Part 2 out of 3
splendid church and once more in the open country.
This was all right; this was just as it should be. The sky was
a fleckless blue, the flags danced in the breeze, and our merry
bridal party, with jest and laughter, jogged down to the
water-side. I was through the town by this time, and out on the
other side of the hill, where I had always wanted to be; and,
sure enough, there was the harbour, all thick with curly ships.
Most of them were piled high with wedding-presents--bales of
silk, and gold and silver plate, and comfortable-looking bags
suggesting bullion; and the gayest ship of all lay close up to
the carpeted landing-stage. Already the bride was stepping
daintily down the gangway, her ladies following primly, one by
one; a few minutes more and we should all be aboard, the hawsers
would splash in the water, the sails would fill and strain. From
the deck I should see the little walled town recede and sink and
grow dim, while every plunge of our bows brought us nearer to the
happy island--it was an island we were bound for, I knew well!
Already I could see the island-people waving hands on the crowded
quay, whence the little houses ran up the hill to the castle,
crowning all with its towers and battlements. Once more we should
ride together, a merry procession, clattering up the steep street
and through the grim gateway; and then we should have arrived,
then we should all dine together, then we should have reached
home! And then--Ow! Ow! Ow!
Bitter it is to stumble out of an opalescent dream into the
cold daylight; cruel to lose in a second a sea-voyage, an island,
and a castle that was to be practically your own; but cruellest
and bitterest of all to know, in addition to your loss, that the
fingers of an angry aunt have you tight by the scruff of your
neck. My beautiful book was gone too--ravished from my grasp by
the dressy lady, who joined in the outburst of denunciation as
heartily as if she had been a relative--and naught was left me
but to blubber dismally, awakened of a sudden to the harshness of
real things and the unnumbered hostilities of the actual world. I
cared little for their reproaches, their abuse; but I sorrowed
heartily for my lost ship, my vanished island, my uneaten dinner,
and for the knowledge that, if I wanted any angels to play with,
I must henceforth put up with the anaemic, night-gowned
nonentities that hovered over the bed of the Sunday-school child
in the pages of the Sabbath Improver.
I was led ignominiously out of the house, in a pulpy, watery
state, while the butler handled his swing doors with a stony,
impassive countenance, intended for the deception of the very
elect, though it did not deceive me. I knew well enough that next
time he was off duty, and strolled around our way, we should meet
in our kitchen as man to man, and I would punch him and ask him
riddles, and he would teach me tricks with corks and bits of
string. So his unsympathetic manner did not add to my depression.
I maintained a diplomatic blubber long after we had been packed
into our pony-carriage and the lodge-gate had clicked behind us,
because it served as a sort of armour-plating against heckling
and argument and abuse, and I was thinking hard and wanted to be
let alone. And the thoughts that I was thinking were two.
First I thought, "I've got ahead of Charlotte this time!"
And next I thought, "When I've grown up big, and have money of
my own, and a full-sized walking-stick, I will set out early one
morning, and never stop till I get to that little walled town."
There ought to be no real difficulty in the task. It only meant
asking here and asking there, and people were very obliging, and
I could describe every stick and stone of it.
As for the island which I had never even seen, that was not so
easy. Yet I felt confident that somehow, at some time, sooner or
later, I was destined to arrive.
A SAGA OF THE SEAS
It happened one day that some ladies came to call, who were not
at all the sort I was used to. They suffered from a grievance, so
far as I could gather, and the burden of their plaint was Man--
Men in general and Man in particular. (Though the words were but
spoken, I could clearly discern the capital M in their acid
Of course I was not present officially, so to speak. Down
below, in my sub-world of chair-legs and hearthrugs and the
undersides of sofas, I was working out my own floor-problems,
while they babbled on far above my head, considering me as but a
chair-leg, or even something lower in the scale. Yet I was
listening hard all the time, with that respectful consideration
one gives to all grown-up people's remarks, so long as one knows
It seemed a serious indictment enough, as they rolled it out.
In tact, considerateness, and right appreciation, as well as in
taste and aesthetic sensibilities--we failed at every point, we
breeched and bearded prentice-jobs of Nature; and I began to feel
like collapsing on the carpet from sheer spiritual anaemia. But
when one of them, with a swing of her skirt, prostrated a whole
regiment of my brave tin soldiers, and never apologized nor even
offered her aid toward revivifying the battle-line, I could not
help feeling that in tactfulness and consideration for others she
was still a little to seek. And I said as much, with some
directness of language.
That was the end of me, from a society point of view. Rudeness
to visitors was the unpardonable sin, and in two seconds I had my
marching orders, and was sullenly wending my way to the St.
Helena of the nursery. As I climbed the stair, my thoughts
reverted somehow to a game we had been playing that very morning.
It was the good old game of Rafts,--a game that will be played
till all the oceans are dry and all the trees in the world are
felled--and after. And we were all crowded together on the
precarious little platform, and Selina occupied every bit as much
room as I did, and Charlotte's legs didn't dangle over any more
than Harold's. The pitiless sun overhead beat on us all with
tropic impartiality, and the hungry sharks, whose fins scored the
limitless Pacific stretching out on every side, were impelled by
an appetite that made no exceptions as to sex. When we shared the
ultimate biscuit and circulated the last water-keg, the girls got
an absolute fourth apiece, and neither more nor less; and the
only partiality shown was entirely in favour of Charlotte, who
was allowed to perceive and to hail the saviour-sail on the
horizon. And this was only because it was her turn to do so, not
because she happened to be this or that. Surely, the rules of the
raft were the rules of life, and in what, then, did these
visitor-ladies' grievance consist?
Puzzled and a little sulky, I pushed open the door of the
deserted nursery, where the raft that had rocked beneath so many
hopes and fears still occupied the ocean-floor. To the dull eye,
that merely tarries upon the outsides of things, it might have
appeared unromantic and even unraftlike, consisting only as it
did of a round sponge-bath on a bald deal towel-horse placed flat
on the floor. Even to myself much of the recent raft-glamour
seemed to have departed as I half-mechanically stepped inside and
curled myself up in it for a solitary voyage. Once I was in,
however, the old magic and mystery returned in full flood, when I
discovered that the inequalities of the towel-horse caused the
bath to rock, slightly, indeed, but easily and incessantly. A few
minutes of this delightful motion, and one was fairly launched.
So those women below didn't want us? Well, there were other
women, and other places, that did. And this was going to be no
scrambling raft-affair, but a full-blooded voyage of the Man,
equipped and purposeful, in search of what was his rightful own.
Whither should I shape my course, and what sort of vessel
should I charter for the voyage? The shipping of all England was
mine to pick from, and the far corners of the globe were my
rightful inheritance. A frigate, of course, seemed the natural
vehicle for a boy of spirit to set out in. And yet there was
something rather "uppish" in commanding a frigate at the very
first set-off, and little spread was left for the ambition.
