For some time Curdie worked away briskly, throwing all the ore he
had disengaged on one side behind him, to be ready for carrying out
in the morning. He heard a good deal of goblin-tapping, but it all
sounded far away in the hill, and he paid it little heed. Towards
midnight he began to feel rather hungry; so he dropped his pickaxe,
got out a lump of bread which in the morning he had laid in a damp
hole in the rock, sat down on a heap of ore, and ate his supper.
Then he leaned back for five minutes' rest before beginning his
work again, and laid his head against the rock. He had not kept
the position for one minute before he heard something which made
him sharpen his ears. It sounded like a voice inside the rock.
After a while he heard it again. It was a goblin voice - there
could be no doubt about that - and this time he could make out the
'Hadn't we better be moving?'it said.
A rougher and deeper voice replied:
'There's no hurry. That wretched little mole won't be through
tonight, if he work ever so hard. He's not by any means at the
'But you still think the lode does come through into our house?'
said the first voice.
'Yes, but a good bit farther on than he has got to yet. If he had
struck a stroke more to the side just here,' said the goblin,
tapping the very stone, as it seemed to Curdie, against which his
head lay, 'he would have been through; but he's a couple of yards
past it now, and if he follow the lode it will be a week before it
leads him in. You see it back there - a long way. Still, perhaps,
in case of accident it would be as well to be getting out of this.
Helfer, you'll take the great chest. That's your business, you
'Yes, dad,' said a third voice. 'But you must help me to get it on
my back. It's awfully heavy, you know.'
'Well, it isn't just a bag of smoke, I admit. But you're as strong
as a mountain, Helfer.'
'You say so, dad. I think myself I'm all right. But I could carry
ten times as much if it wasn't for my feet.'
'That is your weak point, I confess, my boy.'
'Ain't it yours too, father?'
'Well, to be honest, it's a goblin weakness. Why they come so
soft, I declare I haven't an idea.'
'Specially when your head's so hard, you know, father.'
'Yes my boy. The goblin's glory is his head. To think how the
fellows up above there have to put on helmets and things when they
go fighting! Ha! ha!'
'But why don't we wear shoes like them, father? I should like it
- especially when I've got a chest like that on my head.'
'Well, you see, it's not the fashion. The king never wears shoes.'
'The queen does.'
'Yes; but that's for distinction. The first queen, you see - I
mean the king's first wife - wore shoes, of course, because she
came from upstairs; and so, when she died, the next queen would not
be inferior to her as she called it, and would wear shoes too. It
was all pride. She is the hardest in forbidding them to the rest
of the women.'
'I'm sure I wouldn't wear them - no, not for - that I wouldn't!'
said the first voice, which was evidently that of the mother of the
family. 'I can't think why either of them should.'
'Didn't I tell you the first was from upstairs?' said the other.
'That was the only silly thing I ever knew His Majesty guilty of.
Why should he marry an outlandish woman like that-one of our
natural enemies too?'
'I suppose he fell in love with her.'
'Pooh! pooh! He's just as happy now with one of his own people.'
'Did she die very soon? They didn't tease her to death, did they?'
'Oh, dear, no! The king worshipped her very footmarks.'
'What made her die, then? Didn't the air agree with her?'
'She died when the young prince was born.'
'How silly of her! We never do that. It must have been because
she wore shoes.'
'I don't know that.'
'Why do they wear shoes up there?'
'Ah, now that's a sensible question, and I will answer it. But in
order to do so, I must first tell you a secret. I once saw the
'Without her shoes?'
'Yes - without her shoes.'
'No! Did you? How was it?'
'Never you mind how it was. She didn't know I saw them. And what
do you think! - they had toes!'
'Toes! What's that?'
'You may well ask! I should never have known if I had not seen the
queen's feet. just imagine! the ends of her feet were split up
into five or six thin pieces!'
'Oh, horrid! How could the king have fallen in love with her?'
'You forget that she wore shoes. That is just why she wore them.
That is why all the men, and women too, upstairs wear shoes. They
can't bear the sight of their own feet without them.'
'Ah! now I understand. If ever you wish for shoes again, Helfer,
I'll hit your feet - I will.'
'No, no, mother; pray don't.'
'Then don't you.'
'But with such a big box on my head -'
A horrid scream followed, which Curdie interpreted as in reply to
a blow from his mother upon the feet of her eldest goblin.
'Well, I never knew so much before!' remarked a fourth voice.
'Your knowledge is not universal quite yet,' said the father. 'You
were only fifty last month. Mind you see to the bed and bedding.
As soon as we've finished our supper, we'll be up and going. Ha!
'What are you laughing at, husband?'
'I'm laughing to think what a mess the miners will find themselves
in - somewhere before this day ten years.'
'Why, what do you mean?'
'Oh, yes, you do mean something. You always do mean something.'
'It's more than you do, then, wife.'
'That may be; but it's not more than I find out, you know.'
'Ha! ha! You're a sharp one. What a mother you've got, Helfer!'
'Well, I suppose I must tell you. They're all at the palace
consulting about it tonight; and as soon as we've got away from
this thin place I'm going there to hear what night they fix upon.
