The Book of Dragons (14 page)

“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 the 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 half penny 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 round 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 “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 loosed 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 come in 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.

He brought something in his mouth—it was a bag of gold

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.

THE FIERY DRAGON, OR THE HEART OF
STONE AND THE HEART OF GOLD

T
he 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 a 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, and the downs that sloped down to the sea, and 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 died, leaving her cousin to take care of the kingdom till she grew up, he, being a very evil Prince, had taken everything away from her, and all the people had 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.

And 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 is a green-ferny ditch and a rose-thorny hedge, and then comes 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 dragon-proof 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.

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