Frigates, too, could always be acquired later by sheer adventure;
and your real hero generally saved up a square-rigged ship for
the final achievement and the rapt return. No, it was a schooner
that I was aboard of--a schooner whose masts raked devilishly as
the leaping seas hissed along her low black gunwale. Many
hairbrained youths started out on a mere cutter; but I was
prudent, and besides I had some inkling of the serious affairs
that were ahead.
I have said I was already on board; and, indeed, on this
occasion I was too hungry for adventure to linger over what would
have been a special delight at a period of more leisure--the
dangling about the harbour, the choosing your craft, selecting
your shipmates, stowing your cargo, and fitting up your private
cabin with everything you might want to put your hand on in any
emergency whatever. I could not wait for that. Out beyond
soundings the big seas were racing westward and calling me,
albatrosses hovered motionless, expectant of a comrade, and a
thousand islands held each of them a fresh adventure, stored up,
hidden away, awaiting production, expressly saved for me. We were
humming, close-hauled, down the Channel, spray in the eyes and
the shrouds thrilling musically, in much less time than the
average man would have taken to transfer his Gladstone bag and
his rugs from the train to a sheltered place on the
promenade-deck of the tame daily steamer.
So long as we were in pilotage I stuck manfully to the wheel.
The undertaking was mine, and with it all its responsibilities,
and there was some tricky steering to be done as we sped by
headland and bay, ere we breasted the great seas outside and the
land fell away behind us. But as soon as the Atlantic had opened
out I began to feel that it would be rather nice to take tea by
myself in my own cabin, and it therefore became necessary to
invent a comrade or two, to take their turn at the wheel.
This was easy enough. A friend or two of my own age, from among
the boys I knew; a friend or two from characters in the books I
knew; and a friend or two from No-man's-land, where every
fellow's a born sailor; and the crew was complete. I addressed
them on the poop, divided them into watches, gave instructions I
should be summoned on the first sign of pirates, whales, or
Frenchmen, and retired below to a well-earned spell of
That was the right sort of cabin that I stepped into, shutting
the door behind me with a click. Of course, fire-arms were the
first thing I looked for, and there they were, sure enough, in
their racks, dozens of 'em--double-barrelled guns, and repeating-
rifles, and long pistols, and shiny plated revolvers. I rang up
the steward and ordered tea, with scones, and jam in its native
pots--none of your finicking shallow glass dishes; and, when
properly streaked with jam, and blown out with tea, I went
through the armoury, clicked the rifles and revolvers, tested the
edges of the cutlasses with my thumb, and filled the cartridge-
belts chock-full. Everything was there, and of the best quality,
just as if I had spent a whole fortnight knocking about Plymouth
and ordering things. Clearly, if this cruise came to grief, it
would not be for want of equipment.
Just as I was beginning on the lockers and the drawers, the
watch reported icebergs on both bows--and, what was more to the
point, coveys of Polar bears on the icebergs. I grasped a rifle
or two, and hastened on deck. The spectacle was indeed
magnificent--it generally is, with icebergs on both bows, and
these were exceptionally enormous icebergs. But I hadn't come
there to paint Academy pictures, so the captain's gig was in the
water and manned almost ere the boatswain's whistle had ceased
sounding, and we were pulling hard for the Polar bears--myself
and the rifles in the stern-sheets.
I have rarely enjoyed better shooting than I got during that
afternoon's tramp over the icebergs. Perhaps I was in specially
good form; perhaps the bears "rose" well. Anyhow, the bag was a
portentous one. In later days, on reading of the growing scarcity
of Polar bears, my conscience has pricked me; but that afternoon
I experienced no compunction. Nevertheless, when the huge pile of
skins had been hoisted on board, and a stiff grog had been served
out to the crew of the captain's gig, I ordered the schooner's
head to be set due south. For icebergs were played out, for the
moment, and it was getting to be time for something more
Tropical was a mild expression of what was to come, as was
shortly proved. It was about three bells in the next day's
forenoon watch when the look-out man first sighted the pirate
brigantine. I disliked the looks of her from the first, and,
after piping all hands to quarters, had the brass carronade on
the fore-deck crammed with grape to the muzzle.
This proved a wise precaution. For the flagitious pirate craft,
having crept up to us under the colours of the Swiss Republic, a
state with which we were just then on the best possible terms,
suddenly shook out the skull-and-cross-bones at her masthead, and
let fly with round-shot at close quarters, knocking into pieces
several of my crew, who could ill be spared. The sight of their
disconnected limbs aroused my ire to its utmost height, and I let
them have the contents of the brass carronade, with ghastly
effect. Next moment the hulls of the two ships were grinding
together, the cold steel flashed from its scabbard, and the
death-grapple had begun.
In spite of the deadly work of my grape-gorged carronade, our
foe still outnumbered us, I reckoned, by three to one. Honour
forbade my fixing it at a lower figure--this was the minimum rate
at which one dared to do business with pirates. They were stark
veterans, too, every man seamed with ancient sabre-cuts, whereas
my crew had many of them hardly attained the maturity which is
the gift of ten long summers--and the whole thing was so sudden
that I had no time to invent a reinforcement of riper years. It
was not surprising, therefore, that my dauntless boarding-party,
axe in hand and cutlass between teeth, fought their way to the
pirates' deck only to be repulsed again and yet again, and that
our planks were soon slippery with our own ungrudged and
inexhaustible blood. At this critical point in the conflict, the
bo'sun, grasping me by the arm, drew my attention to a
magnificent British man-of-war, just hove to in the offing, while
the signalman, his glass at his eye, reported that she was
inquiring whether we wanted any assistance or preferred to go
through with the little job ourselves.
This veiled attempt to share our laurels with us, courteously
as it was worded, put me on my mettle. Wiping the blood out of my
eyes, I ordered the signalman to reply instantly, with the half-
dozen or so of flags that he had at his disposal, that much as we
appreciated the valour of the regular service, and the delicacy
of spirit that animated its commanders, still this was an
orthodox case of young gentleman-adventurer versus the unshaved
pirate, and Her Majesty's Marine had nothing to do but to form
the usual admiring and applauding background. Then, rallying
round me the remnant of my faithful crew, I selected a fresh
cutlass (I had worn out three already) and plunged once more into
the pleasing carnage.
The result was not long doubtful. Indeed, I could not allow it
to be, as I was already getting somewhat bored with the pirate
business, and was wanting to get on to something more southern
and sensuous. All serious resistance came to an end as soon as I
had reached the quarter-deck and cut down the pirate chief--a
fine black-bearded fellow in his way, but hardly up to date in
his parry-and-thrust business. Those whom our cutlasses had
spared were marched out along their own plank, in the approved
old fashion; and in tune the scuppers relieved the decks of the
blood that made traffic temporarily impossible. And all the time
the British-man-of-war admired and applauded in the offing.
As soon as we had got through with the necessary throat-cutting
and swabbing-up all hands set to work to discover treasure; and
soon the deck shone bravely with ingots and Mexican dollars and
church plate. There were ropes of pearls, too, and big stacks of
nougat; and rubies, and gold watches, and Turkish Delight in
tubs. But I left these trifles to my crew, and continued the
search alone. For by this time I had determined that there should
be a Princess on board, carried off to be sold in captivity to
the bold bad Moors, and now with beating heart awaiting her
rescue by me, the Perseus of her dreams.
