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´╗┐Title: The Book of Dragons
Author: Nesbit, E. (Edith), 1858-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Book of Dragons" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: THE BOOK OF DRAGONS]


The Book of DRAGONS

E. Nesbit

        With illustrations by
        H. R. Millar

        Decorations by
        H. Granville Fell

        DOVER PUBLICATIONS, INC.
        Mineola, New York



Contents

                                                           PAGE

      I. The Book of Beasts                                   1

     II. Uncle James, or The Purple Stranger                 19

    III. The Deliverers of Their Country                     39

     IV. The Ice Dragon, or Do as You Are Told               57

      V. The Island of the Nine Whirlpools                   79

     VI. The Dragon Tamers                                   99

    VII. The Fiery Dragon, or The Heart of Stone
         and the Heart of Gold                              119

   VIII. Kind Little Edmund, or The Caves and the
         Cockatrice                                         139



List of Illustrations

   The Book of Dragons                           _frontispiece_

   The Book of Beasts                                    PAGE 1

   "The dragon flew away across the garden."             PAGE 9

   "The Manticora took refuge in the General Post
       Office."                                         PAGE 14

   Uncle James, or The Purple Stranger                  PAGE 19

   "By-and-by he began to wander."                      PAGE 30

   "The dragon ran after her."                          PAGE 36

   The Deliverers of Their Country                      PAGE 39

   "The largest elephant in the zoo was carried off."   PAGE 44

   "He rose into the air, rattling like a third-class
       carriage."                                       PAGE 51

   The Ice Dragon, or Do as You Are Told                PAGE 57

   "Sure enough, it was a dragon."                      PAGE 69

   "The dwarfs seized the children."                    PAGE 73

   The Island of the Nine Whirlpools                    PAGE 79

   "The lone tower on the Island of the Nine
       Whirlpools."                                     PAGE 89

   "Little children play around him and over him."      PAGE 97

   The Dragon Tamers                                    PAGE 99

   "The dragon's purring pleased the baby."             PAGE 107

   "He brought something in his mouth--it was a bag of
       gold."                                           PAGE 117

   The Fiery Dragon, or The Heart of Stone and the
       Heart of Gold                                    PAGE 119

   "The junior secretary cried out, 'Look at the
       bottle!'"                                        PAGE 130

   "They saw a cloud of steam."                         PAGE 136

   Kind Little Edmund, or The Caves and the
       Cockatrice                                       PAGE 139

   "Creeping across the plain."                         PAGE 148

   "That smells good, eh?"                              PAGE 153


                      _To Rosamund,
        chief among those for whom these tales are told,
              The Book of Dragons is dedicated
                  in the confident hope
        that she, one of these days, will dedicate a book
                  of her very own making
                  to the one who now bids
                  eight dreadful dragons
                 crouch in all humbleness
             at those little brown feet._



The Book of DRAGONS

[Illustration: THE BOOK OF BEASTS]



I. The Book of Beasts


He happened to be building a Palace when the news came, and he left all
the bricks kicking about the floor for Nurse to clear up--but then the
news was rather remarkable news. You see, there was a knock at the front
door and voices talking downstairs, and Lionel thought it was the man
come to see about the gas, which had not been allowed to be lighted
since the day when Lionel made a swing by tying his skipping rope to the
gas bracket.

And then, quite suddenly, Nurse came in and said, "Master Lionel, dear,
they've come to fetch you to go and be King."

Then she made haste to change his smock and to wash his face and hands
and brush his hair, and all the time she was doing it Lionel kept
wriggling and fidgeting and saying, "Oh, don't, Nurse," and, "I'm sure
my ears are quite clean," or, "Never mind my hair, it's all right," and,
"That'll do."

"You're going on as if you was going to be an eel instead of a King,"
said Nurse.

The minute Nurse let go for a moment Lionel bolted off without waiting
for his clean handkerchief, and in the drawing room there were two very
grave-looking gentlemen in red robes with fur, and gold coronets with
velvet sticking up out of the middle like the cream in the very
expensive jam tarts.

They bowed low to Lionel, and the gravest one said: "Sire, your
great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, the King of this country, is
dead, and now you have got to come and be King."

"Yes, please, sir," said Lionel, "when does it begin?"

"You will be crowned this afternoon," said the grave gentleman who was
not quite so grave-looking as the other.

"Would you like me to bring Nurse, or what time would you like me to be
fetched, and hadn't I better put on my velvet suit with the lace
collar?" said Lionel, who had often been out to tea.

"Your Nurse will be removed to the Palace later. No, never mind about
changing your suit; the Royal robes will cover all that up."

The grave gentlemen led the way to a coach with eight white horses,
which was drawn up in front of the house where Lionel lived. It was No.
7, on the left-hand side of the street as you go up.

Lionel ran upstairs at the last minute, and he kissed Nurse and said:
"Thank you for washing me. I wish I'd let you do the other ear.
No--there's no time now. Give me the hanky. Good-bye, Nurse."

"Good-bye, ducky," said Nurse. "Be a good little King now, and say
'please' and 'thank you,' and remember to pass the cake to the little
girls, and don't have more than two helps of anything."

So off went Lionel to be made a King. He had never expected to be a King
any more than you have, so it was all quite new to him--so new that he
had never even thought of it. And as the coach went through the town he
had to bite his tongue to be quite sure it was real, because if his
tongue was real it showed he wasn't dreaming. Half an hour before he had
been building with bricks in the nursery; and now--the streets were all
fluttering with flags; every window was crowded with people waving
handkerchiefs and scattering flowers; there were scarlet soldiers
everywhere along the pavements, and all the bells of all the churches
were ringing like mad, and like a great song to the music of their
ringing he heard thousands of people shouting, "Long live Lionel! Long
live our little King!"

He was a little sorry at first that he had not put on his best clothes,
but he soon forgot to think about that. If he had been a girl he would
very likely have bothered about it the whole time.

As they went along, the grave gentlemen, who were the Chancellor and the
Prime Minister, explained the things which Lionel did not understand.

"I thought we were a Republic," said Lionel. "I'm sure there hasn't been
a King for some time."

"Sire, your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's death happened
when my grandfather was a little boy," said the Prime Minister, "and
since then your loyal people have been saving up to buy you a crown--so
much a week, you know, according to people's means--sixpence a week from
those who have first-rate pocket money, down to a halfpenny a week from
those who haven't so much. You know it's the rule that the crown must be
paid for by the people."

"But hadn't my great-great-however-much-it-is-grandfather a crown?"

"Yes, but he sent it to be tinned over, for fear of vanity, and he had
had all the jewels taken out, and sold them to buy books. He was a
strange man; a very good King he was, but he had his faults--he was fond
of books. Almost with his last breath he sent the crown to be
tinned--and he never lived to pay the tinsmith's bill."

Here the Prime Minister wiped away a tear, and just then the carriage
stopped and Lionel was taken out of the carriage to be crowned. Being
crowned is much more tiring work than you would suppose, and by the time
it was over, and Lionel had worn the Royal robes for an hour or two and
had had his hand kissed by everybody whose business it was to do it, he
was quite worn out, and was very glad to get into the Palace nursery.

Nurse was there, and tea was ready: seedy cake and plummy cake, and jam
and hot buttered toast, and the prettiest china with red and gold and
blue flowers on it, and real tea, and as many cups of it as you liked.

After tea Lionel said: "I think I should like a book. Will you get me
one, Nurse?"

"Bless the child," said Nurse. "You don't suppose you've lost the use of
your legs with just being a King? Run along, do, and get your books
yourself."

So Lionel went down into the library. The Prime Minister and the
Chancellor were there, and when Lionel came in they bowed very low, and
were beginning to ask Lionel most politely what on earth he was coming
bothering for now--when Lionel cried out: "Oh, what a worldful of books!
Are they yours?"

"They are yours, Your Majesty," answered the Chancellor. "They were the
property of the late King, your great-great--"

"Yes, I know," Lionel interrupted. "Well, I shall read them all. I love
to read. I am so glad I learned to read."

"If I might venture to advise Your Majesty," said the Prime Minister, "I
should not read these books. Your great--"

"Yes?" said Lionel, quickly.

"He was a very good King--oh, yes, really a very superior King in his
way, but he was a little--well, strange."

"Mad?" asked Lionel, cheerfully.

"No, no"--both the gentlemen were sincerely shocked. "Not mad; but if I
may express it so, he was--er--too clever by half. And I should not like
a little King of mine to have anything to do with his books."

Lionel looked puzzled.

"The fact is," the Chancellor went on, twisting his red beard in an
agitated way, "your great--"

"Go on," said Lionel.

"--was called a wizard."

"But he wasn't?"

"Of course not--a most worthy King was your great--"

"I see."

"But I wouldn't touch his books."

"Just this one," cried Lionel, laying his hands on the cover of a great
brown book that lay on the study table. It had gold patterns on the
brown leather, and gold clasps with turquoises and rubies in the twists
of them, and gold corners, so that the leather should not wear out too
quickly.

"I must look at this one," Lionel said, for on the back in big letters
he read: _The Book of Beasts_.

The Chancellor said, "Don't be a silly little King."

But Lionel had got the gold clasps undone, and he opened the first page,
and there was a beautiful Butterfly all red, and brown, and yellow, and
blue, so beautifully painted that it looked as if it were alive.

"There," said Lionel, "Isn't that lovely? Why--"

But as he spoke the beautiful Butterfly fluttered its many-colored wings
on the yellow old page of the book, and flew up and out of the window.

"Well!" said the Prime Minister, as soon as he could speak for the lump
of wonder that had got into his throat and tried to choke him, "that's
magic, that is."

But before he had spoken, the King had turned the next page, and there
was a shining bird complete and beautiful in every blue feather of him.
Under him was written, "Blue Bird of Paradise," and while the King gazed
enchanted at the charming picture the Blue Bird fluttered his wings on
the yellow page and spread them and flew out of the book.

Then the Prime Minister snatched the book away from the King and shut it
up on the blank page where the bird had been, and put it on a very high
shelf. And the Chancellor gave the King a good shaking, and said:
"You're a naughty, disobedient little King!" and was very angry indeed.

"I don't see that I've done any harm," said Lionel. He hated being
shaken, as all boys do; he would much rather have been slapped.

"No harm?" said the Chancellor. "Ah--but what do you know about it?
That's the question. How do you know what might have been on the next
page--a snake or a worm, or a centipede or a revolutionist, or
something like that."

"Well, I'm sorry if I've vexed you," said Lionel. "Come, let's kiss and
be friends." So he kissed the Prime Minister, and they settled down for
a nice quiet game of noughts and crosses while the Chancellor went to
add up his accounts.

But when Lionel was in bed he could not sleep for thinking of the book,
and when the full moon was shining with all her might and light he got
up and crept down to the library and climbed up and got _The Book of
Beasts_.

He took it outside to the terrace, where the moonlight was as bright as
day, and he opened the book, and saw the empty pages with "Butterfly"
and "Blue Bird of Paradise" underneath, and then he turned the next
page. There was some sort of red thing sitting under a palm tree, and
under it was written "Dragon." The Dragon did not move, and the King
shut up the book rather quickly and went back to bed.

But the next day he wanted another look, so he took the book out into
the garden, and when he undid the clasps with the rubies and turquoises,
the book opened all by itself at the picture with "Dragon" underneath,
and the sun shone full on the page. And then, quite suddenly, a great
Red Dragon came out of the book and spread vast scarlet wings and flew
away across the garden to the far hills, and Lionel was left with the
empty page before him, for the page was quite empty except for the green
palm tree and the yellow desert, and the little streaks of red where the
paintbrush had gone outside the pencil outline of the Red Dragon.

And then Lionel felt that he had indeed done it. He had not been King
twenty-four hours, and already he had let loose a Red Dragon to worry
his faithful subjects' lives out. And they had been saving up so long to
buy him a crown, and everything!

Lionel began to cry.

[Illustration: "The dragon flew away across the garden." _See page 8._]

The Chancellor and the Prime Minister and the Nurse all came running
to see what was the matter. And when they saw the book they understood,
and the Chancellor said: "You naughty little King! Put him to bed,
Nurse, and let him think over what he's done."

"Perhaps, my Lord," said the Prime Minister, "we'd better first find out
just exactly what he has done."

Then Lionel, in floods of tears, said: "It's a Red Dragon, and it's gone
flying away to the hills, and I am so sorry, and, oh, do forgive me!"

But the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had other things to think of
than forgiving Lionel. They hurried off to consult the police and see
what could be done. Everyone did what they could. They sat on committees
and stood on guard, and lay in wait for the Dragon, but he stayed up in
the hills, and there was nothing more to be done. The faithful Nurse,
meanwhile, did not neglect her duty. Perhaps she did more than anyone
else, for she slapped the King and put him to bed without his tea, and
when it got dark she would not give him a candle to read by.

"You are a naughty little King," she said, "and nobody will love you."

Next day the Dragon was still quiet, though the more poetic of Lionel's
subjects could see the redness of the Dragon shining through the green
trees quite plainly. So Lionel put on his crown and sat on his throne
and said he wanted to make some laws.

And I need hardly say that though the Prime Minister and the Chancellor
and the Nurse might have the very poorest opinion of Lionel's private
judgement, and might even slap him and send him to bed, the minute he
got on his throne and set his crown on his head, he became
infallible--which means that everything he said was right, and that he
couldn't possibly make a mistake. So when he said: "There is to be a law
forbidding people to open books in schools or elsewhere"--he had the
support of at least half of his subjects, and the other half--the
grown-up half--pretended to think he was quite right.

Then he made a law that everyone should always have enough to eat. And
this pleased everyone except the ones who had always had too much.

And when several other nice new laws were made and written down he went
home and made mud-houses and was very happy. And he said to his Nurse:
"People will love me now I've made such a lot of pretty new laws for
them."

But Nurse said: "Don't count your chickens, my dear. You haven't seen
the last of that Dragon yet."

Now, the next day was Saturday. And in the afternoon the Dragon suddenly
swooped down upon the common in all his hideous redness, and carried off
the Soccer Players, umpires, goal-posts, ball, and all.

Then the people were very angry indeed, and they said: "We might as well
be a Republic. After saving up all these years to get his crown, and
everything!"

And wise people shook their heads and foretold a decline in the National
Love of Sport. And, indeed, soccer was not at all popular for some time
afterward.

Lionel did his best to be a good King during the week, and the people
were beginning to forgive him for letting the Dragon out of the book.
"After all," they said, "soccer is a dangerous game, and perhaps it is
wise to discourage it."

Popular opinion held that the Soccer Players, being tough and hard, had
disagreed with the Dragon so much that he had gone away to some place
where they only play cats' cradle and games that do not make you hard
and tough.

All the same, Parliament met on the Saturday afternoon, a convenient
time, for most of the Members would be free to attend, to consider the
Dragon. But unfortunately the Dragon, who had only been asleep, woke up
because it was Saturday, and he considered the Parliament, and
afterwards there were not any Members left, so they tried to make a new
Parliament, but being a member of Parliament had somehow grown as
unpopular as soccer playing, and no one would consent to be elected, so
they had to do without a Parliament. When the next Saturday came around
everyone was a little nervous, but the Red Dragon was pretty quiet that
day and only ate an Orphanage.

Lionel was very, very unhappy. He felt that it was his disobedience that
had brought this trouble on the Parliament and the Orphanage and the
Soccer Players, and he felt that it was his duty to try and do
something. The question was, what?

The Blue Bird that had come out of the book used to sing very nicely in
the Palace rose garden, and the Butterfly was very tame, and would perch
on his shoulder when he walked among the tall lilies: so Lionel saw that
all the creatures in _The Book of Beasts_ could not be wicked, like the
Dragon, and he thought: "Suppose I could get another beast out who would
fight the Dragon?"

So he took _The Book of Beasts_ out into the rose garden and opened the
page next to the one where the Dragon had been just a tiny bit to see
what the name was. He could only see "cora," but he felt the middle of
the page swelling up thick with the creature that was trying to come
out, and it was only by putting the book down and sitting on it
suddenly, very hard, that he managed to get it shut. Then he fastened
the clasps with the rubies and turquoises in them and sent for the
Chancellor, who had been ill since Saturday, and so had not been eaten
with the rest of the Parliament, and he said: "What animal ends in
'cora'?"

The Chancellor answered: "The Manticora, of course."

"What is he like?" asked the King.

"He is the sworn foe of Dragons," said the Chancellor. "He drinks their
blood. He is yellow, with the body of a lion and the face of a man. I
wish we had a few Manticoras here now. But the last died hundreds of
years ago--worse luck!"

Then the King ran and opened the book at the page that had "cora" on it,
and there was the picture--Manticora, all yellow, with a lion's body and
a man's face, just as the Chancellor had said. And under the picture
was written, "Manticora."

In a few minutes the Manticora came sleepily out of the book, rubbing
its eyes with its hands and mewing piteously. It seemed very stupid, and
when Lionel gave it a push and said, "Go along and fight the Dragon,
do," it put its tail between its legs and fairly ran away. It went and
hid behind the Town Hall, and at night when the people were asleep it
went around and ate all the pussy-cats in the town. And then it mewed
more than ever. And on the Saturday morning, when people were a little
timid about going out, because the Dragon had no regular hour for
calling, the Manticora went up and down the streets and drank all the
milk that was left in the cans at the doors for people's teas, and it
ate the cans as well.

And just when it had finished the very last little halfpenny worth,
which was short measure, because the milkman's nerves were quite upset,
the Red Dragon came down the street looking for the Manticora. It edged
off when it saw him coming, for it was not at all the Dragon-fighting
kind; and, seeing no other door open, the poor, hunted creature took
refuge in the General Post Office, and there the Dragon found it, trying
to conceal itself among the ten o'clock mail. The Dragon fell on the
Manticora at once, and the mail was no defense. The mewings were heard
all over the town. All the kitties and the milk the Manticora had had
seemed to have strengthened its mew wonderfully. Then there was a sad
silence, and presently the people whose windows looked that way saw the
Dragon come walking down the steps of the General Post Office spitting
fire and smoke, together with tufts of Manticora fur, and the fragments
of the registered letters. Things were growing very serious. However
popular the King might become during the week, the Dragon was sure to do
something on Saturday to upset the people's loyalty.

[Illustration "The Manticora took refuge in the General Post Office."
_See page 13._]

The Dragon was a perfect nuisance for the whole of Saturday, except
during the hour of noon, and then he had to rest under a tree or he
would have caught fire from the heat of the sun. You see, he was very
hot to begin with.

At last came a Saturday when the Dragon actually walked into the Royal
nursery and carried off the King's own pet Rocking Horse. Then the King
cried for six days, and on the seventh he was so tired that he had to
stop. He heard the Blue Bird singing among the roses and saw the
Butterfly fluttering among the lilies, and he said: "Nurse, wipe my
face, please. I am not going to cry any more."

Nurse washed his face, and told him not to be a silly little King.
"Crying," said she, "never did anyone any good yet."

"I don't know," said the little King, "I seem to see better, and to hear
better now that I've cried for a week. Now, Nurse, dear, I know I'm
right, so kiss me in case I never come back. I _must_ try to see if I
can't save the people."

"Well, if you must, you must," said Nurse, "but don't tear your clothes
or get your feet wet."

So off he went.

The Blue Bird sang more sweetly than ever, and the Butterfly shone more
brightly, as Lionel once more carried _The Book of Beasts_ out into the
rose garden, and opened it--very quickly, so that he might not be afraid
and change his mind. The book fell open wide, almost in the middle, and
there was written at the bottom of the page, "Hippogriff," and before
Lionel had time to see what the picture was, there was a fluttering of
great wings and a stamping of hoofs, and a sweet, soft, friendly
neighing; and there came out of the book a beautiful white horse with a
long, long, white mane and a long, long, white tail, and he had great
wings like swan's wings, and the softest, kindest eyes in the world, and
he stood there among the roses.

The Hippogriff rubbed its silky-soft, milky white nose against the
little King's shoulder, and the little King thought: "But for the wings
you are very like my poor, dear lost Rocking Horse." And the Blue Bird's
song was very loud and sweet.

Then suddenly the King saw coming through the sky the great straggling,
sprawling, wicked shape of the Red Dragon. And he knew at once what he
must do. He caught up _The Book of Beasts_ and jumped on the back of the
gentle, beautiful Hippogriff, and leaning down he whispered in the
sharp, white ear: "Fly, dear Hippogriff, fly your very fastest to the
Pebbly Waste."

And when the Dragon saw them start, he turned and flew after them, with
his great wings flapping like clouds at sunset, and the Hippogriff's
wide wings were snowy as clouds at moonrise.

When the people in the town saw the Dragon fly off after the Hippogriff
and the King they all came out of their houses to look, and when they
saw the two disappear they made up their minds to the worst, and began
to think what they would wear for Court mourning.

But the Dragon could not catch the Hippogriff. The red wings were bigger
than the white ones, but they were not so strong, and so the
white-winged horse flew away and away and away, with the Dragon
pursuing, till he reached the very middle of the Pebbly Waste.

Now, the Pebbly Waste is just like the parts of the seaside where there
is no sand--all round, loose, shifting stones, and there is no grass
there and no tree within a hundred miles of it.

Lionel jumped off the white horse's back in the very middle of the
Pebbly Waste, and he hurriedly unclasped _The Book of Beasts_ and laid
it open on the pebbles. Then he clattered among the pebbles in his haste
to get back on to his white horse, and had just jumped on when up came
the Dragon. He was flying very feebly, and looking around everywhere for
a tree, for it was just on the stroke of twelve, the sun was shining
like a gold guinea in the blue sky, and there was not a tree for a
hundred miles.

The white-winged horse flew around and around the Dragon as he writhed
on the dry pebbles. He was getting very hot: indeed, parts of him even
had begun to smoke. He knew that he must certainly catch fire in
another minute unless he could get under a tree. He made a snatch with
his red claws at the King and Hippogriff, but he was too feeble to reach
them, and besides, he did not dare to overexert himself for fear he
should get any hotter.

It was then that he saw _The Book of Beasts_ lying on the pebbles, open
at the page with "Dragon" written at the bottom. He looked and he
hesitated, and he looked again, and then, with one last squirm of rage,
the Dragon wriggled himself back into the picture and sat down under the
palm tree, and the page was a little singed as he went in.

As soon as Lionel saw that the Dragon had really been obliged to go and
sit under his own palm tree because it was the only tree there, he
jumped off his horse and shut the book with a bang.

"Oh, hurrah!" he cried. "Now we really have done it."

And he clasped the book very tightly with the turquoise and ruby clasps.

"Oh, my precious Hippogriff," he cried. "You are the bravest, dearest,
most beautiful--"

"Hush," whispered the Hippogriff modestly. "Don't you see that we are
not alone?"

And indeed there was quite a crowd round them on the Pebbly Waste: the
Prime Minister and the Parliament and the Soccer Players and the
Orphanage and the Manticora and the Rocking Horse, and indeed everyone
who had been eaten by the Dragon. You see, it was impossible for the
Dragon to take them into the book with him--it was a tight fit even for
one Dragon--so, of course, he had to leave them outside.

       *       *       *       *       *

They all got home somehow, and all lived happy ever after.

When the King asked the Manticora where he would like to live he begged
to be allowed to go back into the book. "I do not care for public life,"
he said.

Of course he knew his way onto his own page, so there was no danger of
his opening the book at the wrong page and letting out a Dragon or
anything. So he got back into his picture and has never come out since:
That is why you will never see a Manticora as long as you live, except
in a picture-book. And of course he left the kitties outside, because
there was no room for them in the book--and the milk cans too.

