The Book of Dragons (3 page)

The Manticora took refuge in the General Post Office

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. Then 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 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, “The 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 the moon-rising.

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 would be worn 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 onto his white horse, and had just jumped on when up came the dragon. He was flying very feebly, and looking round 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 round and round 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 over-exert 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 tight 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 Football 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 pussies 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.

UNCLE JAMES, OR THE PURPLE STRANGER

T
he Princess and the gardener’s boy were playing in the back yard.

“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 grownup, 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 back yard. 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. And 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 round 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 round and round 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 teetotum.

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 round they had been going, and began to spin round the wrong way. Presently Centre 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 round 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 round 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.

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