I came upon her at last in the big state-cabin in the stern;
and she wore a holland pinafore over her Princess-clothes, and
she had brown wavy hair, hanging down her back, just like--well,
never mind, she had brown wavy hair. When gentle-folk meet,
courtesies pass; and I will not weary other people with relating
all the compliments and counter-compliments that we exchanged,
all in the most approved manner. Occasions like this, when
tongues wagged smoothly and speech flowed free, were always
especially pleasing to me, who am naturally inclined to be
tongue-tied with women. But at last ceremony was over, and we sat
on the table and swung our legs and agreed to be fast friends.
And I showed her my latest knife--one-bladed, horn-handled,
terrific, hung round my neck with string; and she showed me the
chiefest treasures the ship contained, hidden away in a most
private and particular locker--a musical box with a glass top
that let you see the works, and a railway train with real lines
and a real tunnel, and a tin iron-clad that followed a magnet,
and was ever so much handier in many respects than the real
full-sized thing that still lay and applauded in the offing.
There was high feasting that night in my cabin. We invited the
captain of the man-of-war--one could hardly do less, it seemed to
me--and the Princess took one end of the table and I took the
other, and the captain was very kind and nice, and told us fairy-
stories, and asked us both to come and stay with him next
Christmas, and promised we should have some hunting, on real
ponies. When he left I gave him some ingots and things, and saw
him into his boat; and then I went round the ship and addressed
the crew in several set speeches, which moved them deeply, and
with my own hands loaded up the carronade with grape-shot till it
ran over at the mouth. This done, I retired into the cabin with
the Princess, and locked the door. And first we started the
musical box, taking turns to wind it up; and then we made toffee
in the cabin-stove; and then we ran the train round and round the
room, and through and through the tunnel; and lastly we swam the
tin ironclad in the bath, with the soap-dish for a pirate.
Next morning the air was rich with spices, porpoises rolled and
gambolled round the bows, and the South Sea Islands lay full in
view (they were the real South Sea Islands, of course--not the
badly furnished journeymen-islands that are to be perceived on
the map). As for the pirate brigantine and the man-of-war, I
don't really know what became of them. They had played their part
very well, for the time, but I wasn't going to bother to account
for them, so I just let them evaporate quietly. The islands
provided plenty of fresh occupation. For here were little bays of
silvery sand, dotted with land-crabs; groves of palm-trees
wherein monkeys frisked and pelted each other with cocoanuts; and
caves, and sites for stockades, and hidden treasures
significantly indicated by skulls, in riotous plenty; while birds
and beasts of every colour and all latitudes made pleasing noises
which excited the sporting instinct.
The islands lay conveniently close together, which necessitated
careful steering as we threaded the devious and intricate
channels that separated them. Of course no one else could be
trusted at the wheel, so it is not surprising that for some time
I quite forgot that there was such a thing as a Princess on
board. This is too much the masculine way, whenever there's any
real business doing. However, I remembered her as soon as the
anchor was dropped, and I went below and consoled her, and we had
breakfast together, and she was allowed to "pour out," which
quite made up for everything. When breakfast was over we ordered
out the captain's gig, and rowed all about the islands, and
paddled, and explored, and hunted bisons and beetles and
butterflies, and found everything we wanted. And I gave her pink
shells and tortoises and great milky pearls and little green
lizards; and she gave me guineapigs, and coral to make into,
waistcoat-buttons; and tame sea-otters, and a real pirate's
powder-horn. It was a prolific day and a long-lasting one, and
weary were we with all our hunting and our getting and our
gathering, when at last we clambered into the captain's gig and
rowed back to a late tea.
The following day my conscience rose up and accused me. This
was not what I had come out to do. These triflings with pearls
and parrakeets, these al fresco luncheons off yams and bananas--
there was no "making of history" about them. I resolved that
without further dallying I would turn to and capture the French
frigate, according to the original programme. So we upped anchor
with the morning tide, and set all sail for San Salvador.
Of course I had no idea where San Salvador really was. I
haven't now, for that matter. But it seemed a right-sounding sort
of name for a place that was to have a bay that was to hold a
French frigate that was to be cut out; so, as I said, we sailed
for San Salvador, and made the bay about eight bells that
evening, and saw the top-masts of the frigate over the headland
that sheltered her. And forthwith there was supimoned a Council
It is a very serious matter, a Council of War. We had not held
one hitherto, pirates and truck of that sort not calling for such
solemn treatment. But in an affair that might almost be called
international, it seemed well to proceed gravely and by regular
steps. So we met in my cabin--the Princess, and the bo'sun, and a
boy from the real-life lot, and a man from among the book-men,
and a fellow from No-man's-land, and myself in the chair. The
bo'sun had taken part in so many cuttings-out during his past
career that practically he did all the talking, and was the
Council of War himself. It was to be an affair of boats, he
explained. A boat's-crew would be told off to cut the cables, and
two boats'-crews to climb stealthily on board and overpower the
sleeping Frenchmen, and two more boats'-crews to haul the doomed
vessel out of the bay. This made rather a demand on my limited
resources as to crews; but I was prepared to stretch a point in a
case like this, and I speedily brought my numbers up to the
The night was both moonless and starless--I had arranged all
that--when the boats pushed off from the side of our vessel, and
made their way toward the ship that, unfortunately for itself,
had been singled out by Fate to carry me home in triumph. I was
in excellent spirits, and, indeed, as I stepped over the side, a
lawless idea crossed my mind, of discovering another Princess on
board the frigate--a French one this time; I had heard that that
sort was rather nice. But I abandoned the notion at once,
recollecting that the heroes of all history had always been noted
for their unswerving constancy. The French captain was snug in
bed when I clambered in through his cabin window and held a naked
cutlass to his throat. Naturally he was surprised and
considerably alarmed, till I discharged one of my set speeches at
him, pointing out that my men already had his crew under
hatchways, that his vessel was even then being towed out of
harbour, and that, on his accepting the situation with a good
grace, his person and private property would be treated with all
the respect due to the representative of a great nation for which
I entertained feelings of the profoundest admiration and regard
and all that sort of thing. It was a beautiful speech. The
Frenchman at once presented me with his parole, in the usual way,
and, in a reply of some power and pathos, only begged that I
would retire a moment while he put on his trousers. This I
gracefully consented to do, and the incident ended.
Two of my boats were sunk by the fire from the forts on the
shore, and several brave fellows were severely wounded in the
hand-to-hand struggle with the French crew for the possession of
the frigate. But the bo'sun's admirable strategy, and my own
reckless gallantry in securing the French captain at the outset,
had the fortunate result of keeping down the death-rate. It was
all for the sake of the Princess that I had arranged so
comparatively tame a victory. For myself, I rather liked a fair
amount of blood-letting, red-hot shot, and flying splinters. But
when you have girls about the place, they have got to be
considered to a certain extent.