Then the Rocking Horse begged to be allowed to go and live on the
Hippogriff's page of the book. "I should like," he said, "to live
somewhere where Dragons can't get at me."

So the beautiful, white-winged Hippogriff showed him the way in, and
there he stayed till the King had him taken out for his
great-great-great-great-grandchildren to play with.

As for the Hippogriff, he accepted the position of the King's Own
Rocking Horse--a situation left vacant by the retirement of the wooden
one. And the Blue Bird and the Butterfly sing and flutter among the
lilies and roses of the Palace garden to this very day.

[Illustration: UNCLE JAMES OR THE PURPLE STRANGER]



II. Uncle James, or The Purple Stranger


The Princess and the gardener's boy were playing in the backyard.

"What will you do when you grow up, Princess?" asked the gardener's boy.

"I should like to marry you, Tom," said the Princess. "Would you mind?"

"No," said the gardener's boy. "I shouldn't mind much. I'll marry you if
you like--if I have time."

For the gardener's boy meant, as soon as he was grown up, to be a
general and a poet and a Prime Minister and an admiral and a civil
engineer. Meanwhile, he was top of all his classes at school, and
tip-top of the geography class.

As for the Princess Mary Ann, she was a very good little girl, and
everyone loved her. She was always kind and polite, even to her Uncle
James and to other people whom she did not like very much; and though
she was not very clever, for a Princess, she always tried to do her
lessons. Even if you know perfectly well that you can't do your lessons,
you may as well try, and sometimes you find that by some fortunate
accident they really _are_ done. Then the Princess had a truly good
heart: She was always kind to her pets. She never slapped her
hippopotamus when it broke her dolls in its playful gambols, and she
never forgot to feed her rhinoceroses in their little hutch in the
backyard. Her elephant was devoted to her, and sometimes Mary Ann made
her nurse quite cross by smuggling the dear little thing up to bed with
her and letting it go to sleep with its long trunk laid lovingly across
her throat, and its pretty head cuddled under the Royal right ear.

When the Princess had been good all through the week--for, like all
real, live, nice children, she was sometimes naughty, but never
bad--Nurse would allow her to ask her little friends to come on
Wednesday morning early and spend the day, because Wednesday is the end
of the week in that country. Then, in the afternoon, when all the little
dukes and duchesses and marquises and countesses had finished their rice
pudding and had had their hands and faces washed after it, Nurse would
say: "Now, my dears, what would you like to do this afternoon?" just as
if she didn't know. And the answer would be always the same:

"Oh, do let's go to the Zoological Gardens and ride on the big guinea
pig and feed the rabbits and hear the dormouse asleep."

So their pinafores were taken off and they all went to the Zoological
Gardens, where twenty of them could ride at a time on the guinea pig,
and where even the little ones could feed the great rabbits if some
grown-up person were kind enough to lift them up for the purpose.

There always was some such person, because in Rotundia everybody was
kind--except one.

Now that you have read as far as this you know, of course, that the
Kingdom of Rotundia was a very remarkable place; and if you are a
thoughtful child--as of course you are--you will not need me to tell you
what was the most remarkable thing about it. But in case you are not a
thoughtful child--and it is just possible of course that you are not--I
will tell you at once what that most remarkable thing was. _All the
animals were the wrong sizes!_ And this was how it happened.

In old, old, olden times, when all our world was just loose earth and
air and fire and water mixed up anyhow like a pudding, and spinning
around like mad trying to get the different things to settle into their
proper places, a round piece of earth got loose and went spinning away
by itself across the water, which was just beginning to try to get
spread out smooth into a real sea. And as the great round piece of earth
flew away, going around and around as hard as it could, it met a long
piece of hard rock that had got loose from another part of the puddingy
mixture, and the rock was so hard, and was going so fast, that it ran
its point through the round piece of earth and stuck out on the other
side of it, so that the two together were like a very-very-much-too-big
spinning top.

I am afraid all this is very dull, but you know geography is never quite
lively, and after all, I must give you a little information even in a
fairy tale--like the powder in jam.

Well, when the pointed rock smashed into the round bit of earth the
shock was so great that it set them spinning together through the
air--which was just getting into its proper place, like all the rest of
the things--only, as luck would have it, they forgot which way around
they had been going, and began to spin around the wrong way. Presently
Center of Gravity--a great giant who was managing the whole
business--woke up in the middle of the earth and began to grumble.

"Hurry up," he said. "Come down and lie still, can't you?"

So the rock with the round piece of earth fell into the sea, and the
point of the rock went into a hole that just fitted it in the stony sea
bottom, and there it spun around the wrong way seven times and then lay
still. And that round piece of land became, after millions of years, the
Kingdom of Rotundia.

This is the end of the geography lesson. And now for just a little
natural history, so that we may not feel that we are quite wasting our
time. Of course, the consequence of the island having spun around the
wrong way was that when the animals began to grow on the island they all
grew the wrong sizes. The guinea pig, as you know, was as big as our
elephants, and the elephant--dear little pet--was the size of the silly,
tiny, black-and-tan dogs that ladies carry sometimes in their muffs. The
rabbits were about the size of our rhinoceroses, and all about the wild
parts of the island they had made their burrows as big as railway
tunnels. The dormouse, of course, was the biggest of all the creatures.
I can't tell you how big he was. Even if you think of elephants it will
not help you at all. Luckily there was only one of him, and he was
always asleep. Otherwise I don't think the Rotundians could have borne
with him. As it was, they made him a house, and it saved the expense of
a brass band, because no band could possibly have been heard when the
dormouse was talking in his sleep.

The men and women and children in this wonderful island were quite the
right size, because their ancestors had come over with the Conqueror
long after the island had settled down and the animals grown on it.

Now the natural history lesson is over, and if you have been attending,
you know more about Rotundia than anyone there did, except three people:
the Lord Chief Schoolmaster, the Princess's uncle--who was a magician,
and knew everything without learning it--and Tom, the gardener's son.

Tom had learned more at school than anyone else, because he wished to
take a prize. The prize offered by the Lord Chief Schoolmaster was a
_History of Rotundia_, beautifully bound, with the Royal arms on the
back. But after that day when the Princess said she meant to marry Tom,
the gardener's boy thought it over, and he decided that the best prize
in the world would be the Princess, and this was the prize Tom meant to
take; and when you are a gardener's son and have decided to marry a
Princess, you will find that the more you learn at school the better.

The Princess always played with Tom on the days when the little dukes
and marquises did not come to tea--and when he told her he was almost
sure of the first prize, she clapped her hands and said: "Dear Tom, dear
good, clever Tom, you deserve all the prizes. And I will give you my pet
elephant--and you can keep him till we're married."

The pet elephant was called Fido, and the gardener's son took him away
in his coat pocket. He was the dearest little elephant you ever
saw--about six inches long. But he was very, very wise--he could not
have been wiser if he had been a mile high. He lay down comfortably in
Tom's pocket, and when Tom put in his hand, Fido curled his little trunk
around Tom's fingers with an affectionate confidence that made the boy's
heart warm to his new little pet. What with the elephant, and the
Princess's affection, and the knowledge that the very next day he would
receive the _History of Rotundia_, beautifully bound, with the Royal
arms on the cover, Tom could hardly sleep a wink. And, besides, the dog
did bark so terribly. There was only one dog in Rotundia--the kingdom
could not afford to keep more than one: He was a Mexican lapdog of the
kind that in most parts of the world only measures seven inches from the
end of his dear nose to the tip of his darling tail--but in Rotundia he
was bigger than I can possibly expect you to believe. And when he
barked, his bark was so large that it filled up all the night and left
no room for sleep or dreams or polite conversation, or anything else at
all. He never barked at things that went on in the island--he was too
large-minded for that; but when ships went blundering by in the dark,
tumbling over the rocks at the end of the island, he would bark once or
twice, just to let the ships know that they couldn't come playing about
there just as they liked.

But on this particular night he barked and barked and barked--and the
Princess said, "Oh dear, oh dear, I wish he wouldn't, I am so sleepy."
And Tom said to himself, "I wonder whatever is the matter. As soon as
it's light I'll go and see."

So when it began to be pretty pink-and-yellow daylight, Tom got up and
went out. And all the time the Mexican lapdog barked so that the houses
shook, and the tiles on the roof of the palace rattled like milk cans in
a cart whose horse is frisky.

"I'll go to the pillar," thought Tom, as he went through the town. The
pillar, of course, was the top of the piece of rock that had stuck
itself through Rotundia millions of years before, and made it spin
around the wrong way. It was quite in the middle of the island, and
stuck up ever so far, and when you were at the top you could see a great
deal farther than when you were not.

As Tom went out from the town and across the downs, he thought what a
pretty sight it was to see the rabbits in the bright, dewy morning,
frisking with their young ones by the mouths of their burrows. He did
not go very near the rabbits, of course, because when a rabbit of that
size is at play it does not always look where it is going, and it might
easily have crushed Tom with its foot, and then it would have been very
sorry afterward. And Tom was a kind boy, and would not have liked to
make even a rabbit unhappy. Earwigs in our country often get out of the
way when they think you are going to walk on them. They too have kind
hearts, and they would not like you to be sorry afterward.

So Tom went on, looking at the rabbits and watching the morning grow
more and more red and golden. And the Mexican lapdog barked all the
time, till the church bells tinkled, and the chimney of the apple
factory rocked again.

But when Tom got to the pillar, he saw that he would not need to climb
to the top to find out what the dog was barking at.

For there, by the pillar, lay a very large purple dragon. His wings were
like old purple umbrellas that have been very much rained on, and his
head was large and bald, like the top of a purple toadstool, and his
tail, which was purple too, was very, very, very long and thin and
tight, like the lash of a carriage whip.

It was licking one of its purple umbrella-y wings, and every now and
then it moaned and leaned its head back against the rocky pillar as
though it felt faint. Tom saw at once what had happened. A flight of
purple dragons must have crossed the island in the night, and this poor
one must have knocked its wing and broken it against the pillar.

Everyone is kind to everyone in Rotundia, and Tom was not afraid of the
dragon, although he had never spoken to one before. He had often watched
them flying across the sea, but he had never expected to get to know one
personally.

So now he said: "I am afraid you don't feel quite well."

The dragon shook his large purple head. He could not speak, but like all
other animals, he could understand well enough when he liked.

"Can I get you anything?" asked Tom, politely.

The dragon opened his purple eyes with an inquiring smile.

"A bun or two, now," said Tom, coaxingly. "There's a beautiful bun tree
quite close."

The dragon opened a great purple mouth and licked his purple lips, so
Tom ran and shook the bun tree, and soon came back with an armful of
fresh currant buns, and as he came he picked a few of the Bath kind,
which grow on the low bushes near the pillar.

Because, of course, another consequence of the island's having spun the
wrong way is that all the things we have to make--buns and cakes and
shortbread--grow on trees and bushes, but in Rotundia they have to make
their cauliflowers and cabbages and carrots and apples and onions, just
as our cooks make puddings and turnovers.

Tom gave all the buns to the dragon, saying: "Here, try to eat a little.
You'll soon feel better then."

The dragon ate up the buns, nodded rather ungraciously, and began to
lick his wing again. So Tom left him and went back to the town with the
news, and everyone was so excited at a real live dragon's being on the
island--a thing that had never happened before--that they all went out
to look at it, instead of going to the prize-giving, and the Lord Chief
Schoolmaster went with the rest. Now, he had Tom's prize, the _History
of Rotundia_, in his pocket--the one bound in calf, with the Royal arms
on the cover--and it happened to drop out, and the dragon ate it, so Tom
never got the prize after all. But the dragon, when he had gotten it,
did not like it.

"Perhaps it's all for the best," said Tom. "I might not have liked that
prize either, if I had gotten it."

It happened to be a Wednesday, so when the Princess's friends were asked
what they would like to do, all the little dukes and marquises and earls
said, "Let's go and see the dragon." But the little duchesses and
marchionesses and countesses said they were afraid.

Then Princess Mary Ann spoke up royally, and said, "Don't be silly,
because it's only in fairy stories and histories of England and things
like that, that people are unkind and want to hurt each other. In
Rotundia everyone is kind, and no one has anything to be afraid of,
unless they're naughty; and then we know it's for our own good. Let's
all go and see the dragon. We might take him some acid drops." So they
went. And all the titled children took it in turns to feed the dragon
with acid drops, and he seemed pleased and flattered, and wagged as much
of his purple tail as he could get at conveniently; for it was a very,
very long tail indeed. But when it came to the Princess's turn to give
an acid drop to the dragon, he smiled a very wide smile, and wagged his
tail to the very last long inch of it, as much as to say, "Oh, you nice,
kind, pretty little Princess." But deep down in his wicked purple heart
he was saying, "Oh, you nice, fat, pretty little Princess, I should like
to eat you instead of these silly acid drops." But of course nobody
heard him except the Princess's uncle, and he was a magician, and
accustomed to listening at doors. It was part of his trade.

Now, you will remember that I told you there was one wicked person in
Rotundia, and I cannot conceal from you any longer that this Complete
Bad was the Princess's Uncle James. Magicians are always bad, as you
know from your fairy books, and some uncles are bad, as you see by the
_Babes in the Wood_, or the _Norfolk Tragedy_, and one James at least
was bad, as you have learned from your English history. And when anyone
is a magician, and is also an uncle, and is named James as well, you
need not expect anything nice from him. He is a Threefold Complete
Bad--and he will come to no good.

Uncle James had long wanted to get rid of the Princess and have the
kingdom to himself. He did not like many things--a nice kingdom was
almost the only thing he cared for--but he had never seen his way quite
clearly, because everyone is so kind in Rotundia that wicked spells will
not work there, but run off those blameless islanders like water off a
duck's back. Now, however, Uncle James thought there might be a chance
for him--because he knew that now there were two wicked people on the
island who could stand by each other--himself and the dragon. He said
nothing, but he exchanged a meaningful glance with the dragon, and
everyone went home to tea. And no one had seen the meaningful glance
except Tom.

Tom went home, and told his elephant all about it. The intelligent
little creature listened carefully, and then climbed from Tom's knee to
the table, on which stood an ornamental calendar that the Princess had
given Tom for a Christmas present. With its tiny trunk the elephant
pointed out a date--the fifteenth of August, the Princess's birthday,
and looked anxiously at its master.

"What is it, Fido--good little elephant--then?" said Tom, and the
sagacious animal repeated its former gesture. Then Tom understood.

"Oh, something is to happen on her birthday? All right. I'll be on the
lookout." And he was.

[Illustration: "By-and-by he began to wander." _See page 29._]

At first the people of Rotundia were quite pleased with the dragon, who
lived by the pillar and fed himself from the bun trees, but by-and-by he
began to wander. He would creep into the burrows made by the great
rabbits; and excursionists, sporting on the downs, would see his long,
tight, whiplike tail wriggling down a burrow and out of sight, and
before they had time to say, "There he goes," his ugly purple head
would come poking out from another rabbit-hole--perhaps just behind
them--or laugh softly to itself just in their ears. And the dragon's
laugh was not a merry one. This sort of hide-and-seek amused people at
first, but by-and-by it began to get on their nerves: and if you don't
know what that means, ask Mother to tell you next time you are playing
blind man's buff when she has a headache. Then the dragon got into the
habit of cracking his tail, as people crack whips, and this also got on
people's nerves. Then, too, little things began to be missed. And you
know how unpleasant that is, even in a private school, and in a public
kingdom it is, of course, much worse. The things that were missed were
nothing much at first--a few little elephants, a hippopotamus or two,
and some giraffes, and things like that. It was nothing much, as I say,
but it made people feel uncomfortable. Then one day a favorite rabbit of
the Princess's, called Frederick, mysteriously disappeared, and then
came a terrible morning when the Mexican lapdog was missing. He had
barked ever since the dragon came to the island, and people had grown
quite used to the noise. So when his barking suddenly ceased it woke
everybody up--and they all went out to see what was the matter. And the
lapdog was gone!

A boy was sent to wake the army, so that it might look for him. But the
army was gone too! And now the people began to be frightened. Then Uncle
James came out onto the terrace of the palace, and he made the people a
speech. He said: "Friends--fellow citizens--I cannot disguise from
myself or from you that this purple dragon is a poor penniless exile, a
helpless alien in our midst, and, besides, he is a--is no end of a
dragon."

The people thought of the dragon's tail and said, "Hear, hear."

Uncle James went on: "Something has happened to a gentle and defenseless
member of our community. We don't know what has happened."

Everyone thought of the rabbit named Frederick, and groaned.

"The defenses of our country have been swallowed up," said Uncle James.

Everyone thought of the poor army.

"There is only one thing to be done." Uncle James was warming to his
subject. "Could we ever forgive ourselves if by neglecting a simple
precaution we lost more rabbits--or even, perhaps, our navy, our police,
and our fire brigade? For I warn you that the purple dragon will respect
nothing, however sacred."

Everyone thought of themselves--and they said, "What is the simple
precaution?"

Then Uncle James said: "Tomorrow is the dragon's birthday. He is
accustomed to have a present on his birthday. If he gets a nice present
he will be in a hurry to take it away and show it to his friends, and he
will fly off and never come back."

The crowd cheered wildly--and the Princess from her balcony clapped her
hands.

"The present the dragon expects," said Uncle James, cheerfully, "is
rather an expensive one. But, when we give, it should not be in a
grudging spirit, especially to visitors. What the dragon wants is a
Princess. We have only one Princess, it is true; but far be it from us
to display a miserly temper at such a moment. And the gift is worthless
that costs the giver nothing. Your readiness to give up your Princess
will only show how generous you are."

The crowd began to cry, for they loved their Princess, though they quite
saw that their first duty was to be generous and give the poor dragon
what it wanted.

The Princess began to cry, for she did not want to be anybody's birthday
present--especially a purple dragon's. And Tom began to cry because he
was so angry.

He went straight home and told his little elephant; and the elephant
cheered him up so much that presently the two grew quite absorbed in a
top that the elephant was spinning with his little trunk.

Early in the morning Tom went to the palace. He looked out across the
downs--there were hardly any rabbits playing there now--and then he
gathered white roses and threw them at the Princess's window till she
woke up and looked out.

"Come up and kiss me," she said.

So Tom climbed up the white rosebush and kissed the Princess through the
window, and said: "Many happy returns of the day."

Then Mary Ann began to cry, and said: "Oh, Tom--how can you? When you
know quite well--"

"Oh, don't," said Tom. "Why, Mary Ann, my precious, my Princess--what do
you think I should be doing while the dragon was getting his birthday
present? Don't cry, my own little Mary Ann! Fido and I have arranged
everything. You've only got to do as you are told."

"Is that all?" said the Princess. "Oh--that's easy--I've often done
that!"

Then Tom told her what she was to do. And she kissed him again and
again. "Oh, you dear, good, clever Tom," she said. "How glad I am that I
gave you Fido. You two have saved me. You dears!"

The next morning Uncle James put on his best coat and hat and the vest
with the gold snakes on it--he was a magician, and he had a bright taste
in vests--and he called with a cab to take the Princess out.

"Come, little birthday present," he said tenderly. "The dragon will be
so pleased. And I'm glad to see you're not crying. You know, my child,
we cannot begin too young to learn to think of the happiness of others
rather than our own. I should not like my dear little niece to be
selfish, or to wish to deny a trivial pleasure to a poor, sick dragon,
far from his home and friends."

The Princess said she would try not to be selfish.

Presently the cab drew up near the pillar, and there was the dragon, his
ugly purple head shining in the sun, and his ugly purple mouth half
open.

Uncle James said: "Good morning, sir. We have brought you a small
present for your birthday. We do not like to let such an anniversary go
by without some suitable testimonial, especially to one who is a
stranger in our midst. Our means are small, but our hearts are large. We
have but one Princess, but we give her freely--do we not, my child?"

The Princess said she supposed so, and the dragon came a little nearer.

Suddenly a voice cried: "Run!" and there was Tom, and he had brought the
Zoological guinea pig and a pair of Belgian hares with him. "Just to see
fair," said Tom.

Uncle James was furious. "What do you mean, sir," he cried, "by
intruding on a State function with your common rabbits and things? Go
away, naughty little boy, and play with them somewhere else."

But while he was speaking the rabbits had come up one on each side of
him, their great sides towering ever so high, and now they pressed him
between them so that he was buried in their thick fur and almost choked.
The Princess, meantime, had run to the other side of the pillar and was
peeping around it to see what was going on. A crowd had followed the cab
out of the town; now they reached the scene of the "State Function"--and
they all cried out: "Fair play--play fair! We can't go back on our word
like this. Give a thing and take a thing? Why, it's never done. Let the
poor exiled stranger dragon have his birthday present." And they tried
to get at Tom--but the guinea pig stood in the way.

"Yes," Tom cried. "Fair play is a jewel. And your helpless exile shall
have the Princess--if he can catch her. Now then, Mary Ann."

Mary Ann looked around the big pillar and called to the dragon: "Bo! you
can't catch me," and began to run as fast as ever she could, and the
dragon ran after her. When the Princess had run a half mile she stopped,
dodged around a tree, and ran back to the pillar and around it, and the
dragon after her. You see, he was so long he could not turn as quickly
as she could. Around and around the pillar ran the Princess. The first
time she ran around a long way from the pillar, and then nearer and
nearer--with the dragon after her all the time; and he was so busy
trying to catch her that he never noticed that Tom had tied the very end
of his long, tight, whipcordy tail to the rock, so that the more the
dragon ran around, the more times he twisted his tail around the pillar.
It was exactly like winding a top--only the peg was the pillar, and the
dragon's tail was the string. And the magician was safe between the
Belgian hares, and couldn't see anything but darkness, or do anything
but choke.

When the dragon was wound onto the pillar as much as he possibly could
be, and as tight--like cotton on a reel--the Princess stopped running,
and though she had very little breath left, she managed to say,
"Yah--who's won now?"

This annoyed the dragon so much that he put out all his strength--spread
his great purple wings, and tried to fly at her. Of course this pulled
his tail, and pulled it very hard, so hard that as he pulled the tail
_had_ to come, and the pillar _had_ to come around with the tail, and
the island _had_ to come around with the pillar, and in another minute
the tail was loose, and the island was spinning around exactly like a
top. It spun so fast that everyone fell flat on their faces and held on
tight to themselves, because they felt something was going to happen.
All but the magician, who was choking between the Belgian hares, and
felt nothing but fur and fury.

And something did happen. The dragon had sent the kingdom of Rotundia
spinning the way it ought to have gone at the beginning of the world,
and as it spun around, all the animals began to change sizes. The guinea
pigs got small, and the elephants got big, and the men and women and
children would have changed sizes too, if they had not had the sense to
hold on to themselves, very tight indeed, with both hands; which, of
course, the animals could not be expected to know how to do. And the
best of it was that when the small beasts got big and the big beasts got
small the dragon got small too, and fell at the Princess's feet--a
little, crawling, purple newt with wings.

[Illustration: "The dragon ran after her." _See page 34._]

"Funny little thing," said the Princess, when she saw it. "I will take
it for a birthday present."

But while all the people were still on their faces, holding on tight to
themselves, Uncle James, the magician, never thought of holding
tight--he only thought of how to punish Belgian hares and the sons of
gardeners; so when the big beasts grew small, he grew small with the
other beasts, and the little purple dragon, when he fell at the
Princess's feet, saw there a very small magician named Uncle James. And
the dragon took him because it wanted a birthday present.

So now all the animals were new sizes--and at first it seemed very
strange to everyone to have great lumbering elephants and a tiny little
dormouse, but they have gotten used to it now, and think no more of it
than we do.