I should like to see that young ruffian there on the other side,
struggling in the agonies of -'
He dropped his voice so low that Curdie could hear only a growl.
The growl went on in the low bass for a good while, as inarticulate
as if the goblin's tongue had been a sausage; and it was not until
his wife spoke again that it rose to its former pitch.
'But what shall we do when you are at the palace?' she asked.
'I will see you safe in the new house I've been digging for you for
the last two months. Podge, you mind the table and chairs. I
commit them to your care. The table has seven legs - each chair
three. I shall require them all at your hands.'
After this arose a confused conversation about the various
household goods and their transport; and Curdie heard nothing more
that was of any importance.
He now knew at least one of the reasons for the constant sound of
the goblin hammers and pickaxes at night. They were making new
houses for themselves, to which they might retreat when the miners
should threaten to break into their dwellings. But he had learned
two things of far greater importance. The first was, that some
grievous calamity was preparing, and almost ready to fall upon the
heads of the miners; the second was - the one weak point of a
goblin's body; he had not known that their feet were so tender as
he had now reason to suspect. He had heard it said that they had
no toes: he had never had opportunity of inspecting them closely
enough, in the dusk in which they always appeared, to satisfy
himself whether it was a correct report. Indeed, he had not been
able even to satisfy himself as to whether they had no fingers,
although that also was commonly said to be the fact. One of the
miners, indeed, who had had more schooling than the rest, was wont
to argue that such must have been the primordial condition of
humanity, and that education and handicraft had developed both toes
and fingers - with which proposition Curdie had once heard his
father sarcastically agree, alleging in support of it the
probability that babies' gloves were a traditional remnant of the
old state of things; while the stockings of all ages, no regard
being paid in them to the toes, pointed in the same direction. But
what was of importance was the fact concerning the softness of the
goblin feet, which he foresaw might be useful to all miners. What
he had to do in the meantime, however, was to discover, if
possible, the special evil design the goblins had now in their
Although he knew all the gangs and all the natural galleries with
which they communicated in the mined part of the mountain, he had
not the least idea where the palace of the king of the gnomes was;
otherwise he would have set out at once on the enterprise of
discovering what the said design was. He judged, and rightly, that
it must lie in a farther part of the mountain, between which and
the mine there was as yet no communication. There must be one
nearly completed, however; for it could be but a thin partition
which now separated them. If only he could get through in time to
follow the goblins as they retreated! A few blows would doubtless
be sufficient - just where his ear now lay; but if he attempted to
strike there with his pickaxe, he would only hasten the departure
of the family, put them on their guard, and perhaps lose their
involuntary guidance. He therefore began to feel the wall With his
hands, and soon found that some of the stones were loose enough to
be drawn out with little noise.
Laying hold of a large one with both his hands, he drew it gently
out, and let it down softly.
'What was that noise?' said the goblin father.
Curdie blew out his light, lest it should shine through.
'It must be that one miner that stayed behind the rest,' said the
'No; he's been gone a good while. I haven't heard a blow for an
hour. Besides, it wasn't like that.'
'Then I suppose it must have been a stone carried down the brook
'Perhaps. It will have more room by and by.'
Curdie kept quite still. After a little while, hearing nothing but
the sounds of their preparations for departure, mingled with an
occasional word of direction, and anxious to know whether the
removal of the stone had made an opening into the goblins' house,
he put in his hand to feel. It went in a good way, and then came
in contact with something soft. He had but a moment to feel it
over, it was so quickly withdrawn: it was one of the toeless goblin
feet. The owner of it gave a cry of fright.
'What's the matter, Helfer?' asked his mother.
'A beast came out of the wall and licked my foot.'
'Nonsense! There are no wild beasts in our country,' said his
'But it was, father. I felt it.'
'Nonsense, I say. Will you malign your native realms and reduce
them to a level with the country upstairs? That is swarming with
wild beasts of every description.'
'But I did feel it, father.'
'I tell you to hold your tongue. You are no patriot.'
Curdie suppressed his laughter, and lay still as a mouse - but no
stiller, for every moment he kept nibbling away with his fingers at
the edges of the hole. He was slowly making it bigger, for here
the rock had been very much shattered with the blasting.
There seemed to be a good many in the family, to judge from the
mass of confused talk which now and then came through the hole; but
when all were speaking together, and just as if they had
bottle-brushes - each at least one - in their throats, it was not
easy to make out much that was said. At length he heard once more
what the father goblin was saying.
'Now, then,' he said, 'get your bundles on your backs. Here,
Helfer, I'll help you up with your chest.'
'I wish it was my chest, father.'
'Your turn will come in good time enough! Make haste. I must go
to the meeting at the palace tonight. When that's over, we can
come back and clear out the last of the things before our enemies
return in the morning. Now light your torches, and come along.
What a distinction it is, to provide our own light, instead of
being dependent on a thing hung up in the air - a most disagreeable
contrivance - intended no doubt to blind us when we venture out
under its baleful influence! Quite glaring and vulgar, I call it,
though no doubt useful to poor creatures who haven't the wit to
make light for themselves.'
Curdie could hardly keep himself from calling through to know
whether they made the fire to light their torches by. But a
moment's reflection showed him that they would have said they did,
inasmuch as they struck two stones together, and the fire came.