There was another supper-party that night, in my cabin, as soon
as we had got well out to sea; and the French captain, who was
the guest of the evening, was in the greatest possible form. We
became sworn friends, and exchanged invitations to come and stay
at each other's homes, and really it was quite difficult to
induce him to take his leave. But at last he and his crew were
bundled into their boats; and after I had pressed some pirate
bullion upon them--delicately, of course, but in a pleasant
manner that admitted of no denial--the gallant fellows quite
broke down, and we parted, our bosoms heaving with a full sense
of each other's magnanimity and good fellowship.
The next day, which was nearly all taken up with shifting our
quarters into the new frigate, so honourably and easily acquired,
was a very pleasant one, as everyone who has gone up in the world
and moved into a larger house will readily understand. At last I
had grim, black guns all along each side, instead of a rotten
brass carronade: at last I had a square-rigged ship, with real
yards, and a proper quarter-deck. In fact, now that I had soared
as high as could be hoped in a single voyage, it seemed about
time to go home and cut a dash and show off a bit. The worst of
this ocean-theatre was, it held no proper audience. It was hard,
of course, to relinquish all the adventures that still lay
untouched in these Southern seas. Whaling, for instance, had not
yet been entered upon; the joys of exploration, and strange
inland cities innocent of the white man, still awaited me; and
the book of wrecks and rescues was not yet even opened. But I had
achieved a frigate and a Princess, and that was not so bad for a
beginning, and more than enough to show off with before those
dull unadventurous folk who continued on their mill-horse round
The voyage home was a record one, so far as mere speed was
concerned, and all adventures were scornfully left behind, as we
rattled along, for other adventurers who had still their laurels
to win. Hardly later than the noon of next day we dropped anchor
in Plymouth Sound, and heard the intoxicating clamour of bells,
the roar of artillery, and the hoarse cheers of an excited
populace surging down to the quays, that told us we were being
appreciated at something like our true merits. The Lord Mayor was
waiting there to receive us, and with him several Admirals of the
Fleet, as we walked down the lane of pushing, enthusiastic
Devonians, the Princess and I, and our war-worn, weather-beaten,
spoil-laden crew. Everybody was very nice about the French
frigate, and the pirate booty, and the scars still fresh on our
young limbs; yet I think what I liked best of all was, that they
all pronounced the Princess to be a duck, and a peerless, brown-
haired darling, and a true mate for a hero, and of the right
The air was thick with invitations and with the smell of civic
banquets in a forward stage; but I sternly waved all festivities
aside. The coaches-and-four I had ordered immediately on arriving
were blocking the whole of the High Street; the champing of bits
and the pawing of gravel summoned us to take our seats and be
off, to where the real performance awaited us, compared with
which all this was but an interlude. I placed the Princess in the
most highly gilded coach of the lot, and mounted to my place at
her side; and the rest of the crew scrambled on board of the
others as best they might. The whips cracked and the crowd
scattered and cheered as we broke into a gallop for home. The
noisy bells burst into a farewell peal--
Yes, that was undoubtedly the usual bell for school-room tea.
And high time too, I thought, as I tumbled out of the bath, which
was beginning to feel very hard to the projecting portions of my
frame-work. As I trotted downstairs, hungrier even than usual,
farewells floated up from the front door, and I heard the
departing voices of our angular elderly visitors as they made
their way down the walk. Man was still catching it, apparently--
Man was getting it hot. And much Man cared! The seas were his,
and their islands; he had his frigates for the taking, his
pirates and their hoards for an unregarded cutlass-stroke or two;
and there were Princesses in plenty waiting for him somewhere--
Princesses of the right sort.
THE RELUCTANT DRAGON
Footprints in the snow have been unfailing provokers of
sentiment ever since snow was first a white wonder in this
drab-coloured world of ours. In a poetry-book presented to one of
us by an aunt, there was a poem by one Wordsworth in which they
stood out strongly with a picture all to themselves, too--but we
didn't think very highly either of the poem or the sentiment.
Footprints in the sand, now, were quite another matter, and we
grasped Crusoe's attitude of mind much more easily than
Wordsworth's. Excitement and mystery, curiosity and suspense--
these were the only sentiments that tracks, whether in sand or in
snow, were able to arouse in us.
We had awakened early that winter morning, puzzled at first by
the added light that filled the room. Then, when the truth at
last fully dawned on us and we knew that snow-balling was no
longer a wistful dream, but a solid certainty waiting for us
outside, it was a mere brute fight for the necessary clothes, and
the lacing of boots seemed a clumsy invention, and the buttoning
of coats an unduly tedious form of fastening, with all that snow
going to waste at our very door.
When dinner-time came we had to be dragged in by the scruff of
our necks. The short armistice over, the combat was resumed; but
presently Charlotte and I, a little weary of contests and of
missiles that ran shudderingly down inside one's clothes, forsook
the trampled battle-field of the lawn and went exploring the
blank virgin spaces of the white world that lay beyond. It
stretched away unbroken on every side of us, this mysterious soft
garment under which our familiar world had so suddenly hidden
itself. Faint imprints showed where a casual bird had alighted,
but of other traffic there was next to no sign; which made these
strange tracks all the more puzzling.
We came across them first at the corner of the shrubbery, and
pored over them long, our hands on our knees. Experienced
trappers that we knew ourselves to be, it was annoying to be
brought up suddenly by a beast we could not at once identify.
"Don't you know?" said Charlotte, rather scornfully. "Thought
you knew all the beasts that ever was."
This put me on my mettle, and I hastily rattled off a string of
animal names embracing both the arctic and the tropic zones, but
without much real confidence.
"No," said Charlotte, on consideration; "they won't any of 'em
quite do. Seems like something lizardy. Did you say a iguanodon?
Might be that, p'raps. But that's not British, and we want a
real British beast. I think it's a dragon!"
"'T isn't half big enough," I objected.
"Well, all dragons must be small to begin with," said
Charlotte: "like everything else. P'raps this is a little dragon
who's got lost. A little dragon would be rather nice to have. He
might scratch and spit, but he couldn't do anything really. Let's
track him down!"
So we set off into the wide snow-clad world, hand in hand, our
hearts big with expectation,--complacently confident that by a
few smudgy traces in the snow we were in a fair way to capture a
half-grown specimen of a fabulous beast.
We ran the monster across the paddock and along the hedge of
the next field, and then he took to the road like any tame
civilized tax-payer. Here his tracks became blended with and lost
among more ordinary footprints, but imagination and a fixed idea
will do a great deal, and we were sure we knew the direction a
dragon would naturally take. The traces, too, kept reappearing at
intervals--at least Charlotte maintained they did, and as it was
her dragon I left the following of the slot to her and trotted
along peacefully, feeling that it was an expedition anyhow and
something was sure to come out of it.
Charlotte took me across another field or two, and through a
copse, and into a fresh road; and I began to feel sure it was
only her confounded pride that made her go on pretending to see
dragon-tracks instead of owning she was entirely at fault, like a
reasonable person. At last she dragged me excitedly through a gap
in a hedge of an obviously private character; the waste, open
world of field and hedge row disappeared, and we found ourselves
in a garden, well-kept, secluded, most undragon-haunted in
appearance. Once inside, I knew where we were. This was the
garden of my friend the circus-man, though I had never approached
it before by a lawless gap, from this unfamiliar side. And here
was the circus-man himself, placidly smoking a pipe as he
strolled up and down the walks. I stepped up to him and asked him
politely if he had lately seen a Beast.