All this happened several years ago, and the other day I saw in the
_Rotundia Times_ an account of the wedding of the Princess with Lord
Thomas Gardener, K.C.D., and I knew she could not have married anyone
but Tom, so I suppose they made him a Lord on purpose for the
wedding--and _K.C.D._, of course, means Clever Conqueror of the Dragon.
If you think that is wrong it is only because you don't know how they
spell in Rotundia. The paper said that among the beautiful presents of
the bridegroom to the bride was an enormous elephant, on which the
bridal pair made their wedding tour. This must have been Fido. You
remember Tom promised to give him back to the Princess when they were
married. The _Rotundia Times_ called the married couple "the happy
pair." It was clever of the paper to think of calling them that--it is
such a pretty and novel expression, and I think it is truer than many of
the things you see in papers.

Because, you see, the Princess and the gardener's son were so fond of
each other they could not help being happy--and besides, they had an
elephant of their very own to ride on. If that is not enough to make
people happy, I should like to know what is. Though, of course, I know
there are some people who could not be happy unless they had a whale to
sail on, and perhaps not even then. But they are greedy, grasping
people, the kind who would take four helps of pudding, as likely as not,
which neither Tom nor Mary Ann ever did.

[Illustration: THE DELIVERERS OF THEIR COUNTRY]



III. The Deliverers of Their Country


It all began with Effie's getting something in her eye. It hurt very
much indeed, and it felt something like a red-hot spark--only it seemed
to have legs as well, and wings like a fly. Effie rubbed and cried--not
real crying, but the kind your eye does all by itself without your being
miserable inside your mind--and then she went to her father to have the
thing in her eye taken out. Effie's father was a doctor, so of course he
knew how to take things out of eyes--he did it very cleverly with a soft
paintbrush dipped in castor oil.

When he had gotten the thing out, he said: "This is very curious." Effie
had often got things in her eye before, and her father had always seemed
to think it was natural--rather tiresome and naughty perhaps, but still
natural. He had never before thought it curious.

Effie stood holding her handkerchief to her eye, and said: "I don't
believe it's out." People always say this when they have had something
in their eyes.

"Oh, yes--it's out," said the doctor. "Here it is, on the brush. This is
very interesting."

Effie had never heard her father say that about anything that she had
any share in. She said: "What?"

The doctor carried the brush very carefully across the room, and held
the point of it under his microscope--then he twisted the brass screws
of the microscope, and looked through the top with one eye.

"Dear me," he said. "Dear, dear me! Four well-developed limbs; a long
caudal appendage; five toes, unequal in lengths, almost like one of the
_Lacertidae_, yet there are traces of wings." The creature under his eye
wriggled a little in the castor oil, and he went on: "Yes; a batlike
wing. A new specimen, undoubtedly. Effie, run round to the professor and
ask him to be kind enough to step in for a few minutes."

"You might give me sixpence, Daddy," said Effie, "because I did bring
you the new specimen. I took great care of it inside my eye, and my eye
_does_ hurt."

The doctor was so pleased with the new specimen that he gave Effie a
shilling, and presently the professor stepped round. He stayed to lunch,
and he and the doctor quarreled very happily all the afternoon about the
name and the family of the thing that had come out of Effie's eye.

But at teatime another thing happened. Effie's brother Harry fished
something out of his tea, which he thought at first was an earwig. He
was just getting ready to drop it on the floor, and end its life in the
usual way, when it shook itself in the spoon--spread two wet wings, and
flopped onto the tablecloth. There it sat, stroking itself with its feet
and stretching its wings, and Harry said: "Why, it's a tiny newt!"

The professor leaned forward before the doctor could say a word. "I'll
give you half a crown for it, Harry, my lad," he said, speaking very
fast; and then he picked it up carefully on his handkerchief.

"It is a new specimen," he said, "and finer than yours, Doctor."

It was a tiny lizard, about half an inch long--with scales and wings.

So now the doctor and the professor each had a specimen, and they were
both very pleased. But before long these specimens began to seem less
valuable. For the next morning, when the knife-boy was cleaning the
doctor's boots, he suddenly dropped the brushes and the boot and the
blacking, and screamed out that he was burnt.

And from inside the boot came crawling a lizard as big as a kitten, with
large, shiny wings.

"Why," said Effie, "I know what it is. It is a dragon like the one St.
George killed."

And Effie was right. That afternoon Towser was bitten in the garden by a
dragon about the size of a rabbit, which he had tried to chase, and the
next morning all the papers were full of the wonderful "winged lizards"
that were appearing all over the country. The papers would not call them
dragons, because, of course, no one believes in dragons nowadays--and at
any rate the papers were not going to be so silly as to believe in fairy
stories. At first there were only a few, but in a week or two the
country was simply running alive with dragons of all sizes, and in the
air you could sometimes see them as thick as a swarm of bees. They all
looked alike except as to size. They were green with scales, and they
had four legs and a long tail and great wings like bats' wings, only the
wings were a pale, half-transparent yellow, like the gear-boxes on
bicycles.

They breathed fire and smoke, as all proper dragons must, but still the
newspapers went on pretending they were lizards, until the editor of the
_Standard_ was picked up and carried away by a very large one, and then
the other newspaper people had not anyone left to tell them what they
ought not to believe. So when the largest elephant in the Zoo was
carried off by a dragon, the papers gave up pretending--and put ALARMING
PLAGUE OF DRAGONS at the top of the paper.

[Illustration: "The largest elephant in the zoo was carried off." _See
page 43._]

You have no idea how alarming it was, and at the same time how
aggravating. The large-size dragons were terrible certainly, but when
once you had found out that the dragons always went to bed early because
they were afraid of the chill night air, you had only to stay indoors
all day, and you were pretty safe from the big ones. But the smaller
sizes were a perfect nuisance. The ones as big as earwigs got in the
soap, and they got in the butter. The ones as big as dogs got in the
bath, and the fire and smoke inside them made them steam like anything
when the cold water tap was turned on, so that careless people were
often scalded quite severely. The ones that were as large as pigeons
would get into workbaskets or corner drawers and bite you when you were
in a hurry to get a needle or a handkerchief. The ones as big as sheep
were easier to avoid, because you could see them coming; but when they
flew in at the windows and curled up under your eiderdown, and you did
not find them till you went to bed, it was always a shock. The ones this
size did not eat people, only lettuce, but they always scorched the
sheets and pillowcases dreadfully.

Of course, the County Council and the police did everything that could
be done: It was no use offering the hand of the Princess to anyone who
killed a dragon. This way was all very well in olden times--when there
was only one dragon and one Princess; but now there were far more
dragons than Princesses--although the Royal Family was a large one. And
besides, it would have been a mere waste of Princesses to offer rewards
for killing dragons, because everybody killed as many dragons as they
could quite out of their own heads and without rewards at all, just to
get the nasty things out of the way. The County Council undertook to
cremate all dragons delivered at their offices between the hours of ten
and two, and whole wagonloads and cartloads and truckloads of dead
dragons could be seen any day of the week standing in a long line in the
street where the County Council had their offices. Boys brought
barrowloads of dead dragons, and children on their way home from morning
school would call in to leave the handful or two of little dragons they
had brought in their satchels, or carried in their knotted pocket
handkerchiefs. And yet there seemed to be as many dragons as ever. Then
the police stuck up great wood and canvas towers covered with patent
glue. When the dragons flew against these towers, they stuck fast, as
flies and wasps do on the sticky papers in the kitchen; and when the
towers were covered all over with dragons, the police inspector used to
set fire to the towers, and burnt them and dragons and all.

And yet there seemed to be more dragons than ever. The shops were full
of patent dragon poison and anti-dragon soap, and dragonproof curtains
for the windows; and indeed, everything that could be done was done.

And yet there seemed to be more dragons than ever.

It was not very easy to know what would poison a dragon, because, you
see, they ate such different things. The largest kind ate elephants as
long as there were any, and then went on with horses and cows. Another
size ate nothing but lilies of the valley, and a third size ate only
Prime Ministers if they were to be had, and, if not, would feed freely
on servants in livery. Another size lived on bricks, and three of them
ate two thirds of the South Lambeth Infirmary in one afternoon.

But the size Effie was most afraid of was about as big as your dining
room, and that size ate little girls and boys.

At first Effie and her brother were quite pleased with the change in
their lives. It was so amusing to sit up all night instead of going to
sleep, and to play in the garden lighted by electric lamps. And it
sounded so funny to hear Mother say, when they were going to bed: "Good
night, my darlings, sleep sound all day, and don't get up too soon. You
must not get up before it's quite dark. You wouldn't like the nasty
dragons to catch you."

But after a time they got very tired of it all: They wanted to see the
flowers and trees growing in the fields, and to see the pretty sunshine
out of doors, and not just through glass windows and patent dragonproof
curtains. And they wanted to play on the grass, which they were not
allowed to do in the electric lamp-lighted garden because of the
night-dew.

And they wanted so much to get out, just for once, in the beautiful,
bright, dangerous daylight, that they began to try and think of some
reason why they ought to go out. Only they did not like to disobey their
mother.

But one morning their mother was busy preparing some new dragon poison
to lay down in the cellars, and their father was bandaging the hand of
the boot boy, which had been scratched by one of the dragons who liked
to eat Prime Ministers when they were to be had, so nobody remembered to
say to the children: "Don't get up till it is quite dark!"

"Go now," said Harry. "It would not be disobedient to go. And I know
exactly what we ought to do, but I don't know how we ought to do it."

"What ought we to do?" said Effie.

"We ought to wake St. George, of course," said Harry. "He was the only
person in his town who knew how to manage dragons; the people in the
fairy tales don't count. But St. George is a real person, and he is only
asleep, and he is waiting to be waked up. Only nobody believes in St.
George now. I heard father say so."

"We do," said Effie.

"Of course we do. And don't you see, Ef, that's the very reason why we
could wake him? You can't wake people if you don't believe in them, can
you?"

Effie said no, but where could they find St. George?

"We must go and look," said Harry boldly. "You shall wear a dragonproof
frock, made of stuff like the curtains. And I will smear myself all over
with the best dragon poison, and--"

Effie clasped her hands and skipped with joy and cried: "Oh, Harry! I
know where we can find St. George! In St. George's Church, of course."

"Um," said Harry, wishing he had thought of it for himself, "you have a
little sense sometimes, for a girl."

So the next afternoon, quite early, long before the beams of sunset
announced the coming night, when everybody would be up and working, the
two children got out of bed. Effie wrapped herself in a shawl of
dragonproof muslin--there was no time to make the frock--and Harry made
a horrid mess of himself with the patent dragon poison. It was warranted
harmless to infants and invalids, so he felt quite safe.

Then they joined hands and set out to walk to St. George's Church. As
you know, there are many St. George's churches, but fortunately they
took the turning that leads to the right one, and went along in the
bright sunlight, feeling very brave and adventurous.

There was no one about in the streets except dragons, and the place was
simply swarming with them. Fortunately none of the dragons were just the
right size for eating little boys and girls, or perhaps this story might
have had to end here. There were dragons on the pavement, and dragons on
the roadway, dragons basking on the front doorsteps of public buildings,
and dragons preening their wings on the roofs in the hot afternoon sun.
The town was quite green with them. Even when the children had gotten
out of the town and were walking in the lanes, they noticed that the
fields on each side were greener than usual with the scaly legs and
tails; and some of the smaller sizes had made themselves asbestos nests
in the flowering hawthorn hedges.

Effie held her brother's hand very tight, and once when a fat dragon
flopped against her ear she screamed out, and a whole flight of green
dragons rose from the field at the sound, and sprawled away across the
sky. The children could hear the rattle of their wings as they flew.

"Oh, I want to go home," said Effie.

"Don't be silly," said Harry. "Surely you haven't forgotten about the
Seven Champions and all the princes. People who are going to be their
country's deliverers never scream and say they want to go home."

"And are we," asked Effie--"deliverers, I mean?"

"You'll see," said her brother, and on they went.

When they came to St. George's Church they found the door open, and they
walked right in--but St. George was not there, so they walked around the
churchyard outside, and presently they found the great stone tomb of St.
George, with the figure of him carved in marble outside, in his armor
and helmet, and with his hands folded on his breast.

"How ever can we wake him?" they said. Then Harry spoke to St.
George--but he would not answer; and he called, but St. George did not
seem to hear; and then he actually tried to waken the great
dragon-slayer by shaking his marble shoulders. But St. George took no
notice.

Then Effie began to cry, and she put her arms around St. George's neck
as well as she could for the marble, which was very much in the way at
the back, and she kissed the marble face, and she said: "Oh, dear, good,
kind St. George, please wake up and help us."

And at that St. George opened his eyes sleepily, and stretched himself
and said: "What's the matter, little girl?"

So the children told him all about it; he turned over in his marble and
leaned on one elbow to listen. But when he heard that there were so many
dragons he shook his head.

"It's no good," he said, "they would be one too many for poor old
George. You should have waked me before. I was always for a fair
fight--one man one dragon, was my motto."

Just then a flight of dragons passed overhead, and St. George half drew
his sword.

But he shook his head again and pushed the sword back as the flight of
dragons grew small in the distance.

"I can't do anything," he said. "Things have changed since my time. St.
Andrew told me about it. They woke him up over the engineers' strike,
and he came to talk to me. He says everything is done by machinery now;
there must be some way of settling these dragons. By the way, what sort
of weather have you been having lately?"

This seemed so careless and unkind that Harry would not answer, but
Effie said patiently, "It has been very fine. Father says it is the
hottest weather there has ever been in this country."

"Ah, I guessed as much," said the Champion, thoughtfully. "Well, the
only thing would be ... dragons can't stand wet and cold, that's the
only thing. If you could find the taps."

St. George was beginning to settle down again on his stone slab.

"Good night, very sorry I can't help you," he said, yawning behind his
marble hand.

"Oh, but you can," cried Effie. "Tell us--what taps?"

"Oh, like in the bathroom," said St. George, still more sleepily. "And
there's a looking glass, too; shows you all the world and what's going
on. St. Denis told me about it; said it was a very pretty thing. I'm
sorry I can't--good night."

And he fell back into his marble and was fast asleep again in a moment.

"We shall never find the taps," said Harry. "I say, wouldn't it be awful
if St. George woke up when there was a dragon near, the size that eats
champions?"

Effie pulled off her dragonproof veil. "We didn't meet any the size of
the dining room as we came along," she said. "I daresay we shall be
quite safe."

So she covered St. George with the veil, and Harry rubbed off as much as
he could of the dragon poison onto St. George's armor, so as to make
everything quite safe for him.

"We might hide in the church till it is dark," he said, "and then--"

But at that moment a dark shadow fell on them, and they saw that it was
a dragon exactly the size of the dining room at home.

So then they knew that all was lost. The dragon swooped down and caught
the two children in his claws; he caught Effie by her green silk sash,
and Harry by the little point at the back of his Eton jacket--and then,
spreading his great yellow wings, he rose into the air, rattling like a
third-class carriage when the brake is hard on.

"Oh, Harry," said Effie, "I wonder when he will eat us!" The dragon was
flying across woods and fields with great flaps of his wings that
carried him a quarter of a mile at each flap.

[Illustration: "He rose into the air, rattling like a third-class
carriage." _See page 50._]

Harry and Effie could see the country below, hedges and rivers and
churches and farmhouses flowing away from under them, much faster than
you see them running away from the sides of the fastest express train.

And still the dragon flew on. The children saw other dragons in the air
as they went, but the dragon who was as big as the dining room never
stopped to speak to any of them, but just flew on quite steadily.

"He knows where he wants to go," said Harry. "Oh, if he would only drop
us before he gets there!"

But the dragon held on tight, and he flew and flew and flew until at
last, when the children were quite giddy, he settled down, with a
rattling of all his scales, on the top of a mountain. And he lay there
on his great green scaly side, panting, and very much out of breath,
because he had come such a long way. But his claws were fast in Effie's
sash and the little point at the back of Harry's Eton jacket.

Then Effie took out the knife Harry had given her on her birthday. It
had cost only sixpence to begin with, and she had had it a month, and it
never could sharpen anything but slate-pencils; but somehow she managed
to make that knife cut her sash in front, and crept out of it, leaving
the dragon with only a green silk bow in one of his claws. That knife
would never have cut Harry's jacket-tail off, though, and when Effie had
tried for some time she saw that this was so and gave it up. But with
her help Harry managed to wriggle quietly out of his sleeves, so that
the dragon had only an Eton jacket in his other claw. Then the children
crept on tiptoe to a crack in the rocks and got in. It was much too
narrow for the dragon to get in also, so they stayed in there and waited
to make faces at the dragon when he felt rested enough to sit up and
begin to think about eating them. He was very angry, indeed, when they
made faces at him, and blew out fire and smoke at them, but they ran
farther into the cave so that he could not reach them, and when he was
tired of blowing he went away.

But they were afraid to come out of the cave, so they went farther in,
and presently the cave opened out and grew bigger, and the floor was
soft sand, and when they had come to the very end of the cave there was
a door, and on it was written: UNIVERSAL TAPROOM. PRIVATE. NO ONE
ALLOWED INSIDE.

So they opened the door at once just to peep in, and then they
remembered what St. George had said.

"We can't be worse off than we are," said Harry, "with a dragon waiting
for us outside. Let's go in."

They went boldly into the taproom, and shut the door behind them.

And now they were in a sort of room cut out of the solid rock, and all
along one side of the room were taps, and all the taps were labeled with
china labels like you see in baths. And as they could both read words of
two syllables or even three sometimes, they understood at once that they
had gotten to the place where the weather is turned on from. There were
six big taps labeled "Sunshine," "Wind," "Rain," "Snow," "Hail," "Ice,"
and a lot of little ones, labeled "Fair to moderate," "Showery," "South
breeze," "Nice growing weather for the crops," "Skating," "Good open
weather," "South wind," "East wind," and so on. And the big tap labeled
"Sunshine" was turned full on. They could not see any sunshine--the cave
was lighted by a skylight of blue glass--so they supposed the sunlight
was pouring out by some other way, as it does with the tap that washes
out the underneath parts of patent sinks in kitchens.

Then they saw that one side of the room was just a big looking glass,
and when you looked in it you could see everything that was going on in
the world--and all at once, too, which is not like most looking glasses.
They saw the carts delivering the dead dragons at the County Council
offices, and they saw St. George asleep under the dragonproof veil. And
they saw their mother at home crying because her children had gone out
in the dreadful, dangerous daylight, and she was afraid a dragon had
eaten them. And they saw the whole of England, like a great puzzle
map--green in the field parts and brown in the towns, and black in the
places where they make coal and crockery and cutlery and chemicals. All
over it, on the black parts, and on the brown, and on the green, there
was a network of green dragons. And they could see that it was still
broad daylight, and no dragons had gone to bed yet.

Effie said, "Dragons do not like cold." And she tried to turn off the
sunshine, but the tap was out of order, and that was why there had been
so much hot weather, and why the dragons had been able to be hatched. So
they left the sunshine tap alone, and they turned on the snow and left
the tap full on while they went to look in the glass. There they saw the
dragons running all sorts of ways like ants if you are cruel enough to
pour water into an ant-heap, which, of course, you never are. And the
snow fell more and more.

Then Effie turned the rain tap quite full on, and presently the dragons
began to wriggle less, and by-and-by some of them lay quite still, so
the children knew the water had put out the fires inside them, and they
were dead. So then they turned on the hail--only half on, for fear of
breaking people's windows--and after a while there were no more dragons
to be seen moving.

Then the children knew that they were indeed the deliverers of their
country.

"They will put up a monument to us," said Harry, "as high as Nelson's!
All the dragons are dead."

"I hope the one that was waiting outside for us is dead!" said Effie.
"And about the monument, Harry, I'm not so sure. What can they do with
such a lot of dead dragons? It would take years and years to bury them,
and they could never be burnt now they are so soaking wet. I wish the
rain would wash them off into the sea."

But this did not happen, and the children began to feel that they had
not been so frightfully clever after all.

"I wonder what this old thing's for," said Harry. He had found a rusty
old tap, which seemed as though it had not been used for ages. Its china
label was quite coated over with dirt and cobwebs. When Effie had
cleaned it with a bit of her skirt--for curiously enough both the
children had come out without pocket handkerchiefs--she found that the
label said "Waste."

"Let's turn it on," she said. "It might carry off the dragons."

The tap was very stiff from not having been used for such a long time,
but together they managed to turn it on, and then ran to the mirror to
see what happened.

Already a great, round black hole had opened in the very middle of the
map of England, and the sides of the map were tilting themselves up, so
that the rain ran down toward the hole.

"Oh, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!" cried Effie, and she hurried back to the
taps and turned on everything that seemed wet. "Showery," "Good open
weather," "Nice growing weather for the crops," and even "South" and
"South-West," because she had heard her father say that those winds
brought rain.

And now the floods of rain were pouring down on the country, and great
sheets of water flowed toward the center of the map, and cataracts of
water poured into the great round hole in the middle of the map, and the
dragons were being washed away and disappearing down the waste pipe in
great green masses and scattered green shoals--single dragons and
dragons by the dozen; of all sizes, from the ones that carry off
elephants down to the ones that get in your tea.

Presently there was not a dragon left. So then they turned off the tap
named "Waste," and they half-turned off the one labeled "Sunshine"--it
was broken, so that they could not turn it off altogether--and they
turned on "Fair to moderate" and "Showery" and both taps stuck, so that
they could not be turned off, which accounts for our climate.

       *       *       *       *       *

How did they get home again? By the Snowdon railway of course.

And was the nation grateful? Well--the nation was very wet. And by the
time the nation had gotten dry again it was interested in the new
invention for toasting muffins by electricity, and all the dragons were
almost forgotten. Dragons do not seem so important when they are dead
and gone, and, you know, there never was a reward offered.

And what did Father and Mother say when Effie and Harry got home?

My dear, that is the sort of silly question you children always will
ask. However, just for this once I don't mind telling you.

Mother said: "Oh, my darlings, my darlings, you're safe--you're safe!
You naughty children--how could you be so disobedient? Go to bed at
once!"

And their father the doctor said: "I wish I had known what you were
going to do! I should have liked to preserve a specimen. I threw away
the one I got out of Effie's eye. I intended to get a more perfect
specimen. I did not anticipate this immediate extinction of the
species."

The professor said nothing, but he rubbed his hands. He had kept his
specimen--the one the size of an earwig that he gave Harry half a crown
for--and he has it to this day.

You must get him to show it to you!



[Illustration: THE ICE DRAGON]



IV. The Ice Dragon, or Do as You Are Told


This is the tale of the wonders that befell on the evening of the
eleventh of December, when they did what they were told not to do. You
may think that you know all the unpleasant things that could possibly
happen to you if you are disobedient, but there are some things which
even you do not know, and they did not know them either.

Their names were George and Jane.

There were no fireworks that year on Guy Fawkes' Day, because the heir
to the throne was not well. He was cutting his first tooth, and that is
a very anxious time for any person--even for a Royal one. He was really
very poorly, so that fireworks would have been in the worst possible
taste, even at Land's End or in the Isle of Man, whilst in Forest Hill,
which was the home of Jane and George, anything of the kind was quite
out of the question. Even the Crystal Palace, empty-headed as it is,
felt that this was no time for Catherine-wheels.

But when the Prince had cut his tooth, rejoicings were not only
admissible but correct, and the eleventh of December was proclaimed
firework day. All the people were most anxious to show their loyalty,
and to enjoy themselves at the same time. So there were fireworks and
torchlight processions, and set pieces at the Crystal Palace, with
"Blessings on our Prince" and "Long Live our Royal Darling" in
different-colored fires; and the most private of boarding schools had a
half holiday; and even the children of plumbers and authors had tuppence
each given them to spend as they liked.

