes, forget the half she saw, and call the
other half nonsense.'
'Yes; but I should have thought Curdie -'
'You are right. Curdie is much farther on than Lootie, and you
will see what will come of it. But in the meantime you must be
content, I say, to be misunderstood for a while. We are all very
anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there
is one thing much more necessary.'
'What is that, grandmother?'
'To understand other people.'
'Yes, grandmother. I must be fair - for if I'm not fair to other
people, I'm not worth being understood myself. I see. So as
Curdie can't help it, I will not be vexed with him, but just wait.'
'There's my own dear child,' said her grandmother, and pressed her
close to her bosom.
'Why weren't you in your workroom when we came up, grandmother?'
asked Irene, after a few moments' silence.
'If I had been there, Curdie would have seen me well enough. But
why should I be there rather than in this beautiful room?'
'I thought you would be spinning.'
'I've nobody to spin for just at present. I never spin without
knowing for whom I am spinning.'
'That reminds me - there is one thing that puzzles me,' said the
princess: 'how are you to get the thread out of the mountain again?
Surely you won't have to make another for me? That would be such
The lady set her down and rose and went to the fire. Putting in
her hand, she drew it out again and held up the shining ball
between her finger and thumb.
'I've got it now, you see,' she said, coming back to the princess,
'all ready for you when you want it.'
Going to her cabinet, she laid it in the same drawer as before.
'And here is your ring,' she added, taking it from the little
finger of her left hand and putting it on the forefinger of Irene's
'Oh, thank you, grandmother! I feel so safe now!'
'You are very tired, my child,' the lady went on. 'Your hands are
hurt with the stones, and I have counted nine bruises on you. just
look what you are like.'
And she held up to her a little mirror which she had brought from
the cabinet. The princess burst into a merry laugh at the sight.
She was so draggled with the stream and dirty with creeping through
narrow places, that if she had seen the reflection without knowing
it was a reflection, she would have taken herself for some gipsy
child whose face was washed and hair combed about once in a month.
The lady laughed too, and lifting her again upon her knee, took off
her cloak and night-gown. Then she carried her to the side of the
room. Irene wondered what she was going to do with her, but asked
no questions - only starting a little when she found that she was
going to lay her in the large silver bath; for as she looked into
it, again she saw no bottom, but the stars shining miles away, as
it seemed, in a great blue gulf. Her hands closed involuntarily on
the beautiful arms that held her, and that was all.
The lady pressed her once more to her bosom, saying:
'Do not be afraid, my child.'
'No, grandmother,' answered the princess, with a little gasp; and
the next instant she sank in the clear cool water.
When she opened her eyes, she saw nothing but a strange lovely blue
over and beneath and all about her. The lady, and the beautiful
room, had vanished from her sight, and she seemed utterly alone.
But instead of being afraid, she felt more than happy - perfectly
blissful. And from somewhere came the voice of the lady, singing
a strange sweet song, of which she could distinguish every word;
but of the sense she had only a feeling - no understanding. Nor
could she remember a single line after it was gone. It vanished,
like the poetry in a dream, as fast as it came. In after years,
however, she would sometimes fancy that snatches of melody suddenly
rising in her brain must be little phrases and fragments of the air
of that song; and the very fancy would make her happier, and abler
to do her duty.
How long she lay in the water she did not know. It seemed a long
time - not from weariness but from pleasure. But at last she felt
the beautiful hands lay hold of her, and through the gurgling water
she was lifted out into the lovely room. The lady carried her to
the fire, and sat down with her in her lap, and dried her tenderly
with the softest towel. It was so different from Lootie's drying.
When the lady had done, she stooped to the fire, and drew from it
her night-gown, as white as snow.
'How delicious!' exclaimed the princess. 'It smells of all the
roses in the world, I think.'
When she stood up on the floor she felt as if she had been made
over again. Every bruise and all weariness were gone, and her
hands were soft and whole as ever.
'Now I am going to put you to bed for a good sleep,' said her
'But what will Lootie be thinking? And what am I to say to her
when she asks me where I have been?'
'Don't trouble yourself about it. You will find it all come
right,' said her grandmother, and laid her into the blue bed, under
the rosy counterpane.
'There is just one thing more,' said Irene. 'I am a little anxious
about Curdie. As I brought him into the house, I ought to have
seen him safe on his way home.'
'I took care of all that,' answered the lady. 'I told you to let
him go, and therefore I was bound to look after him. Nobody saw
him, and he is now eating a good dinner in his mother's cottage far
up in the mountain.'
'Then I will go to sleep,' said Irene, and in a few minutes she was