"May I inquire," he said, with all civility, "what particular
sort of a Beast you may happen to be looking for?"
"It's a lizardy sort of Beast," I explained. "Charlotte says it
's a dragon, but she doesn't really know much about beasts."
The circus-man looked round about him slowly. "I don't think,"
he said, "that I've seen a dragon in these parts recently. But if
I come across one I'll know it belongs to you, and I'll have him
taken round to you at once."
"Thank you very much," said Charlotte, "but don't trouble about
it, please, 'cos p'raps it isn't a dragon after all. Only I
thought I saw his little footprints in the snow, and we followed
'em up, and they seemed to lead right in here, but maybe it's all
a mistake, and thank you all the same."
"Oh, no trouble at all," said the circus-man, cheerfully. "I
should be only too pleased. But of course, as you say, it may be
a mistake. And it's getting dark, and he seems to have got away
for the present, whatever he is. You'd better come in and have
some tea. I'm quite alone, and we'll make a roaring fire, and
I've got the biggest Book of Beasts you ever saw. It's got every
beast in the world, and all of 'em coloured; and we'll try and
find your beast in it!"
We were always ready for tea at any time, and especially when
combined with beasts. There was marmalade, too, and apricot-jam,
brought in expressly for us; and afterwards the beast-book was
spread out, and, as the man had truly said, it contained every
sort of beast that had ever been in the world.
The striking of six o'clock set the more prudent Charlotte
nudging me, and we recalled ourselves with an effort from
Beastland, and reluctantly stood up to go.
"Here, I 'm coming along with you," said the circus-man. "I
want another pipe, and a walk'll do me good. You needn't talk to
me unless you like."
Our spirits rose to their wonted level again. The way had
seemed so long, the outside world so dark and eerie, after the
bright warm room and the highly-coloured beast-book. But a walk
with a real Man--why, that was a treat in itself! We set off
briskly, the Man in the middle. I looked up at him and wondered
whether I should ever live to smoke a big pipe with that careless
sort of majesty! But Charlotte, whose young mind was not set on
tobacco as a possible goal, made herself heard from the other
"Now, then," she said, "tell us a story, please, won't you?"
The Man sighed heavily and looked about him. "I knew it," he
groaned. "I knew I should have to tell a story. Oh, why did I
leave my pleasant fireside? Well, I will tell you a story. Only
let me think a minute."
So he thought a minute, and then he told us this story.
Long ago--might have been hundreds of years ago--in a cottage
half-way between this village and yonder shoulder with his wife
and their little son. Now the shepherd spent his days--and at
certain times of the year his nights too--up on the wide ocean-
bosom of the Downs, with only the sun and the stars and the sheep
for company, and the friendly chattering world of men and women
far out of sight and hearing. But his little son, when he wasn't
helping his father, and often when he was as well, spent much of
his time buried in big volumes that he borrowed from the affable
gentry and interested parsons of the country round about. And his
parents were very fond of him, and rather proud of him too,
though they didn't let on in his hearing, so he was left to go
his own way and read as much as he liked; and instead of
frequently getting a cuff on the side of the head, as might very
well have happened to him, he was treated more or less as an
equal by his parents, who sensibly thought it a very fair
division of labour that they should supply the practical
knowledge, and he the book-learning. They knew that book-learning
often came in useful at a pinch, in spite of what their
neighbours said. What the Boy chiefly dabbled in was natural
history and fairy-tales, and he just took them as they came, in a
sandwichy sort of way, without making any distinctions; and
really his course of reading strikes one as rather sensible.
One evening the shepherd, who for some nights past had been
disturbed and preoccupied, and off his usual mental balance, came
home all of a tremble, and, sitting down at the table where his
wife and son were peacefully employed, she with her seam, he in
following out the adventures of the Giant with no Heart in his
Body, exclaimed with much agitation:
"It's all up with me, Maria! Never no more can I go up on them
there Downs, was it ever so! "
"Now don't you take on like that," said his wife, who was a
very sensible woman: "but tell us all about it first, whatever it
is as has given you this shake-up, and then me and you and the
son here, between us, we ought to be able to get to the bottom of
"It began some nights ago," said the. shepherd. "You know that
cave up there --I never liked it, somehow, and the sheep never
liked it neither, and when sheep don't like a thing there's
generally some reason for it. Well, for some time past there's
been faint noises coming from that cave--noises like heavy
sighings, with grunts mixed up in them; and sometimes a snoring,
far away down--real snoring, yet somehow not honest snoring, like
you and me o'nights, you know!"
"I know," remarked the Boy, quietly.
"Of course I was terrible frightened," the shepherd went on;
"yet somehow I couldn't keep away. So this very evening, before I
come down, I took a cast round by the cave, quietly. And there--O
Lord! there I saw him at last, as plain as I see you!"
"Saw who?" said his wife, beginning to share in her husband's
"Why him, I 'm a telling you!" said the shepherd. "He was
sticking half-way out of the cave, and seemed to be enjoying of
the cool of the evening in a poetical sort of way. He was as big
as four cart-horses, and all covered with shiny scales--deep-blue
scales at the top of him, shading off to a tender sort o' green
below. As he breathed, there was that sort of flicker over his
nostrils that you see over our chalk roads on a baking windless
day in summer. He had his chin on his paws, and I should say he
was meditating about things. Oh, yes, a peaceable sort o beast
enough, and not ramping or carrying on or doing anything but what
was quite right and proper. I admit all that. And yet, what am I
to do? Scales, you know, and claws, and a tail for certain,
though I didn't see that end of him--I ain't used to 'em, and I
don't hold with 'em, and that 's a fact!"
The Boy, who had apparently been absorbed in his book during
his father s recital, now closed the volume, yawned, clasped his
hands behind his head, and said sleepily:
"It's all right, father. Don't you worry. It's only a dragon."
"Only a dragon?" cried his father. "What do you mean, sitting
there, you and your dragons? Only a dragon indeed! And what do
you know about it?"
"'Cos it is, and 'cos I do know," replied the Boy, quietly.
"Look here, father, you know we've each of us got our line. You
know about sheep, and weather, and things; I know about dragons.
I always said, you know, that that cave up there was a dragon-
cave. I always said it must have belonged to a dragon some time,
and ought to belong to a dragon now, if rules count for anything.
Well, now you tell me it has got a dragon, and so that's all
right. I'm not half as much surprised as when you told me it
hadn't got a dragon. Rules always come right if you wait quietly.
Now, please, just leave this all to me. And I'll stroll up
to-morrow morning--no, in the morning I can't, I've got a whole
heap of things to do--well, perhaps in the evening, if I'm quite
free, I'll go up and have a talk to him, and you'll find it'll be
all right. Only, please, don't you go worrying round there
without me. You don't understand 'em a bit, and they're very
sensitive, you know!"