George and Jane had sixpence each--and they spent the whole amount on a
golden rain, which would not light for ever so long, and when it did
light went out almost at once, so they had to look at the fireworks in
the gardens next door, and at the ones at the Crystal Palace, which were
very glorious indeed.

All their relations had colds in their heads, so Jane and George were
allowed to go out into the garden alone to let off their firework. Jane
had put on her fur cape and her thick gloves, and her hood with the
silver fox fur on it that was made out of Mother's old muff; and George
had his overcoat with the three capes, and his comforter, and Father's
sealskin traveling cap with the pieces that come down over your ears.

It was dark in the garden, but the fireworks all about made it seem very
gay, and though the children were cold they were quite sure that they
were enjoying themselves.

They got up on the fence at the end of the garden to see better; and
then they saw, very far away, where the edge of the dark world is, a
shining line of straight, beautiful lights arranged in a row, as if they
were the spears carried by a fairy army.

"Oh, how pretty," said Jane. "I wonder what they are. It looks as if the
fairies were planting little shining baby poplar trees and watering them
with liquid light."

"Liquid fiddlestick!" said George. He had been to school, so he knew
that these were only the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. And he
said so.

"But what is the Rory Bory what's-its-name?" asked Jane. "Who lights it,
and what's it there for?"

George had to own that he had not learned that.

"But I know," said he, "that it has something to do with the Great Bear,
and the Dipper, and the Plough, and Charles's Wain."

"And what are they?" asked Jane.

"Oh, they're the surnames of some of the star families. There goes a
jolly rocket," answered George, and Jane felt as if she almost
understood about the star families.

The fairy spears of light twinkled and gleamed: They were much prettier
than the big, blaring, blazing bonfire that was smoking and flaming and
spluttering in the next-door-but-one garden--prettier even than the
colored fires at the Crystal Palace.

"I wish we could see them nearer," Jane said. "I wonder if the star
families are nice families--the kind that Mother would like us to go to
tea with, if we were little stars?"

"They aren't that sort of families at all, Silly," said her brother,
kindly trying to explain. "I only said 'families' because a kid like you
wouldn't have understood if I'd said constel ... and, besides, I've
forgotten the end of the word. Anyway, the stars are all up in the sky,
so you can't go to tea with them."

"No," said Jane. "I said if we were little stars."

"But we aren't," said George.

"No," said Jane, with a sigh. "I know that. I'm not so stupid as you
think, George. But the Tory Bories are somewhere at the edge. Couldn't
we go and see them?"

"Considering you're eight, you haven't much sense." George kicked his
boots against the fencing to warm his toes. "It's half the world away."

"It looks very near," said Jane, hunching up her shoulders to keep her
neck warm.

"They're close to the North Pole," said George. "Look here--I don't care
a straw about the Aurora Borealis, but I shouldn't mind discovering the
North Pole: It's awfully difficult and dangerous, and then you come home
and write a book about it with a lot of pictures, and everybody says how
brave you are."

Jane got off the fence.

"Oh, George, _let's_," she said. "We shall never have such a chance
again--all alone by ourselves--and quite late, too."

"I'd go right enough if it wasn't for you," George answered gloomily,
"but you know they always say I lead you into mischief--and if we went
to the North Pole we should get our boots wet, as likely as not, and
you remember what they said about not going on the grass."

"They said the _lawn_," said Jane. "We're not going on the _lawn_. Oh,
George, do, do let's. It doesn't look so _very_ far--we could be back
before they had time to get dreadfully angry."

"All right," said George, "but mind, I don't want to go."

So off they went. They got over the fence, which was very cold and white
and shiny because it was beginning to freeze, and on the other side of
the fence was somebody else's garden, so they got out of that as quickly
as they could, and beyond that was a field where there was another big
bonfire, with people standing around it who looked quite dark-skinned.

"It's like Indians," said George, and wanted to stop and look, but Jane
pulled him on, and they passed by the bonfire and got through a gap in
the hedge into another field--a dark one; and far away, beyond quite a
number of other dark fields, the Northern Lights shone and sparkled and
twinkled.

Now, during the winter the Arctic regions come much farther south than
they are marked on the map. Very few people know this, though you would
think they could tell it by the ice in the jugs of a morning. And just
when George and Jane were starting for the North Pole, the Arctic
regions had come down very nearly as far as Forest Hill, so that, as the
children walked on, it grew colder and colder, and presently they saw
that the fields were covered with snow, and there were great icicles
hanging from all the hedges and gates. And the Northern Lights still
seemed some way off.

They were crossing a very rough, snowy field when Jane first noticed the
animals. There were white rabbits and white hares and all sorts and
sizes of white birds, and some larger creatures in the shadows of the
hedges that Jane was sure were wolves and bears.

"Polar bears and Arctic wolves, of course I mean," she said, for she did
not want George to think her stupid again.

There was a great hedge at the end of this field, all covered with snow
and icicles; but the children found a place where there was a hole, and
as no bears or wolves seemed to be just in that part of the hedge, they
crept through and scrambled out of the frozen ditch on the other side.
And then they stood still and held their breath with wonder.

For in front of them, running straight and smooth right away to the
Northern Lights, lay a great wide road of pure dark ice, and on each
side were tall trees all sparkling with white frost, and from the boughs
of the trees hung strings of stars threaded on fine moonbeams, and
shining so brightly that it was like a beautiful fairy daylight. Jane
said so; but George said it was like the electric lights at the Earl's
Court Exhibition.

The rows of trees went as straight as ruled lines away--away and
away--and at the other end of them shone the Aurora Borealis.

There was a signpost of silvery snow, and on it in letters of pure ice
the children read: THIS WAY TO THE NORTH POLE.

Then George said: "Way or no way, I know a slide when I see one--so here
goes." And he took a run on the frozen snow, and Jane took a run when
she saw him do it, and the next moment they were sliding away, each with
feet half a yard apart, along the great slide that leads to the North
Pole.

This great slide is made for the convenience of the Polar bears, who,
during the winter months, get their food from the Army and Navy
Stores--and it is the most perfect slide in the world. If you have never
come across it, it is because you have never let off fireworks on the
eleventh of December, and have never been thoroughly naughty and
disobedient. But do not be these things in the hope of finding the great
slide--because you might find something quite different, and then you
will be sorry.

The great slide is like common slides in that when once you have started
you have to go on to the end--unless you fall down--and then it hurts
just as much as the smaller kind on ponds. The great slide runs
downhill all the way, so that you keep on going faster and faster and
faster. George and Jane went so fast that they had not time to notice
the scenery. They only saw the long lines of frosted trees and the
starry lamps, and on each side, rushing back as they slid on, a very
broad, white world and a very large, black night; and overhead as well
as in the trees the stars were bright like silver lamps, and far ahead
shone and trembled and sparkled the line of fairy spears. Jane said
that, and George said: "I can see the Northern Lights quite plain."

It is very pleasant to slide and slide and slide on clear, dark
ice--especially if you feel you are really going somewhere, and more
especially if that somewhere is the North Pole. The children's feet made
no noise on the ice, and they went on and on in a beautiful white
silence. But suddenly the silence was shattered and a cry rang out over
the snow.

"Hey! You there! Stop!"

"Tumble for your life!" cried George, and he fell down at once, because
it is the only way to stop. Jane fell on top of him--and then they
crawled on hands and knees to the snow at the edge of the slide--and
there was a sportsman, dressed in a peaked cap and a frozen moustache,
like the one you see in the pictures about Ice-Peter, and he had a gun
in his hand.

"You don't happen to have any bullets about you?" said he.

"No," George said, truthfully. "I had five of father's revolver
cartridges, but they were taken away the day Nurse turned out my pockets
to see if I had taken the knob of the bathroom door by mistake."

"Quite so," said the sportsman, "these accidents will occur. You don't
carry firearms, then, I presume?"

"I haven't any fire_arms_," said George, "but I have a fire_work_. It's
only a squib one of the boys gave me, if that's any good." And he began
to feel among the string and peppermints, and buttons and tops and nibs
and chalk and foreign postage stamps in his knickerbocker pockets.

"One could but try," the sportsman replied, and he held out his hand.

But Jane pulled at her brother's jacket-tail and whispered, "Ask him
what he wants it for."

So then the sportsman had to confess that he wanted the firework to kill
the white grouse with; and, when they came to look, there was the white
grouse himself, sitting in the snow, looking quite pale and careworn,
and waiting anxiously for the matter to be decided one way or the other.

George put all the things back in his pockets, and said, "No, I shan't.
The reason for shooting him stopped yesterday--I heard Father say so--so
it wouldn't be fair, anyhow. I'm very sorry; but I can't--so there!"

The sportsman said nothing, only he shook his fist at Jane, and then he
got on the slide and tried to go toward the Crystal Palace--which was
not easy, because that way is uphill. So they left him trying, and went
on.

Before they started, the white grouse thanked them in a few pleasant,
well-chosen words, and then they took a sideways slanting run and
started off again on the great slide, and so away toward the North Pole
and the twinkling, beautiful lights.

The great slide went on and on, and the lights did not seem to come much
nearer, and the white silence wrapped around them as they slid along the
wide, icy path. Then once again the silence was broken to bits by
someone calling: "Hey! You there! Stop!"

"Tumble for your life!" cried George, and tumbled as before, stopping in
the only possible way, and Jane stopped on top of him, and they crawled
to the edge and came suddenly on a butterfly collector, who was looking
for specimens with a pair of blue glasses and a blue net and a blue book
with colored plates.

"Excuse me," said the collector, "but have you such a thing as a needle
about you--a very long needle?"

"I have a needle _book_," replied Jane, politely, "but there aren't any
needles in it now. George took them all to do the things with pieces of
cork--in the 'Boy's Own Scientific Experimenter' and 'The Young
Mechanic.' He did not do the things, but he did for the needles."

"Curiously enough," said the collector, "I too wish to use the needle in
connection with cork."

"I have a hatpin in my hood," said Jane. "I fastened the fur with it
when it caught in the nail on the greenhouse door. It is very long and
sharp--would that do?"

"One could but try," said the collector, and Jane began to feel for the
pin. But George pinched her arm and whispered, "Ask what he wants it
for." Then the collector had to own that he wanted the pin to stick
through the great Arctic moth, "a magnificent specimen," he added,
"which I am most anxious to preserve."

And there, sure enough, in the collector's butterfly net sat the great
Arctic moth, listening attentively to the conversation.

"Oh, I couldn't!" cried Jane. And while George was explaining to the
collector that they would really rather not, Jane opened the blue folds
of the butterfly net, and asked the moth quietly if it would please step
outside for a moment. And it did.

When the collector saw that the moth was free, he seemed less angry than
grieved.

"Well, well," said he, "here's a whole Arctic expedition thrown away! I
shall have to go home and fit out another. And that means a lot of
writing to the papers and things. You seem to be a singularly
thoughtless little girl."

So they went on, leaving him too, trying to go uphill towards the
Crystal Palace.

When the great white Arctic moth had returned thanks in a suitable
speech, George and Jane took a sideways slanting run and started sliding
again, between the star-lamps along the great slide toward the North
Pole. They went faster and faster, and the lights ahead grew brighter
and brighter--so that they could not keep their eyes open, but had to
blink and wink as they went--and then suddenly the great slide ended in
an immense heap of snow, and George and Jane shot right into it because
they could not stop themselves, and the snow was soft, so that they went
in up to their very ears.

When they had picked themselves out and thumped each other on the back
to get rid of the snow, they shaded their eyes and looked, and there,
right in front of them, was the wonder of wonders--the North
Pole--towering high and white and glistening, like an ice-lighthouse,
and it was quite, quite close, so that you had to put your head as far
back as it would go, and farther, before you could see the high top of
it. It was made entirely of ice. You will hear grown-up people talk a
great deal of nonsense about the North Pole, and when you are grown up,
it is even possible that you may talk nonsense about it yourself (the
most unlikely things do happen) but deep down in your heart you must
always remember that the North Pole is made of clear ice, and could not
possibly, if you come to think of it, be made of anything else.

All around the Pole, making a bright ring about it, were hundreds of
little fires, and the flames of them did not flicker and twist, but went
up blue and green and rosy and straight like the stalks of dream lilies.

Jane said so, but George said they were as straight as ramrods.

And these flames were the Aurora Borealis, which the children had seen
as far away as Forest Hill.

The ground was quite flat, and covered with smooth, hard snow, which
shone and sparkled like the top of a birthday cake that has been iced at
home. The ones done at the shops do not shine and sparkle, because they
mix flour with the icing sugar.

"It is like a dream," said Jane.

And George said, "It _is_ the North Pole. Just think of the fuss people
always make about getting here--and it was no trouble at all, really."

"I daresay lots of people have gotten here," said Jane, dismally. "It's
not the getting _here_--I see that--it's the getting back again.
Perhaps no one will ever know that _we_ have been here, and the robins
will cover us with leaves and--"

"Nonsense," said George. "There aren't any robins, and there aren't any
leaves. It's just the North Pole, that's all, and I've found it; and now
I shall try to climb up and plant the British flag on the top--my
handkerchief will do; and if it really _is_ the North Pole, my pocket
compass Uncle James gave me will spin around and around, and then I
shall know. Come on."

So Jane came on; and when they got close to the clear, tall, beautiful
flames they saw that there was a great, queer-shaped lump of ice all
around the bottom of the Pole--clear, smooth, shining ice, that was
deep, beautiful Prussian blue, like icebergs, in the thick parts, and
all sorts of wonderful, glimmery, shimmery, changing colors in the thin
parts, like the cut-glass chandelier in Grandmamma's house in London.

"It is a very curious shape," said Jane. "It's almost like"--she moved
back a step to get a better view of it--"it's almost like a dragon."

"It's much more like the lampposts on the Thames Embankment," said
George, who had noticed a curly thing like a tail that went twisting up
the North Pole.

"Oh, George," cried Jane, "it _is_ a dragon; I can see its wings.
Whatever shall we do?"

And, sure enough, it _was_ a dragon--a great, shining, winged, scaly,
clawy, big-mouthed dragon--made of pure ice. It must have gone to sleep
curled around the hole where the warm steam used to come up from the
middle of the earth, and then when the earth got colder, and the column
of steam froze and was turned into the North Pole, the dragon must have
got frozen in his sleep--frozen too hard to move--and there he stayed.
And though he was very terrible he was very beautiful too.

Jane said so, but George said, "Oh, don't bother; I'm thinking how to
get onto the Pole and try the compass without waking the brute."

[Illustration: "Sure enough, it was a dragon." _See page 68._]

The dragon certainly was beautiful, with his deep, clear Prussian
blueness, and his rainbow-colored glitter. And rising from within the
cold coil of the frozen dragon the North Pole shot up like a pillar made
of one great diamond, and every now and then it cracked a little, from
sheer cold. The sound of the cracking was the only thing that broke the
great white silence in the midst of which the dragon lay like an
enormous jewel, and the straight flames went up all around him like the
stalks of tall lilies.

And as the children stood there looking at the most wonderful sight
their eyes had ever seen, there was a soft padding of feet and a
hurry-scurry behind them, and from the outside darkness beyond the
flame-stalks came a crowd of little brown creatures running, jumping,
scrambling, tumbling head over heels and on all fours, and some even
walking on their heads. They joined hands as they came near the fires
and danced around in a ring.

"It's bears," said Jane. "I know it is. Oh, how I wish we hadn't come;
and my boots are so wet."

The dancing-ring broke up suddenly, and the next moment hundreds of
furry arms clutched at George and Jane, and they found themselves in the
middle of a great, soft, heaving crowd of little fat people in brown fur
dresses, and the white silence was quite gone.

"Bears, indeed," cried a shrill voice. "You'll wish we were bears before
you've done with us."

This sounded so dreadful that Jane began to cry. Up to now the children
had only seen the most beautiful and wondrous things, but now they began
to be sorry they had done what they were told not to, and the difference
between "lawn" and "grass" did not seem so great as it had at Forest
Hill.

Directly Jane began to cry, all the brown people started back. No one
cries in the Arctic regions for fear of being struck by the frost. So
that these people had never seen anyone cry before.

"Don't cry for real," whispered George, "or you'll get chilblains in
your eyes. But pretend to howl--it frightens them."

So Jane went on pretending to howl, and the real crying stopped: It
always does when you begin to pretend. You try it.

Then, speaking very loud so as to be heard over the howls of Jane,
George said: "Yah--who's afraid? We are George and Jane--who are you?"

"We are the sealskin dwarfs," said the brown people, twisting their
furry bodies in and out of the crowd like the changing glass in
kaleidoscopes. "We are very precious and expensive, for we are made,
throughout, of the very best sealskin."

"And what are those fires for?" bellowed George--for Jane was crying
louder and louder.

"Those," shouted the dwarfs, coming a step nearer, "are the fires we
make to thaw the dragon. He is frozen now--so he sleeps curled up around
the Pole--but when we have thawed him with our fires he will wake up and
go and eat everybody in the world except us."

"WHATEVER--DO--YOU--WANT--HIM--TO--DO--THAT--FOR?" yelled George.

"Oh--just for spite," bawled the dwarfs carelessly--as if they were
saying, "Just for fun."

Jane stopped crying to say: "You are heartless."

"No, we aren't," they said. "Our hearts are made of the finest sealskin,
just like little fat sealskin purses--"

And they all came a step nearer. They were very fat and round. Their
bodies were like sealskin jackets on a very stout person; their heads
were like sealskin muffs; their legs were like sealskin boas; and their
hands and feet were like sealskin tobacco pouches. And their faces were
like seals' faces, inasmuch as they, too, were covered with sealskin.

"Thank you so much for telling us," said George. "Good evening. (Keep on
howling, Jane!)"

But the dwarfs came a step nearer, muttering and whispering. Then the
muttering stopped--and there was a silence so deep that Jane was afraid
to howl in it. But it was a brown silence, and she had liked the white
silence better.

Then the chief dwarf came quite close and said: "What's that on your
head?"

And George felt it was all up--for he knew it was his father's sealskin
cap.

The dwarf did not wait for an answer. "It's made of one of us," he
screamed, "or else one of the seals, our poor relations. Boy, now your
fate is sealed!"

Looking at the wicked seal-faces all around them, George and Jane felt
that their fate was sealed indeed.

The dwarfs seized the children in their furry arms. George kicked, but
it is no use kicking sealskin, and Jane howled, but the dwarfs were
getting used to that. They climbed up the dragon's side and dumped the
children down on his icy spine, with their backs against the North Pole.
You have no idea how cold it was--the kind of cold that makes you feel
small and prickly inside your clothes, and makes you wish you had twenty
times as many clothes to feel small and prickly inside of.

The sealskin dwarfs tied George and Jane to the North Pole, and, as they
had no ropes, they bound them with snow-wreaths, which are very strong
when they are made in the proper way, and they heaped up the fires very
close and said: "Now the dragon will get warm, and when he gets warm he
will wake, and when he wakes he will be hungry, and when he is hungry he
will begin to eat, and the first thing he will eat will be you."

The little, sharp, many-colored flames sprang up like the stalks of
dream lilies, but no heat came to the children, and they grew colder and
colder.

"We shan't be very nice when the dragon does eat us, that's one
comfort," said George. "We shall be turned into ice long before that."

Suddenly there was a flapping of wings, and the white grouse perched on
the dragon's head and said: "Can I be of any assistance?"

[Illustration: "The dwarfs seized the children." _See page 72._]

Now, by this time the children were so cold, so cold, so very, very
cold, that they had forgotten everything but that, and they could say
nothing else. So the white grouse said: "One moment. I am only too
grateful for this opportunity of showing my sense of your manly conduct
about the firework!"

And the next moment there was a soft whispering rustle of wings
overhead, and then, fluttering slowly, softly down, came hundreds and
thousands of little white fluffy feathers. They fell on George and Jane
like snowflakes, and, like flakes of fallen snow lying one above
another, they grew into a thicker and thicker covering, so that
presently the children were buried under a heap of white feathers, and
only their faces peeped out.

"Oh, you dear, good, kind white grouse," said Jane, "but you'll be cold
yourself, won't you, now you have given us all your pretty dear
feathers?"

The white grouse laughed, and his laugh was echoed by thousands of kind,
soft bird voices.

"Did you think all those feathers came out of one breast? There are
hundreds and hundreds of us here, and every one of us can spare a little
tuft of soft breast feathers to help to keep two kind little hearts
warm!"

Thus spoke the grouse, who certainly had very pretty manners.

So now the children snuggled under the feathers and were warm, and when
the sealskin dwarfs tried to take the feathers away, the grouse and his
friends flew in their faces with flappings and screams, and drove the
dwarfs back. They are a cowardly folk.

The dragon had not moved yet--but then he might at any moment get warm
enough to move, and though George and Jane were now warm they were not
comfortable nor easy in their minds. They tried to explain to the
grouse; but though he is polite, he is not clever, and he only said:
"You've got a warm nest, and we'll see that no one takes it from you.
What more can you possibly want?"

Just then came a new, strange, jerky fluttering of wings far softer
than the grouse's, and George and Jane cried out together: "Oh, _do_
mind your wings in the fires!"

For they saw at once that it was the great white Arctic moth.

"What's the matter?" he asked, settling on the dragon's tail.

So they told him.

"Sealskin, are they?" said the moth. "Just you wait a minute!"

He flew off very crookedly, dodging the flames, and presently he came
back, and there were so many moths with him that it was as if a live
sheet of white wingedness were suddenly drawn between the children and
the stars.

And then the doom of the bad sealskin dwarfs fell suddenly on them.

For the great sheet of winged whiteness broke up and fell as snow falls,
and it fell upon the sealskin dwarfs; and every snowflake of it was a
live, fluttering, hungry moth that buried its greedy nose deep in the
sealskin fur.

Grown-up people will tell you that it is not moths but moths' children
who eat fur--but this is only when they are trying to deceive you. When
they are not thinking about you they say, "I fear the moths have got at
my ermine tippet," or, "Your poor Aunt Emma had a lovely sable cloak,
but it was eaten by moths." And now there were more moths than have ever
been together in this world before, all settling on the sealskin dwarfs.

The dwarfs did not see their danger till it was too late. Then they
called for camphor and bitter apple and oil of lavender and yellow soap
and borax; and some of the dwarfs even started to get these things, but
long before any of them could get to the chemist's, all was over. The
moths ate and ate and ate till the sealskin dwarfs, being sealskin
throughout, even to the empty hearts of them, were eaten down to the
very life--and they fell one by one on the snow and so came to their
end. And all around the North Pole the snow was brown with their flat
bare pelts.

"Oh, thank you--thank you, darling Arctic moth," cried Jane. "You are
good--I do hope you haven't eaten enough to disagree with you
afterward!"

Millions of moth voices answered, with laughter as soft as moth wings,
"We should be a poor set of fellows if we couldn't over eat ourselves
once in a while--to oblige a friend."

And off they all fluttered, and the white grouse flew off, and the
sealskin dwarfs were all dead, and the fires went out, and George and
Jane were left alone in the dark with the dragon!

"Oh, dear," said Jane, "this is the worst of all!"

"We've no friends left to help us," said George. He never thought that
the dragon himself might help them--but then that was an idea that would
never have occurred to any boy.

It grew colder and colder and colder, and even under the grouse feathers
the children shivered.

Then, when it was so cold that it could not manage to be any colder
without breaking the thermometer, it stopped. And then the dragon
uncurled himself from around the North Pole, and stretched his long, icy
length over the snow, and said: "This is something like! How faint those
fires did make me feel!"

