The Book of Dragons (7 page)

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 dragon-proof 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 on to 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 Ellie 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.

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.

He rose into the air, rattling like a third-class carriage

Then Effie took out the knife Harry had given her on her birthday. It only cost 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 Tap-room. 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.”

So they went boldly into the tap-room, 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 to baths. And as they could both read words of two syllables or even three sometimes, they understood at once that they had got 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 dragon-proof 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. And 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.

So 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 towards 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 towards 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.

And 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 got 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!

THE ICE DRAGON, OR DO AS YOU ARE TOLD

T
his 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 in 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 which 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.

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