"He's quite right, father," said the sensible mother. "As he
says, dragons is his line and not ours. He's wonderful knowing
about book-beasts, as every one allows. And to tell the truth,
I'm not half happy in my own mind, thinking of that poor animal
lying alone up there, without a bit o' hot supper or anyone to
change the news with; and maybe we'll be able to do something for
him; and if he ain't quite respectable our Boy'll find it out
quick enough. He's got a pleasant sort o' way with him that makes
everybody tell him everything."
Next day, after he'd had his tea, the Boy strolled up the
chalky track that led to the summit of the Downs; and there, sure
enough, he found the dragon, stretched lazily on the sward in
front of his cave. The view from that point was a magnificent
one. To the right and left, the bare and billowy leagues of
Downs; in front, the vale, with its clustered homesteads, its
threads of white roads running through orchards and well-tilled
acreage, and, far away, a hint of grey old cities on the horizon.
A cool breeze played over the surface of the grass and the silver
shoulder of a large moon was showing above distant junipers. No
wonder the dragon seemed in a peaceful and contented mood;
indeed, as the Boy approached he could hear the beast purring
with a happy regularity. "Well, we live and learn!" he said to
himself. "None of my books ever told me that dragons purred!
"Hullo, dragon!" said the Boy, quietly, when he had got up to
The dragon, on hearing the approaching footsteps, made the
beginning of a courteous effort to rise. But when he saw it was a
Boy, he set his eyebrows severely.
"Now don't you hit me," he said; "or bung stones, or squirt
water, or anything. I won't have it, I tell you!"
"Not goin' to hit you," said the Boy wearily, dropping on the
grass beside the beast: "and don't, for goodness' sake, keep on
saying 'Don't;' I hear so much of it, and it's monotonous, and
makes me tired. I've simply looked in to ask you how you were and
all that sort of thing; but if I'm in the way I can easily clear
out. I've lots of friends, and no one can say I'm in the habit of
shoving myself in where I'm not wanted!"
"No, no, don't go off in a huff," said the dragon, hastily;
"fact is,--I 'm as happy up here as the day's long; never without
an occupation, dear fellow, never without an occupation! And yet,
between ourselves, it is a trifle dull at times."
The Boy bit off a stalk of grass and chewed it. "Going to make
a long stay here?" he asked, politely.
"Can't hardly say at present," replied the dragon. "It seems a
nice place enough--but I've only been here a short time, and one
must look about and reflect and consider before settling down.
It's rather a serious thing, settling down. Besides--now I 'm
going to tell you something! You'd never guess it if you tried
ever so!--fact is, I'm such a confoundedly lazy beggar!"
"You surprise me," said the Boy, civilly.
"It's the sad truth," the dragon went on, settling down between
his paws and evidently delighted to have found a listener at
last: "and I fancy that's really how I came to be here. You see
all the other fellows were so active and earnest and all that
sort of thing--always rampaging, and skirmishing, and scouring
the desert sands, and pacing the margin of the sea, and chasing
knights all over the place, and devouring damsels, and going on
generally--whereas I liked to get my meals regular and then to
prop my back against a bit of rock and snooze a bit, and wake up
and think of things going on and how they kept going on just the
same, you know! So when it happened I got fairly caught."
"When what happened, please?" asked the Boy.
"That's just what I don't precisely know," said the dragon. "I
suppose the earth sneezed, or shook itself, or the bottom dropped
out of something. Anyhow there was a shake and a roar and a
general stramash, and I found myself miles away underground and
wedged in as tight as tight. Well, thank goodness, my wants are
few, and at any rate I had peace and quietness and wasn't always
being asked to come along and do something. And I've got such an
active mind--always occupied, I assure you! But time went on, and
there was a certain sameness about the life, and at last I began
to think it would be fun to work my way upstairs and see what you
other fellows were doing. So I scratched and burrowed, and worked
this way and that way and at last I came out through this cave
here. And I like the country, and the view, and the people--what
I've seen of 'em--and on the whole I feel inclined to settle down
"What's your mind always occupied about?" asked the Boy.
"That's what I want to know."
The dragon coloured slightly and looked away. Presently he said
"Did you ever--just for fun--try to make up poetry--verses, you
"'Course I have," said the Boy. "Heaps of it. And some of it's
quite good, I feel sure, only there's no one here cares about it.
Mother's very kind and all that, when I read it to her, and so's
father for that matter. But somehow they don't seem to--"
"Exactly," cried the dragon; "my own case exactly. They don't
seem to, and you can't argue with 'em about it. Now you've got
culture, you have, I could tell it on you at once, and I should
just like your candid opinion about some little things I threw
off lightly, when I was down there. I'm awfully pleased to have
met you, and I'm hoping the other neighbours will be equally
agreeable. There was a very nice old gentleman up here only last
night, but he didn't seem to want to intrude."
"That was my father," said the boy, "and he is a nice old
gentleman, and I'll introduce you some day if you like."
"Can't you two come up here and dine or
something to-morrow?" asked the dragon
eagerly. "Only, of course, if you 'ye got
nothing better to do," he added politely.
"Thanks awfully," said the Boy, "but we don't go out anywhere
without my mother, and, to tell you the truth, I 'm afraid she
mightn't quite approve of you. You see there's no getting over
the hard fact that you're a dragon, is there? And when you talk
of settling down, and the neighbours, and so on, I can't help
feeling that you don't quite realize your position. You 're an
enemy of the human race, you see!
"Haven't got an enemy in the world," said the dragon,
cheerfully. Too lazy to make 'em, to begin with. And if I do read
other fellows my poetry, I'm always ready to listen to theirs!"
"Oh, dear!" cried the boy," I wish you'd try and grasp the
situation properly. When the other people find you out, they'll
come after you with spears and swords and all sorts of things.
You'll have to be exterminated, according to their way of looking
at it! You 're a scourge, and a pest, and a baneful monster!"
"Not a word of truth in it," said the dragon, wagging his head
solemnly. "Character'll bear the strictest investigation. And
now, there's a little sonnet-thing I was working on when you
appeared on the scene--"
"Oh, if you won't be sensible," cried the Boy, getting up, "I'm
going off home. No, I can't stop for sonnets; my mother's sitting
up. I'II look you up to-morrow, sometime or other, and do for
goodness' sake try and realize that you're a pestilential
scourge, or you'll find yourself in a most awful fix.
The Boy found it an easy matter to set the mind of his parents'
at ease about his new friend. They had always left that branch to
him, and they took his word without a murmur. The shepherd was
formally introduced and many compliments and kind inquiries were
exchanged. His wife, however, though expressing her willingness
to do anything she could--to mend things, or set the cave to
rights, or cook a little something when the dragon had been
poring over sonnets and forgotten his meals, as male things will
do, could not be brought to recognize him formally. The fact that
he was a dragon and "they didn't know who he was" seemed to count
for everything with her. She made no objection, however, to her
little son spending his evenings with the dragon quietly, so long
as he was home by nine o'clock: and many a pleasant night they
had, sitting on the swan, while the dragon told stories of old,
old times, when dragons were quite plentiful and the world was a
livelier place than it is now, and life was full of thrills and
jumps and surprises.