The fact was, the sealskin dwarfs had gone the wrong way to work: The
dragon had been frozen so long that now he was nothing but solid ice all
through, and the fires only made him feel as if he were going to die.

But when the fires were out he felt quite well, and very hungry. He
looked around for something to eat. But he never noticed George and
Jane, because they were frozen to his back.

He moved slowly off, and the snow-wreaths that bound the children to the
Pole gave way with a snap, and there was the dragon, crawling
south--with Jane and George on his great, scaly, icy shining back. Of
course the dragon had to go south if he went anywhere, because when you
get to the North Pole there is no other way to go. The dragon rattled
and tinkled as he went, exactly like the cut-glass chandelier when you
touch it, as you are strictly forbidden to do. Of course there are a
million ways of going south from the North Pole--so you will own that it
was lucky for George and Jane when the dragon took the right way and
suddenly got his heavy feet on the great slide. Off he went, full speed,
between the starry lamps, toward Forest Hill and the Crystal Palace.

"He's going to take us home," said Jane. "Oh, he is a good dragon. I
_am_ glad!"

George was rather glad too, though neither of the children felt at all
sure of their welcome, especially as their feet were wet, and they were
bringing a strange dragon home with them.

They went very fast, because dragons can go uphill as easily as down.
You would not understand why if I told you--because you are only in long
division at present; yet if you want me to tell you, so that you can
show off to other children, I will. It is because dragons can get their
tails into the fourth dimension and hold on there, and when you can do
that everything else is easy.

The dragon went very fast, only stopping to eat the collector and the
sportsman, who were still struggling to go up the slide--vainly, because
they had no tails, and had never even heard of the fourth dimension.

When the dragon got to the end of the slide he crawled very slowly
across the dark field beyond the field where there was a bonfire, next
to the next-door garden at Forest Hill.

       *       *       *       *       *

He went slower and slower, and in the bonfire field he stopped
altogether, and because the Arctic regions had not got down so far as
that, and because the bonfire was very hot, the dragon began to melt and
melt and melt--and before the children knew what he was doing they found
themselves sitting in a large pool of water, and their boots were as wet
as wet, and there was not a bit of dragon left!

So they went indoors.

Of course some grown-up or other noticed at once that the boots of
George and Jane were wet and muddy, and that they had both been sitting
down in a very damp place, so they were sent to bed immediately.

It was long past their time, anyhow.

Now, if you are of an inquiring mind--not at all a nice thing in a
little child who reads fairy tales--you will want to know how it is that
since the sealskin dwarfs have all been killed, and the fires all been
let out, the Aurora Borealis shines, on cold nights, as brightly as
ever.

My dear, I do not know! I am not too proud to own that there are some
things I know nothing about--and this is one of them. But I do know that
whoever has lighted those fires again, it is certainly not the sealskin
dwarfs. They were all eaten by moths--and motheaten things are of no
use, even to light fires!



[Illustration: THE ISLAND OF THE NINE WHIRLPOOLS]



V. The Island of the Nine Whirlpools


The dark arch that led to the witch's cave was hung with a
black-and-yellow fringe of live snakes. As the Queen went in, keeping
carefully in the middle of the arch, all the snakes lifted their wicked,
flat heads and stared at her with their wicked, yellow eyes. You know it
is not good manners to stare, even at Royalty, except of course for
cats. And the snakes had been so badly brought up that they even put
their tongues out at the poor lady. Nasty, thin, sharp tongues they were
too.

Now, the Queen's husband was, of course, the King. And besides being a
King he was an enchanter, and considered to be quite at the top of his
profession, so he was very wise, and he knew that when Kings and Queens
want children, the Queen always goes to see a witch. So he gave the
Queen the witch's address, and the Queen called on her, though she was
very frightened and did not like it at all. The witch was sitting by a
fire of sticks, stirring something bubbly in a shiny copper cauldron.

"What do you want, my dear?" she said to the Queen.

"Oh, if you please," said the Queen, "I want a baby--a very nice one. We
don't want any expense spared. My husband said--"

"Oh, yes," said the witch. "I know all about him. And so you want a
child? Do you know it will bring you sorrow?"

"It will bring me joy first," said the Queen.

"Great sorrow," said the witch.

"Greater joy," said the Queen.

Then the witch said, "Well, have your own way. I suppose it's as much as
your place is worth to go back without it?"

"The King would be very much annoyed," said the poor Queen.

"Well, well," said the witch. "What will you give me for the child?"

"Anything you ask for, and all I have," said the Queen.

"Then give me your gold crown."

The Queen took it off quickly.

"And your necklace of blue sapphires."

The Queen unfastened it.

"And your pearl bracelets."

The Queen unclasped them.

"And your ruby clasps."

And the Queen undid the clasps.

"Now the lilies from your breast."

The Queen gathered together the lilies.

"And the diamonds of your little bright shoe buckles."

The Queen pulled off her shoes.

Then the witch stirred the stuff that was in the cauldron, and, one by
one, she threw in the gold crown and the sapphire necklace and the pearl
bracelets and the ruby clasps and the diamonds of the little bright shoe
buckles, and last of all she threw in the lilies.

The stuff in the cauldron boiled up in foaming flashes of yellow and
blue and red and white and silver, and sent out a sweet scent, and
presently the witch poured it out into a pot and set it to cool in the
doorway among the snakes.

Then she said to the Queen: "Your child will have hair as golden as your
crown, eyes as blue as your sapphires. The red of your rubies will lie
on its lips, and its skin will be clear and pale as your pearls. Its
soul will be white and sweet as your lilies, and your diamonds will be
no clearer than its wits."

"Oh, thank you, thank you," said the Queen, "and when will it come?"

"You will find it when you get home."

"And won't you have something for yourself?" asked the Queen. "Any
little thing you fancy--would you like a country, or a sack of jewels?"

"Nothing, thank you," said the witch. "I could make more diamonds in a
day than I should wear in a year."

"Well, but do let me do some little thing for you," the Queen went on.
"Aren't you tired of being a witch? Wouldn't you like to be a Duchess or
a Princess, or something like that?"

"There is one thing I should rather like," said the witch, "but it's
hard to get in my trade."

"Oh, tell me what," said the Queen.

"I should like some one to love me," said the witch.

Then the Queen threw her arms around the witch's neck and kissed her
half a hundred times. "Why," she said, "I love you better than my life!
You've given me the baby--and the baby shall love you too."

"Perhaps it will," said the witch, "and when the sorrow comes, send for
me. Each of your fifty kisses will be a spell to bring me to you. Now,
drink up your medicine, there's a dear, and run along home."

So the Queen drank the stuff in the pot, which was quite cool by this
time, and she went out under the fringe of snakes, and they all behaved
like good Sunday-school children. Some of them even tried to drop a
curtsy to her as she went by, though that is not easy when you are
hanging wrong way up by your tail. But the snakes knew the Queen was
friends with their mistress; so, of course, they had to do their best to
be civil.

When the Queen got home, sure enough there was the baby lying in the
cradle with the Royal arms blazoned on it, crying as naturally as
possible. It had pink ribbons to tie up its sleeves, so the Queen saw at
once it was a girl. When the King knew this he tore his black hair with
fury.

"Oh, you silly, silly Queen!" he said. "Why didn't I marry a clever
lady? Did you think I went to all the trouble and expense of sending you
to a witch to get a girl? You knew well enough it was a boy I wanted--a
boy, an heir, a Prince--to learn all my magic and my enchantments, and
to rule the kingdom after me. I'll bet a crown--my crown," he said, "you
never even thought to tell the witch what kind you wanted! Did you now?"

And the Queen hung her head and had to confess that she had only asked
for a child.

"Very well, madam," said the King, "very well--have your own way. And
make the most of your daughter, while she is a child."

The Queen did. All the years of her life had never held half so much
happiness as now lived in each of the moments when she held her little
baby in her arms. And the years went on, and the King grew more and more
clever at magic, and more and more disagreeable at home, and the
Princess grew more beautiful and more dear every day she lived.

The Queen and the Princess were feeding the goldfish in the courtyard
fountains with crumbs of the Princess's eighteenth birthday cake, when
the King came into the courtyard, looking as black as thunder, with his
black raven hopping after him. He shook his fist at his family, as
indeed he generally did whenever he met them, for he was not a King with
pretty home manners. The raven sat down on the edge of the marble basin
and tried to peck the goldfish. It was all he could do to show that he
was in the same temper as his master.

"A girl indeed!" said the King angrily. "I wonder you can dare to look
me in the face, when you remember how your silliness has spoiled
everything."

"You oughtn't to speak to my mother like that," said the Princess. She
was eighteen, and it came to her suddenly and all in a moment that she
was a grown-up, so she spoke out.

The King could not utter a word for several minutes. He was too angry.
But the Queen said, "My dear child, don't interfere," quite crossly, for
she was frightened.

And to her husband she said, "My dear, why do you go on worrying about
it? Our daughter is not a boy, it is true--but she may marry a clever
man who could rule your kingdom after you, and learn as much magic as
ever you cared to teach him."

Then the King found his tongue.

"If she does marry," he said, slowly, "her husband will have to be a
very clever man--oh, yes, very clever indeed! And he will have to know a
very great deal more magic than I shall ever care to teach him."

The Queen knew at once by the King's tone that he was going to be
disagreeable.

"Ah," she said, "don't punish the child because she loves her mother."

"I'm not going to punish her for that," said he. "I'm only going to
teach her to respect her father."

And without another word he went off to his laboratory and worked all
night, boiling different-colored things in crucibles, and copying charms
in curious twisted letters from old brown books with mold stains on
their yellowy pages.

The next day his plan was all arranged. He took the poor Princess to the
Lone Tower, which stands on an island in the sea, a thousand miles from
everywhere. He gave her a dowry, and settled a handsome income on her.
He engaged a competent dragon to look after her, and also a respectable
griffin whose birth and upbringing he knew all about. And he said: "Here
you shall stay, my dear, respectful daughter, till the clever man comes
to marry you. He'll have to be clever enough to sail a ship through the
Nine Whirlpools that spin around the island, and to kill the dragon and
the griffin. Till he comes you'll never get any older or any wiser. No
doubt he will soon come. You can employ yourself in embroidering your
wedding gown. I wish you joy, my dutiful child."

And his carriage, drawn by live thunderbolts (thunder travels very
fast), rose in the air and disappeared, and the poor Princess was left,
with the dragon and the griffin, on the Island of the Nine Whirlpools.

The Queen, left at home, cried for a day and a night, and then she
remembered the witch and called to her. And the witch came, and the
Queen told her all.

"For the sake of the twice twenty-five kisses you gave me," said the
witch, "I will help you. But it is the last thing I can do, and it is
not much. Your daughter is under a spell, and I can take you to her.
But, if I do, you will have to be turned to stone, and to stay so till
the spell is taken off the child."

"I would be a stone for a thousand years," said the poor Queen, "if at
the end of them I could see my dear again."

So the witch took the Queen in a carriage drawn by live sunbeams (which
travel more quickly than anything else in the world, and much quicker
than thunder), and so away and away to the Lone Tower on the Island of
the Nine Whirlpools. And there was the Princess sitting on the floor in
the best room of the Lone Tower, crying as if her heart would break, and
the dragon and the griffin were sitting primly on each side of her.

"Oh, Mother, Mother, Mother," she cried, and hung around the Queen's
neck as if she would never let go.

"Now," said the witch, when they had all cried as much as was good for
them, "I can do one or two other little things for you. Time shall not
make the Princess sad. All days will be like one day till her deliverer
comes. And you and I, dear Queen, will sit in stone at the gate of the
tower. In doing this for you I lose all my witch's powers, and when I
say the spell that changes you to stone, I shall change with you, and if
ever we come out of the stone, I shall be a witch no more, but only a
happy old woman."

Then the three kissed one another again and again, and the witch said
the spell, and on each side of the door there was now a stone lady. One
of them had a stone crown on its head and a stone scepter in its hand;
but the other held a stone tablet with words on it, which the griffin
and the dragon could not read, though they had both had a very good
education.

And now all days seemed like one day to the Princess, and the next day
always seemed the day when her mother would come out of the stone and
kiss her again. And the years went slowly by. The wicked King died, and
some one else took his kingdom, and many things were changed in the
world; but the island did not change, nor the Nine Whirlpools, nor the
griffin, nor the dragon, nor the two stone ladies. And all the time,
from the very first, the day of the Princess's deliverance was coming,
creeping nearer, and nearer, and nearer. But no one saw it coming except
the Princess, and she only in dreams. And the years went by in tens and
in hundreds, and still the Nine Whirlpools spun around, roaring in
triumph the story of many a good ship that had gone down in their swirl,
bearing with it some Prince who had tried to win the Princess and her
dowry. And the great sea knew all the other stories of the Princes who
had come from very far, and had seen the whirlpools, and had shaken
their wise young heads and said: "'Bout ship!" and gone discreetly home
to their nice, safe, comfortable kingdoms.

But no one told the story of the deliverer who was to come. And the
years went by.

Now, after more scores of years than you would like to add up on your
slate, a certain sailor-boy sailed on the high seas with his uncle, who
was a skilled skipper. And the boy could reef a sail and coil a rope and
keep the ship's nose steady before the wind. And he was as good a boy as
you would find in a month of Sundays, and worthy to be a Prince.

Now there is Something which is wiser than all the world--and it knows
when people are worthy to be Princes. And this Something came from the
farther side of the seventh world, and whispered in the boy's ear.

And the boy heard, though he did not know he heard, and he looked out
over the black sea with the white foam-horses galloping over it, and far
away he saw a light. And he said to the skipper, his uncle: "What light
is that?"

Then the skipper said: "All good things defend you, Nigel, from sailing
near that light. It is not mentioned in all charts; but it is marked
in the old chart I steer by, which was my father's father's before me,
and his father's father's before him. It is the light that shines from
the Lone Tower that stands above the Nine Whirlpools. And when my
father's father was young he heard from the very old man, his
great-great-grandfather, that in that tower an enchanted Princess,
fairer than the day, waits to be delivered. But there is no deliverance,
so never steer that way; and think no more of the Princess, for that is
only an idle tale. But the whirlpools are quite real."

So, of course, from that day Nigel thought of nothing else. And as he
sailed hither and thither upon the high seas he saw from time to time
the light that shone out to sea across the wild swirl of the Nine
Whirlpools. And one night, when the ship was at anchor and the skipper
asleep in his bunk, Nigel launched the ship's boat and steered alone
over the dark sea towards the light. He dared not go very near till
daylight should show him what, indeed, were the whirlpools he had to
dread.

But when the dawn came he saw the Lone Tower standing dark against the
pink and primrose of the East, and about its base the sullen swirl of
black water, and he heard the wonderful roar of it. So he hung off and
on, all that day and for six days besides. And when he had watched seven
days he knew something. For you are certain to know something if you
give for seven days your whole thought to it, even though it be only the
first declension, or the nine-times table, or the dates of the Norman
Kings.

What he knew was this: that for five minutes out of the 1,440 minutes
that make up a day the whirlpools slipped into silence, while the tide
went down and left the yellow sand bare. And every day this happened,
but every day it was five minutes earlier than it had been the day
before. He made sure of this by the ship's chronometer, which he had
thoughtfully brought with him.

[Illustration: "The Lone Tower on the Island of the Nine Whirlpools."
_See page 88._]

So on the eighth day, at five minutes before noon, Nigel got ready. And
when the whirlpools suddenly stopped whirling and the tide sank, like
water in a basin that has a hole in it, he stuck to his oars and put
his back into his stroke, and presently beached the boat on the yellow
sand. Then he dragged it into a cave, and sat down to wait.

By five minutes and one second past noon, the whirlpools were black and
busy again, and Nigel peeped out of his cave. And on the rocky ledge
overhanging the sea he saw a Princess as beautiful as the day, with
golden hair and a green gown--and he went out to meet her.

"I've come to save you," he said. "How darling and beautiful you are!"

"You are very good, and very clever, and very dear," said the Princess,
smiling and giving him both her hands.

He shut a little kiss in each hand before he let them go.

"So now, when the tide is low again, I will take you away in my boat,"
he said.

"But what about the dragon and the griffin?" asked the Princess.

"Dear me," said Nigel. "I didn't know about them. I suppose I can kill
them?"

"Don't be a silly boy," said the Princess, pretending to be very grown
up, for, though she had been on the island time only knows how many
years, she was just eighteen, and she still liked pretending. "You
haven't a sword, or a shield, or anything!"

"Well, don't the beasts ever go to sleep?"

"Why, yes," said the Princess, "but only once in twenty-four hours, and
then the dragon is turned to stone. But the griffin has dreams. The
griffin sleeps at teatime every day, but the dragon sleeps every day for
five minutes, and every day it is three minutes later than it was the
day before."

"What time does he sleep today?" asked Nigel.

"At eleven," said the Princess.

"Ah," said Nigel, "can you do sums?"

"No," said the Princess sadly. "I was never good at them."

"Then I must," said Nigel. "I can, but it's slow work, and it makes me
very unhappy. It'll take me days and days."

"Don't begin yet," said the Princess. "You'll have plenty of time to be
unhappy when I'm not with you. Tell me all about yourself."

So he did. And then she told him all about herself.

"I know I've been here a long time," she said, "but I don't know what
Time is. And I am very busy sewing silk flowers on a golden gown for my
wedding day. And the griffin does the housework--his wings are so
convenient and feathery for sweeping and dusting. And the dragon does
the cooking--he's hot inside, so, of course, it's no trouble to him; and
though I don't know what Time is I'm sure it's time for my wedding day,
because my golden gown only wants one more white daisy on the sleeve,
and a lily on the bosom of it, and then it will be ready."

Just then they heard a dry, rustling clatter on the rocks above them and
a snorting sound. "It's the dragon," said the Princess hurriedly.
"Good-bye. Be a good boy, and get your sum done." And she ran away and
left him to his arithmetic.

Now, the sum was this: "If the whirlpools stop and the tide goes down
once in every twenty-four hours, and they do it five minutes earlier
every twenty-four hours, and if the dragon sleeps every day, and he does
it three minutes later every day, in how many days and at what time in
the day will the tide go down three minutes before the dragon falls
asleep?"

It is quite a simple sum, as you see: You could do it in a minute
because you have been to a good school and have taken pains with your
lessons; but it was quite otherwise with poor Nigel. He sat down to work
out his sum with a piece of chalk on a smooth stone. He tried it by
practice and the unitary method, by multiplication, and by
rule-of-three-and-three-quarters. He tried it by decimals and by
compound interest. He tried it by square root and by cube root. He tried
it by addition, simple and otherwise, and he tried it by mixed examples
in vulgar fractions. But it was all of no use. Then he tried to do the
sum by algebra, by simple and by quadratic equations, by trigonometry,
by logarithms, and by conic sections. But it would not do. He got an
answer every time, it is true, but it was always a different one, and he
could not feel sure which answer was right.

And just as he was feeling how much more important than anything else it
is to be able to do your sums, the Princess came back. And now it was
getting dark.

"Why, you've been seven hours over that sum," she said, "and you haven't
done it yet. Look here, this is what is written on the tablet of the
statue by the lower gate. It has figures in it. Perhaps it is the answer
to the sum."

She held out to him a big white magnolia leaf. And she had scratched on
it with the pin of her pearl brooch, and it had turned brown where she
had scratched it, as magnolia leaves will do. Nigel read:

        AFTER NINE DAYS
        T ii. 24.
        D ii. 27 Ans.
        P.S.--And the griffin is artificial. R.

He clapped his hands softly.

"Dear Princess," he said, "I know that's the right answer. It says R
too, you see. But I'll just prove it." So he hastily worked the sum
backward in decimals and equations and conic sections, and all the rules
he could think of. And it came right every time.

"So now we must wait," said he. And they waited.

And every day the Princess came to see Nigel and brought him food cooked
by the dragon, and he lived in his cave, and talked to her when she was
there, and thought about her when she was not, and they were both as
happy as the longest day in summer. Then at last came The Day. Nigel and
the Princess laid their plans.

"You're sure he won't hurt you, my only treasure?" said Nigel.

"Quite," said the Princess. "I only wish I were half as sure that he
wouldn't hurt you."

"My Princess," he said tenderly, "two great powers are on our side: the
power of Love and the power of Arithmetic. Those two are stronger than
anything else in the world."

So when the tide began to go down, Nigel and the Princess ran out on to
the sands, and there, in full sight of the terrace where the dragon kept
watch, Nigel took his Princess in his arms and kissed her. The griffin
was busy sweeping the stairs of the Lone Tower, but the dragon saw, and
he gave a cry of rage--and it was like twenty engines all letting off
steam at the top of their voices inside Cannon Street Station.

And the two lovers stood looking up at the dragon. He was dreadful to
look at. His head was white with age--and his beard had grown so long
that he caught his claws in it as he walked. His wings were white with
the salt that had settled on them from the spray of the sea. His tail
was long and thick and jointed and white, and had little legs to it, any
number of them--far too many--so that it looked like a very large fat
silkworm; and his claws were as long as lessons and as sharp as
bayonets.

"Good-bye, love!" cried Nigel, and ran out across the yellow sand toward
the sea. He had one end of a cord tied to his arm.

The dragon was clambering down the face of the cliff, and next moment he
was crawling and writhing and sprawling and wriggling across the beach
after Nigel, making great holes in the sand with his heavy feet--and the
very end of his tail, where there were no legs, made, as it dragged, a
mark in the sand such as you make when you launch a boat; and he
breathed fire till the wet sand hissed again, and the water of the
little rock pools got quite frightened, and all went off in steam.

Still Nigel held on and the dragon after him. The Princess could see
nothing for the steam, and she stood crying bitterly, but still holding
on tight with her right hand to the other end of the cord that Nigel had
told her to hold; while with her left she held the ship's chronometer,
and looked at it through her tears as he had bidden her look, so as to
know when to pull the rope.

On went Nigel over the sand, and on went the dragon after him. And the
tide was low, and sleepy little waves lapped the sand's edge.

Now at the lip of the water, Nigel paused and looked back, and the
dragon made a bound, beginning a scream of rage that was like all the
engines of all the railways in England. But it never uttered the second
half of that scream, for now it knew suddenly that it was sleepy--it
turned to hurry back to dry land, because sleeping near whirlpools is so
unsafe. But before it reached the shore sleep caught it and turned it to
stone. Nigel, seeing this, ran shoreward for his life--and the tide
began to flow in, and the time of the whirlpools' sleep was nearly over,
and he stumbled and he waded and he swam, and the Princess pulled for
dear life at the cord in her hand, and pulled him up on to the dry shelf
of rock just as the great sea dashed in and made itself once more into
the girdle of Nine Whirlpools all around the island.

But the dragon was asleep under the whirlpools, and when he woke up from
being asleep he found he was drowned, so there was an end of him.

"Now, there's only the griffin," said Nigel. And the Princess said:
"Yes--only--" And she kissed Nigel and went back to sew the last leaf of
the last lily on the bosom of her wedding gown. She thought and thought
of what was written on the stone about the griffin being artificial--and
next day she said to Nigel: "You know a griffin is half a lion and half
an eagle, and the other two halves when they've joined make the
leo-griff. But I've never seen him. Yet I have an idea."

So they talked it over and arranged everything.

When the griffin fell asleep that afternoon at teatime, Nigel went
softly behind him and trod on his tail, and at the same time the
Princess cried: "Look out! There's a lion behind you."

