THE SPELL BEGINS TO BREAK
Now we must go back to Mr and Mrs Beaver and the three other children. As soon as Mr Beaver said, “There’s no time to lose,” everyone began bundling themselves into coats, except Mrs Beaver, who started picking up sacks and laying them on the table and said: “Now, Mr Beaver, just reach down that ham. And here’s a packet of tea, and there’s sugar, and some matches. And if someone will get two or three loaves out of the crock over there in the corner.”
“What are you doing, Mrs Beaver?” exclaimed Susan.
“Packing a load for each of us, dearie,” said Mrs Beaver very coolly. “You didn’t think we’d set out on a journey with nothing to eat, did you?”
“But we haven’t time!” said Susan, buttoning the collar of her coat. “She may be here any minute.”
“That’s what I say,” chimed in Mr Beaver.
“Get along with you all,” said his wife. “Think it over, Mr Beaver. She can’t be here for quarter of an hour at least.”
“But don’t we want as big a start as we can possibly get,” said Peter, “if we’re to reach the Stone Table before her?”
“You’ve got to remember that, Mrs Beaver,” said Susan. “As soon as she has looked in here and finds we’re gone she’ll be off at top speed.”
“That she will,” said Mrs Beaver. “But we can’t get there before her whatever we do, for she’ll be on a sledge and we’ll be walking.”
“Then – have we no hope?” said Susan.
“Now don’t you get fussing, there’s a dear,” said Mrs Beaver, “but just get half a dozen clean handkerchiefs out of the drawer. ‘Course we’ve got a hope. We can’t get there before her but we can keep under cover and go by ways she won’t expect and perhaps we’ll get through.”
“That’s true enough, Mrs Beaver,” said her husband. “But it’s time we were out of this.”
“And don’t you start fussing either, Mr Beaver,” said his wife. “There. That’s better. There’s five loads and the smallest for the smallest of us: that’s you, my dear,” she added, looking at Lucy.
“Oh, do please come on,” said Lucy.
“Well, I’m nearly ready now,” answered Mrs Beaver at last, allowing her husband to help her into; her snow-boots. “I suppose the sewing machine’s took heavy to bring?”
“Yes. It is,” said Mr Beaver. “A great deal too heavy. And you don’t think you’ll be able to use it while we’re on the run, I suppose?”
“I can’t abide the thought of that Witch fiddling with it,” said Mrs Beaver, “and breaking it or stealing it, as likely as not.”
“Oh, please, please, please, do hurry!” said the three children. And so at last they all got outside and Mr Beaver locked the door (“It’ll delay her a bit,” he said) and they set off, all carrying their loads over their shoulders.
The snow had stopped and the moon had come out when they began their journey. They went in single file – first Mr Beaver, then Lucy, then Peter, then Susan, and Mrs Beaver last of all. Mr Beaver led them across the dam and on to the right bank of the river and then along a very rough sort of path among the trees right down by the river-bank. The sides of the valley, shining in the moonlight, towered up far above them on either hand. “Best keep down here as much as possible,” he said. “She’ll have to keep to the top, for you couldn’t bring a sledge down here.”
It would have been a pretty enough scene to look at it through a window from a comfortable armchair; and even as things were, Lucy enjoyed it at first. But as they went on walking and walking – and walking and as the sack she was carrying felt heavier and heavier, she began to wonder how she was going to keep up at all.