What the Boy had feared, however, soon came to pass. The most
modest and retiring dragon in the world, if he's as big as four
cart-horses and covered with blue scales, cannot keep altogether
out of the public view. And so in the village tavern of nights
the fact that a real live dragon sat brooding in the cave on the
Downs was naturally a subject for talk. Though the villagers were
extremely frightened, they were rather proud as well. It was a
distinction to have a dragon of your own, and it was felt to be a
feather in the cap of the village. Still, all were agreed that
this sort of thing couldn't be allowed to go on. The dreadful
beast must be exterminated, the country-side must be freed from
this pest, this terror, this destroying scourge. The fact that
not even a hen-roost was the worse for the dragon's arrival
wasn't allowed to have anything to do with it. He was a dragon,
and he couldn't deny it, and if he didn't choose to behave as
such that was his own lookout. But in spite of much valiant talk
no hero was found willing to take sword and spear and free the
suffering village and win deathless fame; and each night's heated
discussion always ended in nothing. Meanwhile the dragon, a happy
Bohemian, lolled on the turf, enjoyed the sunsets, told
antediluvian anecdotes to the Boy, and polished his old verses
while meditating on fresh ones.
One day the Boy, on walking in to the village, found everything
wearing a festal appearance which was not to be accounted for in
the calendar. Carpets and gay-coloured stuffs were hung out of
the windows, the church-bells clamoured noisily, the little
street was flower-strewn, and the whole population jostled each
other along either side of it, chattering, shoving, and ordering
each other to stand back. The Boy saw a friend of his own age in
the crowd and hailed
"What's up?" he cried. "Is it the players, or bears, or a
circus, or what?" "It's all right," his friend hailed back. "He's
"Who's a-coming?" demanded the Boy, thrusting into the throng.
"Why, St. George, of course," replied his friend. "He's heard
tell of our dragon, and he's comm' on purpose to slay the deadly
beast, and free us from his horrid yoke. O my! won't there be a
Here was news indeed! The Boy felt that he ought to make quite
sure for himself, and he wriggled himself in between the legs of
his good-natured elders, abusing them all the time for their
unmannerly habit of shoving. Once in the front rank, he
breathlessly awaited the arrival.
Presently from the far-away end of the line came the sound of
cheering. Next, the measured tramp of a great war-horse made his
heart beat quicker, and then he found himself cheering with the
rest, as, amidst welcoming shouts, shrill cries of women,
uplifting of babies and waving of handkerchiefs, St. George paced
slowly up the street. The Boy's heart stood still and he breathed
with sobs, the beauty and the grace of the hero were so far
beyond anything he had yet seen. His fluted armour was inlaid
with gold, his plumed helmet hung at his saddle-bow, and his
thick fair hair framed a face gracious and gentle beyond
expression till you caught the sternness in his eyes. He drew
rein in front of the little inn, and the villagers crowded round
with greetings and thanks and voluble statements of their wrongs
and grievances and oppressions. The Boy, heard the grave gentle
voice of the Saint, assuring them that all would be well now, and
that he would stand by them and see them righted and free them
from their foe; then he dismounted and passed through the doorway
and the crowd poured in after him. But the Boy made off up the
hill as fast as he could lay his legs to the ground.
"It's all up, dragon!" he shouted as soon as he was within
sight of the beast. "He's coming! He's here now! You'll have to
pull yourself together and do something at last!"
The dragon was licking his scales and rubbing them with a bit
of house-flannel the Boy's mother had lent him, till he shone
like a great turquoise.
"Don't be violent, Boy," he said without looking round. "Sit
down and get your breath, and try and remember that the noun
governs the verb, and then perhaps you'll be good enough to tell
me who's coming?"
"That's right, take it coolly," said the Boy. "Hope you'll be
half as cool when I've got through with my news. It's only St.
George who's coming, that's all; he rode into the village
half-an-hour ago. Of course you can lick him--a great big fellow
like you! But I thought I'd warn you, 'cos he's sure to be round
early, and he's got the longest, wickedest-looking spear you ever
did see!" And the Boy got up and began to jump round in sheer
delight at the prospect of the battle.
"O deary, deary me," moaned the dragon; "this is too awful. I
won't see him, and that's flat. I don't want to know the fellow
at all. I'm sure he's not nice. You must tell him to go away at
once, please. Say he can write if he likes, but I can't give him
an interview. I'm not seeing anybody at present."
"Now dragon, dragon," said the Boy imploringly, "don't be
perverse and wrongheaded. You've got to fight him some time or
other, you know, 'cos he's St. George and you're the dragon.
Better get it over, and then we can go on with the sonnets. And
you ought to consider other people a little, too. If it's been
dull up here for you, think how dull it's been for me!"
"My dear little man," said the dragon solemnly, "just
understand, once for all, that I can't fight and I won't fight.
I've never fought in my life, and I'm not going to begin now,
just to give you a Roman holiday. In old days I always let the
other fellows--the earnest fellows--do all the fighting, and no
doubt that's why I have the pleasure of being here now."
"But if you don't fight he'll cut your head off!" gasped the
Boy, miserable at the prospect of losing both his fight and his
"Oh, I think not," said the dragon in his lazy way. "You'll be
able to arrange something. I've every confidence in you, you're
such a manager. Just run down, there's a dear chap, and make it
all right. I leave it entirely to you."
The Boy made his way back to the village in a state of great
despondency. First of all, there wasn't going to be any fight;
next, his dear and honoured friend the dragon hadn't shown up in
quite such a heroic light as he would have liked; and lastly,
whether the dragon was a hero at heart or not, it made no
difference, for St. George would most undoubtedly cut his head
off. "Arrange things indeed!" he said bitterly to himself. "The
dragon treats the whole affair as if it was an invitation to tea
The villagers were straggling homewards as he passed up the
street, all of them in the highest spirits, and gleefully
discussing the splendid fight that was in store. The Boy pursued
his way to the inn, and passed into the principal chamber, where
St. George now sat alone, musing over the chances of the fight,
and the sad stories of rapine and of wrong that had so lately
been poured into his sympathetic ear.
"May I come in, St. George?" said the Boy politely, as he
paused at the door. "I want to talk to you about this little
matter of the dragon, if you're not tired of it by this time."
"Yes, come in, Boy," said the Saint kindly. "Another tale of
misery and wrong, I fear me. Is it a kind parent, then, of whom
the tyrant has bereft you? Or some tender sister or brother?
Well, it shall soon be avenged."
"Nothing of the sort," said the Boy. "There's a
misunderstanding somewhere, and I want to put it right. The fact
is, this is a good dragon."
"Exactly," said St. George, smiling pleasantly, "I quite
understand. A good dragon. Believe me, I do not in the least
regret that he is an adversary worthy of my steel, and no feeble
specimen of his noxious tribe."