And the griffin, waking suddenly from his dreams, twisted his large
neck around to look for the lion, saw a lion's flank, and fastened its
eagle beak in it. For the griffin had been artificially made by the
King-enchanter, and the two halves had never really got used to each
other. So now the eagle half of the griffin, who was still rather
sleepy, believed that it was fighting a lion, and the lion part, being
half asleep, thought it was fighting an eagle, and the whole griffin in
its deep drowsiness hadn't the sense to pull itself together and
remember what it was made of. So the griffin rolled over and over, one
end of it fighting with the other, till the eagle end pecked the lion
end to death, and the lion end tore the eagle end with its claws till it
died. And so the griffin that was made of a lion and an eagle perished,
exactly as if it had been made of Kilkenny cats.

"Poor griffin," said the Princess, "it was very good at the housework. I
always liked it better than the dragon: It wasn't so hot-tempered."

At that moment there was a soft, silky rush behind the Princess, and
there was her mother, the Queen, who had slipped out of the stone statue
at the moment the griffin was dead, and now came hurrying to take her
dear daughter in her arms. The witch was clambering slowly off her
pedestal. She was a little stiff from standing still so long.

When they had all explained everything over and over to each other as
many times as was good for them, the witch said: "Well, but what about
the whirlpools?"

And Nigel said he didn't know. Then the witch said: "I'm not a witch
anymore. I'm only a happy old woman, but I know some things still. Those
whirlpools were made by the enchanter-King's dropping nine drops of his
blood into the sea. And his blood was so wicked that the sea has been
trying ever since to get rid of it, and that made the whirlpools. Now
you've only got to go out at low tide."

So Nigel understood and went out at low tide, and found in the sandy
hollow left by the first whirlpool a great red ruby. That was the first
drop of the wicked King's blood. The next day Nigel found another, and
next day another, and so on till the ninth day, and then the sea was as
smooth as glass.

The nine rubies were used afterwards in agriculture. You had only to
throw them out into a field if you wanted it plowed. Then the whole
surface of the land turned itself over in its anxiety to get rid of
something so wicked, and in the morning the field was found to be plowed
as thoroughly as any young man at Oxford. So the wicked King did some
good after all.

When the sea was smooth, ships came from far and wide, bringing people
to hear the wonderful story. And a beautiful palace was built, and the
Princess was married to Nigel in her gold dress, and they all lived
happily as long as was good for them.

The dragon still lies, a stone dragon on the sand, and at low tide the
little children play around him and over him. But the pieces that were
left of the griffin were buried under the herb-bed in the palace garden,
because it had been so good at housework, and it wasn't its fault that
it had been made so badly and put to such poor work as guarding a lady
from her lover.

I have no doubt that you will wish to know what the Princess lived on
during the long years when the dragon did the cooking. My dear, she
lived on her income--and that is a thing that a great many people would
like to be able to do.

[Illustration: "Little children play around him and over him." _See page
96._]



[Illustration: VI

THE DRAGON TAMERS]



VI. The Dragon Tamers


There was once an old, old castle--it was so old that its walls and
towers and turrets and gateways and arches had crumbled to ruins, and of
all its old splendor there were only two little rooms left; and it was
here that John the blacksmith had set up his forge. He was too poor to
live in a proper house, and no one asked any rent for the rooms in the
ruin, because all the lords of the castle were dead and gone this many a
year. So there John blew his bellows and hammered his iron and did all
the work which came his way. This was not much, because most of the
trade went to the mayor of the town, who was also a blacksmith in quite
a large way of business, and had his huge forge facing the square of the
town, and had twelve apprentices, all hammering like a nest of
woodpeckers, and twelve journeymen to order the apprentices about, and a
patent forge and a self-acting hammer and electric bellows, and all
things handsome about him. So of course the townspeople, whenever they
wanted a horse shod or a shaft mended, went to the mayor. John the
blacksmith struggled on as best he could, with a few odd jobs from
travelers and strangers who did not know what a superior forge the
mayor's was. The two rooms were warm and weather-tight, but not very
large; so the blacksmith got into the way of keeping his old iron, his
odds and ends, his fagots, and his twopence worth of coal in the great
dungeon down under the castle. It was a very fine dungeon indeed, with a
handsome vaulted roof and big iron rings whose staples were built into
the wall, very strong and convenient for tying captives to, and at one
end was a broken flight of wide steps leading down no one knew where.
Even the lords of the castle in the good old times had never known where
those steps led to, but every now and then they would kick a prisoner
down the steps in their lighthearted, hopeful way, and sure enough, the
prisoners never came back. The blacksmith had never dared to go beyond
the seventh step, and no more have I--so I know no more than he did what
was at the bottom of those stairs.

John the blacksmith had a wife and a little baby. When his wife was not
doing the housework she used to nurse the baby and cry, remembering the
happy days when she lived with her father, who kept seventeen cows and
lived quite in the country, and when John used to come courting her in
the summer evenings, as smart as smart, with a posy in his buttonhole.
And now John's hair was getting gray, and there was hardly ever enough
to eat.

As for the baby, it cried a good deal at odd times; but at night, when
its mother had settled down to sleep, it would always begin to cry,
quite as a matter of course, so that she hardly got any rest at all.
This made her very tired.

The baby could make up for its bad nights during the day if it liked,
but the poor mother couldn't. So whenever she had nothing to do she used
to sit and cry, because she was tired out with work and worry.

One evening the blacksmith was busy with his forge. He was making a
goat-shoe for the goat of a very rich lady, who wished to see how the
goat liked being shod, and also whether the shoe would come to fivepence
or sevenpence before she ordered the whole set. This was the only order
John had had that week. And as he worked his wife sat and nursed the
baby, who, for a wonder, was not crying.

Presently, over the noise of the bellows and over the clank of the iron,
there came another sound. The blacksmith and his wife looked at each
other.

"I heard nothing," said he.

"Neither did I," said she.

But the noise grew louder--and the two were so anxious not to hear it
that he hammered away at the goat-shoe harder than he had ever hammered
in his life, and she began to sing to the baby--a thing she had not had
the heart to do for weeks.

But through the blowing and hammering and singing the noise came louder
and louder, and the more they tried not to hear it, the more they had
to. It was like the noise of some great creature purring, purring,
purring--and the reason they did not want to believe they really heard
it was that it came from the great dungeon down below, where the old
iron was, and the firewood and the twopence worth of coal, and the
broken steps that went down into the dark and ended no one knew where.

"It can't be anything in the dungeon," said the blacksmith, wiping his
face. "Why, I shall have to go down there after more coals in a minute."

"There isn't anything there, of course. How could there be?" said his
wife. And they tried so hard to believe that there could be nothing
there that presently they very nearly did believe it.

Then the blacksmith took his shovel in one hand and his riveting hammer
in the other, and hung the old stable lantern on his little finger, and
went down to get the coals.

"I am not taking the hammer because I think there is something there,"
said he, "but it is handy for breaking the large lumps of coal."

"I quite understand," said his wife, who had brought the coal home in
her apron that very afternoon, and knew that it was all coal dust.

So he went down the winding stairs to the dungeon and stood at the
bottom of the steps, holding the lantern above his head just to see that
the dungeon really was empty, as usual. Half of it was empty as usual,
except for the old iron and odds and ends, and the firewood and the
coals. But the other side was not empty. It was quite full, and what it
was full of was Dragon.

"It must have come up those nasty broken steps from goodness knows
where," said the blacksmith to himself, trembling all over, as he tried
to creep back up the winding stairs.

But the dragon was too quick for him--it put out a great claw and caught
him by the leg, and as it moved it rattled like a great bunch of keys,
or like the sheet iron they make thunder out of in pantomimes.

"No you don't," said the dragon in a spluttering voice, like a damp
squib.

"Deary, deary me," said poor John, trembling more than ever in the claw
of the dragon. "Here's a nice end for a respectable blacksmith!"

The dragon seemed very much struck by this remark.

"Do you mind saying that again?" said he, quite politely.

So John said again, very distinctly:
"_Here_--_is_--_a_--_nice_--_end_--_for_--_a_--_respectable_--_blacksmith._"

"I didn't know," said the dragon. "Fancy now! You're the very man I
wanted."

"So I understood you to say before," said John, his teeth chattering.

"Oh, I don't mean what you mean," said the dragon, "but I should like
you to do a job for me. One of my wings has got some of the rivets out
of it just above the joint. Could you put that to rights?"

"I might, sir," said John, politely, for you must always be polite to a
possible customer, even if he be a dragon.

"A master craftsman--you are a master, of course?--can see in a minute
what's wrong," the dragon went on. "Just come around here and feel my
plates, will you?"

John timidly went around when the dragon took his claw away; and sure
enough, the dragon's wing was hanging loose, and several of the plates
near the joint certainly wanted riveting.

The dragon seemed to be made almost entirely of iron armor--a sort of
tawny, red-rust color it was; from damp, no doubt--and under it he
seemed to be covered with something furry.

All the blacksmith welled up in John's heart, and he felt more at ease.

"You could certainly do with a rivet or two, sir," said he. "In fact,
you want a good many."

"Well, get to work, then," said the dragon. "You mend my wing, and then
I'll go out and eat up all the town, and if you make a really smart job
of it I'll eat you last. There!"

"I don't want to be eaten last, sir," said John.

"Well then, I'll eat you first," said the dragon.

"I don't want that, sir, either," said John.

"Go on with you, you silly man," said the dragon, "you don't know your
own silly mind. Come, set to work."

"I don't like the job, sir," said John, "and that's the truth. I know
how easily accidents happen. It's all fair and smooth, and 'Please rivet
me, and I'll eat you last'--and then you get to work and you give a
gentleman a bit of a nip or a dig under his rivets--and then it's fire
and smoke, and no apologies will meet the case."

"Upon my word of honor as a dragon," said the other.

"I know you wouldn't do it on purpose, sir," said John, "but any
gentleman will give a jump and a sniff if he's nipped, and one of your
sniffs would be enough for me. Now, if you'd just let me fasten you up?"

"It would be so undignified," objected the dragon.

"We always fasten a horse up," said John, "and he's the 'noble animal.'"

"It's all very well," said the dragon, "but how do I know you'd untie me
again when you'd riveted me? Give me something in pledge. What do you
value most?"

"My hammer," said John. "A blacksmith is nothing without a hammer."

"But you'd want that for riveting me. You must think of something else,
and at once, or I'll eat you first."

At this moment the baby in the room above began to scream. Its mother
had been so quiet that it thought she had settled down for the night,
and that it was time to begin.

"Whatever's that?" said the dragon, starting so that every plate on his
body rattled.

"It's only the baby," said John.

"What's that?" asked the dragon. "Something you value?"

"Well, yes, sir, rather," said the blacksmith.

"Then bring it here," said the dragon, "and I'll take care of it till
you've done riveting me, and you shall tie me up."

"All right, sir," said John, "but I ought to warn you. Babies are poison
to dragons, so I don't deceive you. It's all right to touch--but don't
you go putting it into your mouth. I shouldn't like to see any harm come
to a nice-looking gentleman like you."

The dragon purred at this compliment and said: "All right, I'll be
careful. Now go and fetch the thing, whatever it is."

So John ran up the steps as quickly as he could, for he knew that if the
dragon got impatient before it was fastened, it could heave up the roof
of the dungeon with one heave of its back, and kill them all in the
ruins. His wife was asleep, in spite of the baby's cries; and John
picked up the baby and took it down and put it between the dragon's
front paws.

"You just purr to it, sir," he said, "and it'll be as good as gold."

So the dragon purred, and his purring pleased the baby so much that it
stopped crying.

Then John rummaged among the heap of old iron and found there some heavy
chains and a great collar that had been made in the days when men sang
over their work and put their hearts into it, so that the things they
made were strong enough to bear the weight of a thousand years, let
alone a dragon.

John fastened the dragon up with the collar and the chains, and when he
had padlocked them all on safely he set to work to find out how many
rivets would be needed.

"Six, eight, ten--twenty, forty," said he. "I haven't half enough rivets
in the shop. If you'll excuse me, sir, I'll step around to another forge
and get a few dozen. I won't be a minute."

[Illustration: "The dragon's purring pleased the baby." _See page
106._]

And off he went, leaving the baby between the dragon's fore-paws,
laughing and crowing with pleasure at the very large purr of it.

John ran as hard as he could into the town, and found the mayor and
corporation.

"There's a dragon in my dungeon," he said; "I've chained him up. Now
come and help to get my baby away."

And he told them all about it.

But they all happened to have engagements for that evening; so they
praised John's cleverness, and said they were quite content to leave the
matter in his hands.

"But what about my baby?" said John.

"Oh, well," said the mayor, "if anything should happen, you will always
be able to remember that your baby perished in a good cause."

So John went home again, and told his wife some of the tale.

"You've given the baby to the dragon!" she cried. "Oh, you unnatural
parent!"

"Hush," said John, and he told her some more. "Now," he said, "I'm going
down. After I've been down you can go, and if you keep your head the boy
will be all right."

So down went the blacksmith, and there was the dragon purring away with
all his might to keep the baby quiet.

"Hurry up, can't you?" he said. "I can't keep up this noise all night."

"I'm very sorry, sir," said the blacksmith, "but all the shops are shut.
The job must wait till the morning. And don't forget you've promised to
take care of that baby. You'll find it a little wearing, I'm afraid.
Good night, sir."

The dragon had purred till he was quite out of breath--so now he
stopped, and as soon as everything was quiet the baby thought everyone
must have settled for the night, and that it was time to begin to
scream. So it began.

"Oh, dear," said the dragon, "this is awful." He patted the baby with
his claw, but it screamed more than ever.

"And I am so tired too," said the dragon. "I did so hope I should have a
good night."

The baby went on screaming.

"There'll be no peace for me after this," said the dragon. "It's enough
to ruin one's nerves. Hush, then--did 'ums, then." And he tried to quiet
the baby as if it had been a young dragon. But when he began to sing
"Hush-a-by, Dragon," the baby screamed more and more and more. "I can't
keep it quiet," said the dragon; and then suddenly he saw a woman
sitting on the steps. "Here, I say," said he, "do you know anything
about babies?"

"I do, a little," said the mother.

"Then I wish you'd take this one, and let me get some sleep," said the
dragon, yawning. "You can bring it back in the morning before the
blacksmith comes."

So the mother picked up the baby and took it upstairs and told her
husband, and they went to bed happy, for they had caught the dragon and
saved the baby.

And next day John went down and explained carefully to the dragon
exactly how matters stood, and he got an iron gate with a grating to it
and set it up at the foot of the steps, and the dragon mewed furiously
for days and days, but when he found it was no good he was quiet.

So now John went to the mayor, and said: "I've got the dragon and I've
saved the town."

"Noble preserver," cried the mayor, "we will get up a subscription for
you, and crown you in public with a laurel wreath."

So the mayor put his name down for five pounds, and the corporation each
gave three, and other people gave their guineas and half guineas and
half crowns and crowns, and while the subscription was being made the
mayor ordered three poems at his own expense from the town poet to
celebrate the occasion. The poems were very much more admired,
especially by the mayor and corporation.

The first poem dealt with the noble conduct of the mayor in arranging to
have the dragon tied up. The second described the splendid assistance
rendered by the corporation. And the third expressed the pride and joy
of the poet in being permitted to sing such deeds, beside which the
actions of St. George must appear quite commonplace to all with a
feeling heart or a well-balanced brain.

When the subscription was finished there was a thousand pounds, and a
committee was formed to settle what should be done with it. A third of
it went to pay for a banquet to the mayor and corporation; another third
was spent in buying a gold collar with a dragon on it for the mayor and
gold medals with dragons on them for the corporation; and what was left
went in committee expenses.

So there was nothing for the blacksmith except the laurel wreath and the
knowledge that it really was he who had saved the town. But after this
things went a little better with the blacksmith. To begin with, the baby
did not cry so much as it had before. Then the rich lady who owned the
goat was so touched by John's noble action that she ordered a complete
set of shoes at 2 shillings, 4 pence, and even made it up to 2
shillings, 6 pence, in grateful recognition of his public-spirited
conduct. Then tourists used to come in breaks from quite a long way off,
and pay twopence each to go down the steps and peep through the iron
grating at the rusty dragon in the dungeon--and it was threepence extra
for each party if the blacksmith let off colored fire to see it by,
which, as the fire was extremely short, was twopence-halfpenny clear
profit every time. And the blacksmith's wife used to provide teas at
ninepence a head, and altogether things grew brighter week by week.

The baby--named John, after his father, and called Johnnie for
short--began presently to grow up. He was great friends with Tina, the
daughter of the whitesmith, who lived nearly opposite. She was a dear
little girl with yellow pigtails and blue eyes, and she was tired of
hearing the story of how Johnnie, when he was a baby, had been minded by
a real dragon.

The two children used to go together to peep through the iron grating at
the dragon, and sometimes they would hear him mew piteously. And they
would light a halfpenny's worth of colored fire to look at him by. And
they grew older and wiser.

At last one day the mayor and corporation, hunting the hare in their
gold gowns, came screaming back to the town gates with the news that a
lame, humpy giant, as big as a tin church, was coming over the marshes
toward the town.

"We're lost," said the mayor. "I'd give a thousand pounds to anyone who
could keep that giant out of the town. I know what he eats--by his
teeth."

No one seemed to know what to do. But Johnnie and Tina were listening,
and they looked at each other, and ran off as fast as their boots would
carry them.

They ran through the forge, and down the dungeon steps, and knocked at
the iron door. "Who's there?" said the dragon. "It's only us," said the
children.

And the dragon was so dull from having been alone for ten years that he
said: "Come in, dears."

"You won't hurt us, or breathe fire at us or anything?" asked Tina.

And the dragon said, "Not for worlds."

So they went in and talked to him, and told him what the weather was
like outside, and what there was in the papers, and at last Johnnie
said: "There's a lame giant in the town. He wants you."

"Does he?" said the dragon, showing his teeth. "If only I were out of
this!"

"If we let you loose you might manage to run away before he could catch
you."

"Yes, I might," answered the dragon, "but then again I mightn't."

"Why--you'd never fight him?" said Tina.

"No," said the dragon; "I'm all for peace, I am. You let me out, and
you'll see."

So the children loosed the dragon from the chains and the collar, and
he broke down one end of the dungeon and went out--only pausing at the
forge door to get the blacksmith to rivet his wing.

He met the lame giant at the gate of the town, and the giant banged on
the dragon with his club as if he were banging an iron foundry, and the
dragon behaved like a smelting works--all fire and smoke. It was a
fearful sight, and people watched it from a distance, falling off their
legs with the shock of every bang, but always getting up to look again.

At last the dragon won, and the giant sneaked away across the marshes,
and the dragon, who was very tired, went home to sleep, announcing his
intention of eating the town in the morning. He went back into his old
dungeon because he was a stranger in the town, and he did not know of
any other respectable lodging. Then Tina and Johnnie went to the mayor
and corporation and said, "The giant is settled. Please give us the
thousand pounds reward."

But the mayor said: "No, no, my boy. It is not you who have settled the
giant, it is the dragon. I suppose you have chained him up again? When
he comes to claim the reward he shall have it."

"He isn't chained up yet," said Johnnie. "Shall I send him to claim the
reward?"

But the mayor said he need not trouble; and now he offered a thousand
pounds to anyone who would get the dragon chained up again.

"I don't trust you," said Johnnie. "Look how you treated my father when
he chained up the dragon."

But the people who were listening at the door interrupted, and said that
if Johnnie could fasten up the dragon again they would turn out the
mayor and let Johnnie be mayor in his place. For they had been
dissatisfied with the mayor for some time, and thought they would like a
change.

So Johnnie said, "Done," and off he went, hand in hand with Tina, and
they called on all their little friends and said: "Will you help us to
save the town?"

And all the children said: "Yes, of course we will. What fun!"

"Well, then," said Tina, "you must all bring your basins of bread and
milk to the forge tomorrow at breakfast time."

"And if ever I am mayor," said Johnnie, "I will give a banquet, and you
shall be invited. And we'll have nothing but sweet things from beginning
to end."

All the children promised, and next morning Tina and Johnnie rolled
their big washing tub down the winding stair.

"What's that noise?" asked the dragon.

"It's only a big giant breathing," said Tina, "He's gone by now."

Then, when all the town children brought their bread and milk, Tina
emptied it into the wash tub, and when the tub was full Tina knocked at
the iron door with the grating in it and said: "May we come in?"

"Oh, yes," said the dragon, "it's very dull here."

So they went in, and with the help of nine other children they lifted
the washing tub in and set it down by the dragon. Then all the other
children went away, and Tina and Johnnie sat down and cried.

"What's this?" asked the dragon. "And what's the matter?"

"This is bread and milk," said Johnnie; "it's our breakfast--all of it."

"Well," said the dragon, "I don't see what you want with breakfast. I'm
going to eat everyone in the town as soon as I've rested a little."

"Dear Mr. Dragon," said Tina, "I wish you wouldn't eat us. How would you
like to be eaten yourself?"

"Not at all," the dragon confessed, "but nobody will eat me."

"I don't know," said Johnnie, "there's a giant--"

"I know. I fought with him, and licked him."

"Yes, but there's another come now--the one you fought was only this
one's little boy. This one is half as big again."

"He's seven times as big," said Tina.

"No, nine times," said Johnnie. "He's bigger than the steeple."

"Oh, dear," said the dragon. "I never expected this."

"And the mayor has told him where you are," Tina went on, "and he is
coming to eat you as soon as he has sharpened his big knife. The mayor
told him you were a wild dragon--but he didn't mind. He said he only ate
wild dragons--with bread sauce."

"That's tiresome," said the dragon. "And I suppose this sloppy stuff in
the tub is the bread sauce?"

The children said it was. "Of course," they added, "bread sauce is only
served with wild dragons. Tame ones are served with apple sauce and
onion stuffing. What a pity you're not a tame one: He'd never look at
you then," they said. "Good-bye, poor dragon, we shall never see you
again, and now you'll know what it's like to be eaten." And they began
to cry again.

"Well, but look here," said the dragon, "couldn't you pretend I was a
tame dragon? Tell the giant that I'm just a poor little timid tame
dragon that you kept for a pet."

"He'd never believe it," said Johnnie. "If you were our tame dragon we
should keep you tied up, you know. We shouldn't like to risk losing such
a dear, pretty pet."

Then the dragon begged them to fasten him up at once, and they did so:
with the collar and chains that were made years ago--in the days when
men sang over their work and made it strong enough to bear any strain.

And then they went away and told the people what they had done, and
Johnnie was made mayor, and had a glorious feast exactly as he had said
he would--with nothing in it but sweet things. It began with Turkish
delight and halfpenny buns, and went on with oranges, toffee, coconut
ice, peppermints, jam puffs, raspberry-noyeau, ice creams, and
meringues, and ended with bull's-eyes and gingerbread and acid drops.

This was all very well for Johnnie and Tina; but if you are kind
children with feeling hearts you will perhaps feel sorry for the poor
deceived, deluded dragon--chained up in the dull dungeon, with nothing
to do but to think over the shocking untruths that Johnnie had told him.

When he thought how he had been tricked, the poor captive dragon began
to weep--and the large tears fell down over his rusty plates. And
presently he began to feel faint, as people sometimes do when they have
been crying, especially if they have not had anything to eat for ten
years or so.

And then the poor creature dried his eyes and looked about him, and
there he saw the tub of bread and milk. So he thought, "If giants like
this damp, white stuff, perhaps I should like it too," and he tasted a
little, and liked it so much that he ate it all up.

And the next time the tourists came, and Johnnie let off the colored
fire, the dragon said shyly: "Excuse my troubling you, but could you
bring me a little more bread and milk?"

So Johnnie arranged that people should go around with carts every day to
collect the children's bread and milk for the dragon. The children were
fed at the town's expense--on whatever they liked; and they ate nothing
but cake and buns and sweet things, and they said the poor dragon was
very welcome to their bread and milk.

Now, when Johnnie had been mayor ten years or so he married Tina, and on
their wedding morning they went to see the dragon. He had grown quite
tame, and his rusty plates had fallen off in places, and underneath he
was soft and furry to stroke. So now they stroked him.

And he said, "I don't know how I could ever have liked eating anything
but bread and milk. I _am_ a tame dragon now, aren't I?" And when they
said that yes, he was, the dragon said: "I am so tame, won't you undo
me?" And some people would have been afraid to trust him, but Johnnie
and Tina were so happy on their wedding day that they could not believe
any harm of anyone in the world. So they loosened the chains, and the
dragon said: "Excuse me a moment, there are one or two little things I
should like to fetch," and he moved off to those mysterious steps and
went down them, out of sight into the darkness. And as he moved, more
and more of his rusty plates fell off.

In a few minutes they heard him clanking up the steps. He brought
something in his mouth--it was a bag of gold.

"It's no good to me," he said. "Perhaps you might find it useful." So
they thanked him very kindly.

"More where that came from," said he, and fetched more and more and
more, till they told him to stop. So now they were rich, and so were
their fathers and mothers. Indeed, everyone was rich, and there were no
more poor people in the town. And they all got rich without working,
which is very wrong; but the dragon had never been to school, as you
have, so he knew no better.

And as the dragon came out of the dungeon, following Johnnie and Tina
into the bright gold and blue of their wedding day, he blinked his eyes
as a cat does in the sunshine, and he shook himself, and the last of his
plates dropped off, and his wings with them, and he was just like a
very, very extra-sized cat. And from that day he grew furrier and
furrier, and he was the beginning of all cats. Nothing of the dragon
remained except the claws, which all cats have still, as you can easily
ascertain.

And I hope you see now how important it is to feed your cat with bread
and milk. If you were to let it have nothing to eat but mice and birds
it might grow larger and fiercer, and scalier and tailier, and get wings
and turn into the beginning of dragons. And then there would be all the
bother over again.

[Illustration: "He brought something in his mouth--it was a bag of
gold." _See page 116._]



[Illustration: VII

THE FIERY DRAGON]



VII. The Fiery Dragon,

or The Heart of Stone and the Heart of Gold


The little white Princess always woke in her little white bed when the
starlings began to chatter in the pearl gray morning. As soon as the
woods were awake, she used to run up the twisting turret-stairs with her
little bare feet, and stand on the top of the tower in her white
bed-gown, and kiss her hands to the sun and to the woods and to the
sleeping town, and say: "Good morning, pretty world!"

Then she would run down the cold stone steps and dress herself in her
short skirt and her cap and apron, and begin the day's work. She swept
the rooms and made the breakfast, she washed the dishes and she scoured
the pans, and all this she did because she was a real Princess. For of
all who should have served her, only one remained faithful--her old
nurse, who had lived with her in the tower all the Princess's life. And,
now the nurse was old and feeble, the Princess would not let her work
any more, but did all the housework herself, while Nurse sat still and
did the sewing, because this was a real Princess with skin like milk and
hair like flax and a heart like gold.

Her name was Sabrinetta, and her grandmother was Sabra, who married St.
George after he had killed the dragon, and by real rights all the
country belonged to her: the woods that stretched away to the mountains,
the downs that sloped down to the sea, the pretty fields of corn and
maize and rye, the olive orchards and the vineyards, and the little town
itself--with its towers and its turrets, its steep roofs and strange
windows--that nestled in the hollow between the sea, where the whirlpool
was, and the mountains, white with snow and rosy with sunrise.

But when her father and mother had died, leaving her cousin to take care
of the kingdom till she grew up, he, being a very evil Prince, took
everything away from her, and all the people followed him, and now
nothing was left her of all her possessions except the great dragon
proof tower that her grandfather, St. George, had built, and of all who
should have been her servants only the good nurse.

This was why Sabrinetta was the first person in all the land to get a
glimpse of the wonder.

Early, early, early, while all the townspeople were fast asleep, she ran
up the turret-steps and looked out over the field, and at the other side
of the field there was a green, ferny ditch and a rose-thorny hedge, and
then came the wood. And as Sabrinetta stood on her tower she saw a
shaking and a twisting of the rose-thorny hedge, and then something very
bright and shining wriggled out through it into the ferny ditch and back
again. It only came out for a minute, but she saw it quite plainly, and
she said to herself: "Dear me, what a curious, shiny, bright-looking
creature! If it were bigger, and if I didn't know that there have been
no fabulous monsters for quite a long time now, I should almost think it
was a dragon."

The thing, whatever it was, did look rather like a dragon--but then it
was too small; and it looked rather like a lizard--only then it was too
big. It was about as long as a hearthrug.

"I wish it had not been in such a hurry to get back into the wood," said
Sabrinetta. "Of course, it's quite safe for me, in my dragonproof tower;
but if it is a dragon, it's quite big enough to eat people, and today's
the first of May, and the children go out to get flowers in the wood."

When Sabrinetta had done the housework (she did not leave so much as a
speck of dust anywhere, even in the corneriest corner of the winding
stair) she put on her milk white, silky gown with the moon-daisies
worked on it, and went up to the top of her tower again.

Across the fields troops of children were going out to gather the may,
and the sound of their laughter and singing came up to the top of the
tower.

"I do hope it wasn't a dragon," said Sabrinetta.

The children went by twos and by threes and by tens and by twenties, and
the red and blue and yellow and white of their frocks were scattered on
the green of the field.

"It's like a green silk mantle worked with flowers," said the Princess,
smiling.

Then by twos and by threes, by tens and by twenties, the children
vanished into the wood, till the mantle of the field was left plain
green once more.

"All the embroidery is unpicked," said the Princess, sighing.

The sun shone, and the sky was blue, and the fields were quite green,
and all the flowers were very bright indeed, because it was May Day.

Then quite suddenly a cloud passed over the sun, and the silence was
broken by shrieks from far off; and, like a many-colored torrent, all
the children burst from the wood and rushed, a red and blue and yellow
and white wave, across the field, screaming as they ran. Their voices
came up to the Princess on her tower, and she heard the words threaded
on their screams like beads on sharp needles: "The dragon, the dragon,
the dragon! Open the gates! The dragon is coming! The fiery dragon!"

And they swept across the field and into the gate of the town, and the
Princess heard the gate bang, and the children were out of sight--but on
the other side of the field the rose-thorns crackled and smashed in the
hedge, and something very large and glaring and horrible trampled the
ferns in the ditch for one moment before it hid itself again in the
covert of the wood.

The Princess went down and told her nurse, and the nurse at once locked
the great door of the tower and put the key in her pocket.

"Let them take care of themselves," she said, when the Princess begged
to be allowed to go out and help to take care of the children. "My
business is to take care of you, my precious, and I'm going to do it.
Old as I am, I can turn a key still."

So Sabrinetta went up again to the top of her tower, and cried whenever
she thought of the children and the fiery dragon. For she knew, of
course, that the gates of the town were not dragonproof, and that the
dragon could just walk in whenever he liked.

The children ran straight to the palace, where the Prince was cracking
his hunting whip down at the kennels, and told him what had happened.

"Good sport," said the Prince, and he ordered out his pack of
hippopotamuses at once. It was his custom to hunt big game with
hippopotamuses, and people would not have minded that so much--but he
would swagger about in the streets of the town with his pack yelping and
gamboling at his heels, and when he did that, the green-grocer, who had
his stall in the marketplace, always regretted it; and the crockery
merchant, who spread his wares on the pavement, was ruined for life
every time the Prince chose to show off his pack.

The Prince rode out of the town with his hippopotamuses trotting and
frisking behind him, and people got inside their houses as quickly as
they could when they heard the voices of his pack and the blowing of his
horn. The pack squeezed through the town gates and off across country to
hunt the dragon. Few of you who had not seen a pack of hippopotamuses in
full cry will be able to imagine at all what the hunt was like. To begin
with, hippopotamuses do not bay like hounds: They grunt like pigs, and
their grunt is very big and fierce. Then, of course, no one expects
hippopotamuses to jump. They just crash through the hedges and lumber
through the standing corn, doing serious injury to the crops, and
annoying the farmers very much. All the hippopotamuses had collars with
their name and address on, but when the farmers called at the palace to
complain of the injury to their standing crops, the Prince always said
it served them right for leaving their crops standing about in people's
way, and he never paid anything at all.

So now, when he and his pack went out, several people in the town
whispered, "I wish the dragon would eat him"--which was very wrong of
them, no doubt, but then he was such a very nasty Prince.

They hunted by field, and they hunted by wold; they drew the woods
blank, and the scent didn't lie on the downs at all. The dragon was shy,
and would not show himself.

But just as the Prince was beginning to think there was no dragon at
all, but only a cock and bull, his favourite old hippopotamus gave
tongue. The Prince blew his horn and shouted: "Tally ho! Hark forward!
Tantivy!" and the whole pack charged downhill toward the hollow by the
wood. For there, plain to be seen, was the dragon, as big as a barge,
glowing like a furnace, and spitting fire and showing his shining teeth.

"The hunt is up!" cried the Prince. And indeed it was. For the
dragon--instead of behaving as a quarry should, and running away--ran
straight at the pack, and the Prince, on his elephant, had the
mortification of seeing his prize pack swallowed up one by one in the
twinkling of an eye, by the dragon they had come out to hunt. The dragon
swallowed all the hippopotamuses just as a dog swallows bits of meat. It
was a shocking sight. Of the whole of the pack that had come out
sporting so merrily to the music of the horn, now not even a
puppy-hippopotamus was left, and the dragon was looking anxiously around
to see if he had forgotten anything.

The Prince slipped off his elephant on the other side and ran into the
thickest part of the wood. He hoped the dragon could not break through
the bushes there, since they were very strong and close. He went
crawling on hands and knees in a most un-Prince-like way, and at last,
finding a hollow tree, he crept into it. The wood was very still--no
crashing of branches and no smell of burning came to alarm the Prince.
He drained the silver hunting bottle slung from his shoulder, and
stretched his legs in the hollow tree. He never shed a single tear for
his poor tame hippopotamuses who had eaten from his hand and followed
him faithfully in all the pleasures of the chase for so many years. For
he was a false Prince, with a skin like leather and hair like hearth
brushes and a heart like a stone. He never shed a tear, but he just went
to sleep.

When he awoke it was dark. He crept out of the tree and rubbed his eyes.
The wood was black about him, but there was a red glow in a dell close
by. It was a fire of sticks, and beside it sat a ragged youth with long,
yellow hair; all around lay sleeping forms which breathed heavily.

"Who are you?" said the Prince.

"I'm Elfin, the pig keeper," said the ragged youth. "And who are you?"

"I'm Tiresome, the Prince," said the other.

"And what are you doing out of your palace at this time of night?" asked
the pig keeper, severely.

"I've been hunting," said the Prince.

The pig keeper laughed. "Oh, it was you I saw, then? A good hunt, wasn't
it? My pigs and I were looking on."

All the sleeping forms grunted and snored, and the Prince saw that they
were pigs: He knew it by their manners.

"If you had known as much as I do," Elfin went on, "you might have saved
your pack."

"What do you mean?" said Tiresome.

"Why, the dragon," said Elfin. "You went out at the wrong time of day.
The dragon should be hunted at night."

"No, thank you," said the Prince, with a shudder. "A daylight hunt is
quite good enough for me, you silly pig keeper."

"Oh, well," said Elfin, "do as you like about it--the dragon will come
and hunt you tomorrow, as likely as not. I don't care if he does, you
silly Prince."

"You're very rude," said Tiresome.

"Oh, no, only truthful," said Elfin.

"Well, tell me the truth, then. What is it that, if I had known as much
as you do about, I shouldn't have lost my hippopotamuses?"

"You don't speak very good English," said Elfin. "But come, what will
you give me if I tell you?"

"If you tell me what?" said the tiresome Prince.

"What you want to know."

"I don't want to know anything," said Prince Tiresome.

"Then you're more of a silly even than I thought," said Elfin. "Don't
you want to know how to settle the dragon before he settles you?"

"It might be as well," the Prince admitted.

"Well, I haven't much patience at any time," said Elfin, "and now I can
assure you that there's very little left. What will you give me if I
tell you?"

"Half my kingdom," said the Prince, "and my cousin's hand in marriage."

"Done," said the pig keeper. "Here goes! The dragon grows small at
night! He sleeps under the root of this tree. I use him to light my fire
with."

And, sure enough, there under the tree was the dragon on a nest of
scorched moss, and he was about as long as your finger.

"How can I kill him?" asked the Prince.

"I don't know that you can kill him," said Elfin, "but you can take him
away if you've brought anything to put him in. That bottle of yours
would do."

So between them they managed, with bits of stick and by singeing their
fingers a little, to poke and shove the dragon till they made it creep
into the silver hunting bottle, and then the Prince screwed on the top
tight.

"Now we've got him," said Elfin. "Let's take him home and put Solomon's
seal on the mouth of the bottle, and then he'll be safe enough. Come
along--we'll divide up the kingdom tomorrow, and then I shall have some
money to buy fine clothes to go courting in."

But when the wicked Prince made promises he did not make them to keep.

"Go on with you! What do you mean?" he said. "I found the dragon and
I've imprisoned him. I never said a word about courtings or kingdoms. If
you say I did, I shall cut your head off at once." And he drew his
sword.

"All right," said Elfin, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm better off than
you are, anyhow."

"What do you mean?" spluttered the Prince.

"Why, you've only got a kingdom (and a dragon), but I've got clean hands
(and five and seventy fine black pigs)."

So Elfin sat down again by his fire, and the Prince went home and told
his Parliament how clever and brave he had been, and though he woke them
up on purpose to tell them, they were not angry, but said: "You are
indeed brave and clever." For they knew what happened to people with
whom the Prince was not pleased.

Then the Prime Minister solemnly put Solomon's seal on the mouth of the
bottle, and the bottle was put in the Treasury, which was the strongest
building in the town, and was made of solid copper, with walls as thick
as Waterloo Bridge.

The bottle was set down among the sacks of gold, and the junior
secretary to the junior clerk of the last Lord of the Treasury was
appointed to sit up all night with it and see if anything happened. The
junior secretary had never seen a dragon, and, what was more, he did not
believe the Prince had ever seen a dragon either. The Prince had never
been a really truthful boy, and it would have been just like him to
bring home a bottle with nothing in it and then to pretend that there
was a dragon inside. So the junior secretary did not at all mind being
left. They gave him the key, and when everyone in the town had gone back
to bed he let in some of the junior secretaries from other Government
departments, and they had a jolly game of hide-and-seek among the sacks
of gold, and played marbles with the diamonds and rubies and pearls in
the big ivory chests.

They enjoyed themselves very much, but by-and-by the copper treasury
began to get warmer and warmer, and suddenly the junior secretary cried
out, "Look at the bottle!"

The bottle sealed with Solomon's seal had swollen to three times its
proper size and seemed to be nearly red hot, and the air got warmer and
warmer and the bottle bigger and bigger, till all the junior secretaries
agreed that the place was too hot to hold them, and out they went,
tumbling over each other in their haste, and just as the last got out
and locked the door the bottle burst, and out came the dragon, very
fiery, and swelling more and more every minute, and he began to eat the
sacks of gold and crunch up the pearls and diamonds and rubies as if
they were sugar.

By breakfasttime he had devoured the whole of the Prince's treasures,
and when the Prince came along the street at about eleven, he met the
dragon coming out of the broken door of the Treasury, with molten gold
still dripping from his jaws. Then the Prince turned and ran for his
life, and as he ran toward the dragonproof tower the little white
Princess saw him coming, and she ran down and unlocked the door and let
him in, and slammed the dragonproof door in the fiery face of the
dragon, who sat down and whined outside, because he wanted the Prince
very much indeed.

The Princess took Prince Tiresome into the best room, and laid the
cloth, and gave him cream and eggs and white grapes and honey and bread,
with many other things, yellow and white and good to eat, and she served
him just as kindly as she would have done if he had been anyone else
instead of the bad Prince who had taken away her kingdom and kept it for
himself--because she was a true Princess and had a heart of gold.

When he had eaten and drunk, he begged the Princess to show him how to
lock and unlock the door. The nurse was asleep, so there was no one to
tell the Princess not to, and she did.

[Illustration: "The junior secretary cried out, 'Look at the bottle!'"
_See page 129._]

"You turn the key like this," she said, "and the door keeps shut. But
turn it nine times around the wrong way, and the door flies open."

And so it did. And the moment it opened, the Prince pushed the white
Princess out of her tower, just as he had pushed her out of her kingdom,
and shut the door. For he wanted to have the tower all for himself. And
there she was, in the street, and on the other side of the way the
dragon was sitting whining, but he did not try to eat her,
because--though the old nurse did not know it--dragons cannot eat white
Princesses with hearts of gold.

The Princess could not walk through the streets of the town in her
milky-silky gown with the daisies on it, and with no hat and no gloves,
so she turned the other way, and ran out across the meadows, toward the
wood. She had never been out of her tower before, and the soft grass
under her feet felt like grass of Paradise.

She ran right into the thickest part of the wood, because she did not
know what her heart was made of, and she was afraid of the dragon, and
there in a dell she came on Elfin and his five and seventy fine pigs. He
was playing his flute, and around him the pigs were dancing cheerfully
on their hind legs.

"Oh, dear," said the Princess, "do take care of me. I am so frightened."

"I will," said Elfin, putting his arms around her. "Now you are quite
safe. What were you frightened of?"

"The dragon," she said.

"So it's gotten out of the silver bottle," said Elfin. "I hope it's
eaten the Prince."

"No," said Sabrinetta. "But why?"

He told her of the mean trick that the Prince had played on him.

"And he promised me half his kingdom and the hand of his cousin the
Princess," said Elfin.

"Oh, dear, what a shame!" said Sabrinetta, trying to get out of his
arms. "How dare he?"

"What's the matter?" he asked, holding her tighter. "It _was_ a shame,
or at least _I_ thought so. But now he may keep his kingdom, half and
whole, if I may keep what I have."

"What's that?" asked the Princess.

"Why, you--my pretty, my dear," said Elfin, "and as for the Princess,
his cousin--forgive me, dearest heart, but when I asked for her I hadn't
seen the real Princess, the _only_ Princess, _my_ Princess."

"Do you mean me?" said Sabrinetta.

"Who else?" he asked.

"Yes, but five minutes ago you hadn't seen me!"

"Five minutes ago I was a pig keeper--now I've held you in my arms I'm a
Prince, though I should have to keep pigs to the end of my days."

"But you haven't asked _me_," said the Princess.

"You asked me to take care of you," said Elfin, "and I will--all my life
long."

So that was settled, and they began to talk of really important things,
such as the dragon and the Prince, and all the time Elfin did not know
that this was the Princess, but he knew that she had a heart of gold,
and he told her so, many times.

"The mistake," said Elfin, "was in not having a dragonproof bottle. I
see that now."

"Oh, is that all?" said the Princess. "I can easily get you one of
those--because everything in my tower is dragonproof. We ought to do
something to settle the dragon and save the little children."

So she started off to get the bottle, but she would not let Elfin come
with her.

"If what you say is true," she said, "if you are sure that I have a
heart of gold, the dragon won't hurt me, and somebody must stay with the
pigs."

Elfin was quite sure, so he let her go.

She found the door of her tower open. The dragon had waited patiently
for the Prince, and the moment he opened the door and came out--though
he was only out for an instant to post a letter to his Prime Minister
saying where he was and asking them to send the fire brigade to deal
with the fiery dragon--the dragon ate him. Then the dragon went back to
the wood, because it was getting near his time to grow small for the
night.

So Sabrinetta went in and kissed her nurse and made her a cup of tea and
explained what was going to happen, and that she had a heart of gold, so
the dragon couldn't eat her; and the nurse saw that of course the
Princess was quite safe, and kissed her and let her go.

She took the dragonproof bottle, made of burnished brass, and ran back
to the wood, and to the dell, where Elfin was sitting among his sleek
black pigs, waiting for her.

"I thought you were never coming back," he said. "You have been away a
year, at least."

The Princess sat down beside him among the pigs, and they held each
other's hands till it was dark, and then the dragon came crawling over
the moss, scorching it as he came, and getting smaller as he crawled,
and curled up under the root of the tree.

"Now then," said Elfin, "you hold the bottle." Then he poked and prodded
the dragon with bits of stick till it crawled into the dragonproof
bottle. But there was no stopper.

"Never mind," said Elfin. "I'll put my finger in for a stopper."

"No, let me," said the Princess. But of course Elfin would not let her.
He stuffed his finger into the top of the bottle, and the Princess cried
out: "The sea--the sea--run for the cliffs!" And off they went, with the
five and seventy pigs trotting steadily after them in a long black
procession.

The bottle got hotter and hotter in Elfin's hands, because the dragon
inside was puffing fire and smoke with all his might--hotter and hotter
and hotter--but Elfin held on till they came to the cliff edge, and
there was the dark blue sea, and the whirlpool going around and around.

Elfin lifted the bottle high above his head and hurled it out between
the stars and the sea, and it fell in the middle of the whirlpool.

"We've saved the country," said the Princess. "You've saved the little
children. Give me your hands."

"I can't," said Elfin. "I shall never be able to take your dear hands
again. My hands are burnt off."

And so they were: There were only black cinders where his hands ought to
have been. The Princess kissed them, and cried over them, and tore
pieces of her silky-milky gown to tie them up with, and the two went
back to the tower and told the nurse all about everything. And the pigs
sat outside and waited.

"He is the bravest man in the world," said Sabrinetta. "He has saved the
country and the little children; but, oh, his hands--his poor, dear,
darling hands!"

Here the door of the room opened, and the oldest of the five and seventy
pigs came in. It went up to Elfin and rubbed itself against him with
little loving grunts.

"See the dear creature," said the nurse, wiping away a tear. "It knows,
it knows!"

Sabrinetta stroked the pig, because Elfin had no hands for stroking or
for anything else.

"The only cure for a dragon burn," said the old nurse, "is pig's fat,
and well that faithful creature knows it----"

"I wouldn't for a kingdom," cried Elfin, stroking the pig as best he
could with his elbow.

"Is there no other cure?" asked the Princess.

Here another pig put its black nose in at the door, and then another and
another, till the room was full of pigs, a surging mass of rounded
blackness, pushing and struggling to get at Elfin, and grunting softly
in the language of true affection.

"There is one other," said the nurse. "The dear, affectionate
beasts--they all want to die for you."

"What is the other cure?" said Sabrinetta anxiously.

"If a man is burnt by a dragon," said the nurse, "and a certain number
of people are willing to die for him, it is enough if each should kiss
the burn and wish it well in the depths of his loving heart."

"The number! The number!" cried Sabrinetta.

"Seventy-seven," said the nurse.

"We have only seventy-five pigs," said the Princess, "and with me that's
seventy-six!"

"It must be seventy-seven--and I really can't die for him, so nothing
can be done," said the nurse, sadly. "He must have cork hands."

"I knew about the seventy-seven loving people," said Elfin. "But I never
thought my dear pigs loved me so much as all this, and my dear too--and,
of course, that only makes it more impossible. There's one other charm
that cures dragon burns, though; but I'd rather be burnt black all over
than marry anyone but you, my dear, my pretty."

"Why, who must you marry to cure your dragon burns?" asked Sabrinetta.

"A Princess. That's how St. George cured his burns."

"There now! Think of that!" said the nurse. "And I never heard tell of
that cure, old as I am."

But Sabrinetta threw her arms round Elfin's neck, and held him as though
she would never let him go.

"Then it's all right, my dear, brave, precious Elfin," she cried, "for I
am a Princess, and you shall be my Prince. Come along, Nurse--don't wait
to put on your bonnet. We'll go and be married this very moment."

So they went, and the pigs came after, moving in stately blackness, two
by two. And, the minute he was married to the Princess, Elfin's hands
got quite well. And the people, who were weary of Prince Tiresome and
his hippopotamuses, hailed Sabrinetta and her husband as rightful
Sovereigns of the land.

[Illustration: "They saw a cloud of steam." _See page 135._]

Next morning the Prince and Princess went out to see if the dragon had
been washed ashore. They could see nothing of him; but when they looked
out toward the whirlpool they saw a cloud of steam; and the fishermen
reported that the water for miles around was hot enough to shave with!
And as the water is hot there to this day, we may feel pretty sure
that the fierceness of that dragon was such that all the waters of all
the sea were not enough to cool him. The whirlpool is too strong for him
to be able to get out of it, so there he spins around and around forever
and ever, doing some useful work at last, and warming the water for poor
fisher-folk to shave with.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Prince and Princess rule the land well and wisely. The nurse lives
with them, and does nothing but fine sewing, and only that when she
wants to very much. The Prince keeps no hippopotamuses, and is
consequently very popular. The five and seventy devoted pigs live in
white marble sties with brass knockers and Pig on the doorplate, and are
washed twice a day with Turkish sponges and soap scented with violets,
and no one objects to their following the Prince when he walks abroad,
for they behave beautifully, and always keep to the footpath, and obey
the notices about not walking on the grass. The Princess feeds them
every day with her own hands, and her first edict on coming to the
throne was that the word _pork_ should never be uttered on pain of
death, and should, besides, be scratched out of all the dictionaries.



[Illustration: VIII

KIND LITTLE EDMUND]



VIII. Kind Little Edmund, or The Caves and the Cockatrice


Edmund was a boy. The people who did not like him said that he was the
most tiresome boy that ever lived, but his grandmother and his other
friends said that he had an inquiring mind. And his granny often added
that he was the best of boys. But she was very kind and very old.

Edmund loved to find out about things. Perhaps you will think that in
that case he was constant in his attendance at school, since there, if
anywhere, we may learn whatever there is to be learned. But Edmund did
not want to learn things: He wanted to find things out, which is quite
different. His inquiring mind led him to take clocks to pieces to see
what made them go, to take locks off doors to see what made them stick.
It was Edmund who cut open the India rubber ball to see what made it
bounce, and he never did see, any more than you did when you tried the
same experiment.

Edmund lived with his grandmother. She loved him very much, in spite of
his inquiring mind, and hardly scolded him at all when he frizzled up
her tortoiseshell comb in his anxiety to find out whether it was made of
real tortoiseshell or of something that would burn. Edmund went to
school, of course, now and then, and sometimes he could not prevent
himself from learning something, but he never did it on purpose.

"It is such waste of time," said he. "They only know what everybody
knows. I want to find out new things that nobody has thought of but me."

"I don't think you're likely to find out anything that none of the wise
men in the whole world have thought of all these thousands of years,"
said Granny.

But Edmund did not agree with her. He played truant whenever he could,
for he was a kindhearted boy, and could not bear to think of a master's
time and labor being thrown away on a boy like himself--who did not wish
to learn, only to find out--when there were so many worthy lads
thirsting for instruction in geography and history and reading and
ciphering, and Mr. Smiles's "Self-Help."

Other boys played truant too, of course--and these went nutting or
blackberrying or wild plum gathering, but Edmund never went on the side
of the town where the green woods and hedges grew. He always went up the
mountain where the great rocks were, and the tall, dark pine trees, and
where other people were afraid to go because of the strange noises that
came out of the caves.

Edmund was not afraid of these noises--though they were very strange and
terrible. He wanted to find out what made them.

One day he did. He had invented, all by himself, a very ingenious and
new kind of lantern, made with a turnip and a tumbler, and when he took
the candle out of Granny's bedroom candlestick to put in it, it gave
quite a splendid light.

He had to go to school next day, and he was caned for being absent
without leave--although he very straightforwardly explained that he had
been too busy making the lantern to have time to come to school.

But the day after he got up very early and took the lunch Granny had
ready for him to take to school--two boiled eggs and an apple
turnover--and he took his lantern and went off as straight as a dart to
the mountains to explore the caves.

The caves were very dark, but his lantern lighted them up beautifully;
and they were most interesting caves, with stalactites and stalagmites
and fossils, and all the things you read about in the instructive books
for the young. But Edmund did not care for any of these things just
then. He wanted to find out what made the noises that people were afraid
of, and there was nothing in the caves to tell him.

Presently he sat down in the biggest cave and listened very carefully,
and it seemed to him that he could distinguish three different sorts of
noises. There was a heavy rumbling sound, like a very large old
gentleman asleep after dinner; and there was a smaller sort of rumble
going on at the same time; and there was a sort of crowing, clucking
sound, such as a chicken might make if it happened to be as big as a
haystack.

"It seems to me," said Edmund to himself, "that the clucking is nearer
than the others." So he started up again and explored the caves once
more. He found out nothing, but about halfway up the wall of the cave,
he saw a hole. And, being a boy, he climbed up to it and crept in; and
it was the entrance to a rocky passage. And now the clucking sounded
more plainly than before, and he could hardly hear the rumbling at all.

"I _am_ going to find out something at last," said Edmund, and on he
went. The passage wound and twisted, and twisted and turned, and turned
and wound, but Edmund kept on.

"My lantern's burning better and better," said he presently, but the
next minute he saw that all the light did not come from his lantern. It
was a pale yellow light, and it shone down the passage far ahead of him
through what looked like the chink of a door.

"I expect it's the fire in the middle of the earth," said Edmund, who
had not been able to help learning about that at school.

But quite suddenly the fire ahead gave a pale flicker and went down; and
the clucking ceased.

The next moment Edmund turned a corner and found himself in front of a
rocky door. The door was ajar. He went in, and there was a round cave,
like the dome of St. Paul's. In the middle of the cave was a hole like a
very big hand-washing basin, and in the middle of the basin Edmund saw
a large pale person sitting.

This person had a man's face and a griffin's body, and big feathery
wings, and a snake's tail, and a cock's comb and neck feathers.

"Whatever are you?" said Edmund.

"I'm a poor starving cockatrice," answered the pale person in a very
faint voice, "and I shall die--oh, I know I shall! My fire's gone out! I
can't think how it happened; I must have been asleep. I have to stir it
seven times round with my tail once in a hundred years to keep it
alight, and my watch must have been wrong. And now I shall die."

I think I have said before what a kindhearted boy Edmund was.

"Cheer up," said he. "I'll light your fire for you." And off he went,
and in a few minutes he came back with a great armful of sticks from the
pine trees outside, and with these and a lesson book or two that he had
forgotten to lose before, and which, quite by an oversight, were safe in
his pocket, he lit a fire all around the cockatrice. The wood blazed up,
and presently something in the basin caught fire, and Edmund saw that it
was a sort of liquid that burned like the brandy in a snapdragon. And
now the cockatrice stirred it with his tail and flapped his wings in it
so that some of it splashed out on Edmund's hand and burnt it rather
badly. But the cockatrice grew red and strong and happy, and its comb
grew scarlet, and its feathers glossy, and it lifted itself up and
crowed "Cock-a-trice-a-doodle-doo!" very loudly and clearly.

Edmund's kindly nature was charmed to see the cockatrice so much
improved in health, and he said: "Don't mention it; delighted, I'm
sure," when the cockatrice began to thank him.

"But what can I do for you?" said the creature.

"Tell me stories," said Edmund.

"What about?" said the cockatrice.

"About true things that they don't know at school," said Edmund.

So the cockatrice began, and he told him about mines and treasures and
geological formations, and about gnomes and fairies and dragons, and
about glaciers and the Stone Age and the beginning of the world, and
about the unicorn and the phoenix, and about Magic, black and white.

And Edmund ate his eggs and his turnover, and listened. And when he got
hungry again he said good-bye and went home. But he came again the next
day for more stories, and the next day, and the next, for a long time.

He told the boys at school about the cockatrice and his wonderful true
tales, and the boys liked the stories; but when he told the master he
was caned for untruthfulness.

"But it's true," said Edmund. "Just you look where the fire burnt my
hand."

"I see you've been playing with fire--into mischief as usual," said the
master, and he caned Edmund harder than ever. The master was ignorant
and unbelieving: but I am told that some schoolmasters are not like
that.

Now, one day Edmund made a new lantern out of something chemical that he
sneaked from the school laboratory. And with it he went exploring again
to see if he could find the things that made the other sorts of noises.
And in quite another part of the mountain he found a dark passage, all
lined with brass, so that it was like the inside of a huge telescope,
and at the very end of it he found a bright green door. There was a
brass plate on the door that said MRS. D. KNOCK AND RING, and a white
label that said CALL ME AT THREE. Edmund had a watch: It had been given
to him on his birthday two days before, and he had not yet had time to
take it to pieces and see what made it go, so it was still going. He
looked at it now. It said a quarter to three.

Did I tell you before what a kindhearted boy Edmund was? He sat down on
the brass doorstep and waited till three o'clock. Then he knocked and
rang, and there was a rattling and puffing inside. The great door flew
open, and Edmund had only just time to hide behind it when out came an
immense yellow dragon, who wriggled off down the brass cave like a long,
rattling worm--or perhaps more like a monstrous centipede.

Edmund crept slowly out and saw the dragon stretching herself on the
rocks in the sun, and he crept past the great creature and tore down the
hill into the town and burst into school, crying out: "There's a great
dragon coming! Somebody ought to do something, or we shall all be
destroyed."

He was caned for untruthfulness without any delay. His master was never
one for postponing a duty.

"But it's true," said Edmund. "You just see if it isn't."

He pointed out of the window, and everyone could see a vast yellow cloud
rising up into the air above the mountain.

"It's only a thunder shower," said the master, and caned Edmund more
than ever. This master was not like some masters I know: He was very
obstinate, and would not believe his own eyes if they told him anything
different from what he had been saying before his eyes spoke.

So while the master was writing _Lying is very wrong, and liars must be
caned. It is all for their own good_ on the black-board for Edmund to
copy out seven hundred times, Edmund sneaked out of school and ran for
his life across the town to warn his granny, but she was not at home. So
then he made off through the back door of the town, and raced up the
hill to tell the cockatrice and ask for his help. It never occurred to
him that the cockatrice might not believe him. You see, he had heard so
many wonderful tales from him and had believed them all--and when you
believe all a person's stories they ought to believe yours. This is only
fair.

At the mouth of the cockatrice's cave Edmund stopped, very much out of
breath, to look back at the town. As he ran he had felt his little legs
tremble and shake, while the shadows of the great yellow cloud fell upon
him. Now he stood once more between warm earth and blue sky, and looked
down on the green plain dotted with fruit trees and red-roofed farms
and plots of gold corn. In the middle of that plain the gray town lay,
with its strong walls with the holes pierced for the archers, and its
square towers with holes for dropping melted lead on the heads of
strangers; its bridges and its steeples; the quiet river edged with
willow and alder; and the pleasant green garden place in the middle of
the town, where people sat on holidays to smoke their pipes and listen
to the band.

Edmund saw it all; and he saw, too, creeping across the plain, marking
her way by a black line as everything withered at her touch, the great
yellow dragon--and he saw that she was many times bigger than the whole
town.

"Oh, my poor, dear granny," said Edmund, for he had a feeling heart, as
I ought to have told you before.

The yellow dragon crept nearer and nearer, licking her greedy lips with
her long red tongue, and Edmund knew that in the school his master was
still teaching earnestly and still not believing Edmund's tale the least
little bit.

"He'll jolly well have to believe it soon, anyhow," said Edmund to
himself, and though he was a very tender-hearted boy--I think it only
fair to tell you that he was this--I am afraid he was not as sorry as he
ought to have been to think of the way in which his master was going to
learn how to believe what Edmund said. Then the dragon opened her jaws
wider and wider and wider. Edmund shut his eyes, for though his master
was in the town, the amiable Edmund shrank from beholding the awful
sight.

When he opened his eyes again there was no town--only a bare place where
it had stood, and the dragon licking her lips and curling herself up to
go to sleep, just as Kitty does when she has quite finished with a
mouse. Edmund gasped once or twice, and then ran into the cave to tell
the cockatrice.

"Well," said the cockatrice thoughtfully, when the tale had been told.
"What then?"

"I don't think you quite understand," said Edmund gently. "The dragon
has swallowed up the town."

"Does it matter?" said the cockatrice.

[Illustration: "Creeping across the plain." _See page 147._]

"But I live there," said Edmund blankly.

"Never mind," said the cockatrice, turning over in the pool of fire to
warm its other side, which was chilly, because Edmund had, as usual,
forgotten to close the cave door. "You can live here with me."

"I'm afraid I haven't made my meaning clear," said Edmund patiently.
"You see, my granny is in the town, and I can't bear to lose my granny
like this."

"I don't know what a granny may be," said the cockatrice, who seemed to
be growing weary of the subject, "but if it's a possession to which you
attach any importance----"

"Of course it is," said Edmund, losing patience at last. "Oh--do help
me. What can I do?"

"If I were you," said his friend, stretching itself out in the pool of
flame so that the waves covered him up to his chin, "I should find the
drakling and bring it here."

"But why?" said Edmund. He had gotten into the habit of asking why at
school, and the master had always found it trying. As for the
cockatrice, he was not going to stand that sort of thing for a moment.

"Oh, don't talk to me!" he said, splashing angrily in the flames. "I
give you advice; take it or leave it--I shan't bother about you anymore.
If you bring the drakling here to me, I'll tell you what to do next. If
not, not."

And the cockatrice drew the fire up close around his shoulders, tucked
himself up in it, and went to sleep.

Now this was exactly the right way to manage Edmund, only no one had
ever thought of trying to do it before.

He stood for a moment looking at the cockatrice; the cockatrice looked
at Edmund out of the corner of his eye and began to snore very loudly,
and Edmund understood, once and for all, that the cockatrice wasn't
going to put up with any nonsense. He respected the cockatrice very much
from that moment, and set off at once to do exactly as he was told--for
perhaps the first time in his life.

Though he had played truant so often, he knew one or two things that
perhaps you don't know, though you have always been so good and gone to
school regularly. For instance, he knew that a drakling is a dragon's
baby, and he felt sure that what he had to do was to find the third of
the three noises that people used to hear coming from the mountains. Of
course, the clucking had been the cockatrice, and the big noise like a
large gentleman asleep after dinner had been the big dragon. So the
smaller rumbling must have been the drakling.

He plunged boldly into the caves and searched and wandered and wandered
and searched, and at last he came to a third door in the mountain, and
on it was written THE BABY IS ASLEEP. Just before the door stood fifty
pairs of copper shoes, and no one could have looked at them for a moment
without seeing what sort of feet they were made for, for each shoe had
five holes in it for the drakling's five claws. And there were fifty
pairs because the drakling took after his mother, and had a hundred
feet--no more and no less. He was the kind called _Draco centipedis_ in
the learned books.

Edmund was a good deal frightened, but he remembered the grim expression
of the cockatrice's eye, and the fixed determination of his snore still
rang in his ears, in spite of the snoring of the drakling, which was, in
itself, considerable. He screwed up his courage, flung the door open,
and called out: "Hello, you drakling. Get out of bed this minute."

The drakling stopped snoring and said sleepily: "It ain't time yet."

"Your mother says you are to, anyhow; and look sharp about it, what's
more," said Edmund, gaining courage from the fact that the drakling had
not yet eaten him.

The drakling sighed, and Edmund could hear it getting out of bed. The
next moment it began to come out of its room and to put on its shoes. It
was not nearly so big as its mother; only about the size of a Baptist
chapel.

"Hurry up," said Edmund, as it fumbled clumsily with the seventeenth
shoe.

"Mother said I was never to go out without my shoes," said the
drakling; so Edmund had to help it to put them on. It took some time,
and was not a comfortable occupation.

At last the drakling said it was ready, and Edmund, who had forgotten to
be frightened, said, "Come on then," and they went back to the
cockatrice.

The cave was rather narrow for the drakling, but it made itself thin, as
you may see a fat worm do when it wants to get through a narrow crack in
a piece of hard earth.

"Here it is," said Edmund, and the cockatrice woke up at once and asked
the drakling very politely to sit down and wait. "Your mother will be
here presently," said the cockatrice, stirring up its fire.

The drakling sat down and waited, but it watched the fire with hungry
eyes.

"I beg your pardon," it said at last, "but I am always accustomed to
having a little basin of fire as soon as I get up, and I feel rather
faint. Might I?"

It reached out a claw toward the cockatrice's basin.

"Certainly not," said the cockatrice sharply. "Where were you brought
up? Did they never teach you that 'we must not ask for all we see'? Eh?"

"I beg your pardon," said the drakling humbly, "but I am really _very_
hungry."

The cockatrice beckoned Edmund to the side of the basin and whispered in
his ear so long and so earnestly that one side of the dear boy's hair
was quite burnt off. And he never once interrupted the cockatrice to ask
why. But when the whispering was over, Edmund--whose heart, as I may
have mentioned, was very tender--said to the drakling: "If you are
really hungry, poor thing, I can show you where there is plenty of
fire." And off he went through the caves, and the drakling followed.

When Edmund came to the proper place he stopped.

There was a round iron thing in the floor, like the ones the men shoot
the coals down into your cellar, only much larger. Edmund heaved it up
by a hook that stuck out at one side, and a rush of hot air came up
that nearly choked him. But the drakling came close and looked down with
one eye and sniffed, and said: "That smells good, eh?"

"Yes," said Edmund, "well, that's the fire in the middle of the earth.
There's plenty of it, all done to a turn. You'd better go down and begin
your breakfast, hadn't you?"

So the drakling wriggled through the hole, and began to crawl faster and
faster down the slanting shaft that leads to the fire in the middle of
the earth. And Edmund, doing exactly as he had been told, for a wonder,
caught the end of the drakling's tail and ran the iron hook through it
so that the drakling was held fast. And it could not turn around and
wriggle up again to look after its poor tail, because, as everyone
knows, the way to the fires below is very easy to go down, but quite
impossible to come back on. There is something about it in Latin,
beginning: "_Facilis descensus_."

So there was the drakling, fast by the silly tail of it, and there was
Edmund very busy and important and very pleased with himself, hurrying
back to the cockatrice.

"Now," said he.

"Well, now," said the cockatrice. "Go to the mouth of the cave and laugh
at the dragon so that she hears you."

Edmund very nearly said "Why?" but he stopped in time, and instead,
said: "She won't hear me--"

"Oh, very well," said the cockatrice. "No doubt you know best," and he
began to tuck himself up again in the fire, so Edmund did as he was bid.

And when he began to laugh his laughter echoed in the mouth of the cave
till it sounded like the laughter of a whole castleful of giants.

And the dragon, lying asleep in the sun, woke up and said very crossly:
"What are you laughing at?"

[Illustration: "That smells good, eh?" _See page 152._]

"At you," said Edmund, and went on laughing. The dragon bore it as long
as she could, but, like everyone else, she couldn't stand being made fun
of, so presently she dragged herself up the mountain very slowly,
because she had just had a rather heavy meal, and stood outside and
said, "What are you laughing at?" in a voice that made Edmund feel as if
he should never laugh again.

Then the good cockatrice called out: "At you! You've eaten your own
drakling--swallowed it with the town. Your own little drakling! He, he,
he! Ha, ha, ha!"

And Edmund found the courage to cry "Ha, ha!" which sounded like
tremendous laughter in the echo of the cave.

"Dear me," said the dragon. "I _thought_ the town stuck in my throat
rather. I must take it out, and look through it more carefully." And
with that she coughed--and choked--and there was the town, on the
hillside.

Edmund had run back to the cockatrice, and it had told him what to do.
So before the dragon had time to look through the town again for her
drakling, the voice of the drakling itself was heard howling miserably
from inside the mountain, because Edmund was pinching its tail as hard
as he could in the round iron door, like the one where the men pour the
coals out of the sacks into the cellar. And the dragon heard the voice
and said: "Why, whatever's the matter with Baby? He's not here!" and
made herself thin, and crept into the mountain to find her drakling. The
cockatrice kept on laughing as loud as it could, and Edmund kept on
pinching, and presently the great dragon--very long and narrow she had
made herself--found her head where the round hole was with the iron lid.
Her tail was a mile or two off--outside the mountain. When Edmund heard
her coming he gave one last nip to the drakling's tail, and then heaved
up the lid and stood behind it, so that the dragon could not see him.
Then he loosed the drakling's tail from the hook, and the dragon peeped
down the hole just in time to see her drakling's tail disappear down the
smooth, slanting shaft with one last squeak of pain. Whatever may have
been the poor dragon's other faults, she was an excellent mother. She
plunged headfirst into the hole, and slid down the shaft after her baby.
Edmund watched her head go--and then the rest of her. She was so long,
now she had stretched herself thin, that it took all night. It was like
watching a goods train go by in Germany. When the last joint of her tail
had gone Edmund slammed down the iron door. He was a kindhearted boy, as
you have guessed, and he was glad to think that dragon and drakling
would now have plenty to eat of their favorite food, forever and ever.
He thanked the cockatrice for his kindness, and got home just in time to
have breakfast and get to school by nine. Of course, he could not have
done this if the town had been in its old place by the river in the
middle of the plain, but it had taken root on the hillside just where
the dragon left it.

"Well," said the master, "where were you yesterday?"

Edmund explained, and the master at once caned him for not speaking the
truth.

"But it _is_ true," said Edmund. "Why, the whole town was swallowed by
the dragon. You know it was--"

"Nonsense," said the master. "There was a thunderstorm and an
earthquake, that's all." And he caned Edmund more than ever.

"But," said Edmund, who always would argue, even in the least favorable
circumstances, "how do you account for the town being on the hillside
now, instead of by the river as it used to be?"

"It was _always_ on the hillside," said the master. And all the class
said the same, for they had more sense than to argue with a person who
carried a cane.

"But look at the maps," said Edmund, who wasn't going to be beaten in
argument, whatever he might be in the flesh. The master pointed to the
map on the wall.

There was the town, on the hillside! And nobody but Edmund could see
that of course the shock of being swallowed by the dragon had upset all
the maps and put them wrong.

And then the master caned Edmund again, explaining that this time it was
not for untruthfulness, but for his vexatious argumentative habits. This
will show you what a prejudiced and ignorant man Edmund's master
was--how different from the revered Head of the nice school where your
good parents are kind enough to send you.

The next day Edmund thought he would prove his tale by showing people
the cockatrice, and he actually persuaded some people to go into the
cave with him; but the cockatrice had bolted himself in and would not
open the door--so Edmund got nothing by that except a scolding for
taking people on a wild-goose chase.

"A wild goose," said they, "is nothing like a cockatrice."

And poor Edmund could not say a word, though he knew how wrong they
were. The only person who believed him was his granny. But then she was
very old and very kind, and had always said he was the best of boys.

Only one good thing came of all this long story. Edmund has never been
quite the same boy since. He does not argue quite so much, and he agreed
to be apprenticed to a locksmith, so that he might one day be able to
pick the lock of the cockatrice's front door--and learn some more of the
things that other people don't know.

But he is quite an old man now, and he hasn't gotten that door open
yet!

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 23, "around" changed to "round" (round piece of land)

Page 152, "chocked" changed to "choked" (nearly choked him)

Page 154, "he" changed to "she" (that she coughed)





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