"But he's not a noxious tribe," cried the Boy distressedly. "Oh
dear, oh dear, how stupid men are when they get an idea into
their heads! I tell you he's a good dragon, and a friend of mine,
and tells me the most beautiful stories you ever heard, all about
old times and when he was little. And he's been so kind to
mother, and mother'd do anything for him. And father likes him
too, though father doesn't hold with art and poetry much, and
always falls asleep when the dragon starts talking about style.
But the fact is, nobody can help liking him when once they know
him. He's so engaging and so trustful, and as simple as a child!"
"Sit down, and draw your chair up," said St. George. "I like a
fellow who sticks up for his friends, and I'm sure the dragon
has his good points, if he's got a friend like you. But that's
not the question. All this evening I've been listening, with
grief and anguish unspeakable, to tales of murder, theft, and
wrong; rather too highly coloured, perhaps, not always quite
convincing, but forming in the main a most serious roll of crime.
History teaches us that the greatest rascals often possess all
the domestic virtues; and I fear that your cultivated friend, in
spite of the qualities which have won (and rightly) your regard,
has got to be speedily exterminated."
"Oh, you've been taking in all the yarns those fellows have
been telling you," said the Boy impatiently. "Why, our villagers
are the biggest story-tellers in all the country round. It's a
known fact. You're a stranger in these parts, or else you'd have
heard it already. All they want is a fight. They're the most
awful beggars for getting up fights--it 's meat and drink to
them. Dogs, bulls, dragons--anything so long as it's a fight.
Why, they've got a poor innocent badger in the stable behind
here, at this moment. They were going to have some fun with him
to-day, but they're saving him up now till your little affair's
over. And I've no doubt they've been telling you what a hero you
were, and how you were bound to win, in the cause of right and
justice, and so on; but let me tell you, I came down the street
just now, and they were betting six to four on the dragon
"Six to four on the dragon!" murmured St. George sadly, resting
his cheek on his hand. "This is an evil world, and sometimes I
begin to think that all the wickedness in it is not entirely
bottled up inside the dragons. And yet--may not this wily beast
have misled you as to his real character, in order that your good
report of him may serve as a cloak for his evil deeds? Nay, may
there not be, at this very moment, some hapless Princess immured
within yonder gloomy cavern?"
The moment he had spoken, St. George was sorry for what he had
said, the Boy looked so genuinely distressed.
"I assure you, St. George," he said earnestly, "there's nothing
of the sort in the cave at all. The dragon's a real gentleman,
every inch of him, and I may say that no one would be more
shocked and grieved than he would, at hearing you talk in that--
that loose way about matters on which he has very strong views!"
"Well, perhaps I've been over-credulous," said St. George.
"Perhaps I've misjudged the animal. But what are we to do? Here
are the dragon and I, almost face to face, each supposed to be
thirsting for each other's blood. I don't see any way out of it,
exactly. What do you suggest? Can't you arrange things, somehow?"
"That's just what the dragon said," replied the Boy, rather
nettled. "Really, the way you two seem to leave everything to me-
-I suppose you couldn't be persuaded to go away quietly, could
"Impossible, I fear," said the Saint. "Quite against the rules.
You know that as well as I do."
"Well, then, look here," said the Boy, "it's early yet--would
you mind strolling up with me and seeing the dragon and talking
it over? It's not far, and any friend of mine will be most
"Well, it's irregular," said St. George, rising, "but really it
seems about the most sensible thing to do. You're taking a lot of
trouble on your friend's account," he added, good-naturedly, as
they passed out through the door together. "But cheer up! Perhaps
there won't have to be any fight after all."
"Oh, but I hope there will, though!" replied the little fellow,
"I've brought a friend to see you, dragon," said the Boy,
The dragon woke up with a start. "I was just--er--thinking
about things," he said in his simple way. "Very pleased to make
your acquaintance, sir. Charming weather we're having!"
"This is St. George," said the Boy, shortly. "St. George, let
me introduce you to the dragon. We've come up to talk things over
quietly, dragon, and now for goodness' sake do let us have a
little straight common-sense, and come to some practical
business-like arrangement, for I'm sick of views and theories of
life and personal tendencies, and all that sort of thing. I may
perhaps add that my mother's sitting up."
"So glad to meet you, St. George," began the dragon rather
nervously, "because you've been a great traveller, I hear, and
I've always been rather a stay-at-home. But I can show you many
antiquities, many interesting features of our country-side, if
you're stopping here any time--"
"I think," said St. George, in his frank, pleasant way, "that
we'd really better take the advice of our young friend here, and
try to come to some understanding, on a business footing, about
this little affair of ours. Now don't you think that after all
the simplest plan would be just to fight it out, according to the
rules, and let the best man win? They're betting on you, I may
tell you, down in the village, but I don't mind that!"
"Oh, yes, do, dragon," said the Boy, delightedly; "it'll save
such a lot of bother!
"My young friend, you shut up," said the dragon severely.
"Believe me, St. George," he went on, "there's nobody in the
world I'd sooner oblige than you and this young gentleman here.
But the whole thing's nonsense, and conventionality, and popular
thick-headedness. There's absolutely nothing to fight about, from
beginning to end. And anyhow I'm not going to, so that settles
"But supposing I make you?" said St. George, rather nettled.
"You can't," said the dragon, triumphantly. "I should only go
into my cave and retire for a time down the hole I came up. You'd
soon get heartily sick of sitting outside and waiting for me to
come out and fight you. And as soon as you'd really gone away,
why, I'd come up again gaily, for I tell you frankly, I like this
place, and I'm going to stay here!"
St. George gazed for a while on the fair landscape around them.
"But this would be a beautiful place for a fight," he began again
persuasively. "These great bare rolling Downs for the arena,--and
me in my golden armour showing up against your big blue scaly
coils! Think what a picture it would make!"
"Now you're trying to get at me through my artistic
sensibilities," said the dragon. "But it won't work. Not but what
it would make a very pretty picture, as you say," he added,
wavering a little.
"We seem to be getting rather nearer to business," put in the
Boy. "You must see, dragon, that there 's got to be a fight of
some sort, 'cos you can't want to have to go down that dirty old
hole again and stop there till goodness knows when."
"It might be arranged," said St. George, thoughtfully. "I must
spear you somewhere, of course, but I'm not bound to hurt you
very much. There's such a lot of you that there must be a few
spare places somewhere. Here, for instance, just behind your
foreleg. It couldn't hurt you much, just here!"
"Now you 're tickling, George," said the dragon, coyly. "No,
that place won't do at all. Even if it didn't hurt,--and I'm sure
it would, awfully,--it would make me laugh, and that would spoil
"Let's try somewhere else, then," said St. George, patiently.
"Under your neck, for instance,--all these folds of thick skin, -
-if I speared you here you 'd never even know I 'd done it!"
"Yes, but are you sure you can hit off the right place?" asked
the dragon, anxiously.
"Of course I am," said St. George, with confidence. "You leave
that to me!"
"It's just because I've got to leave it to you that I'm
asking," replied the dragon, rather testily. "No doubt you would
deeply regret any error you might make in the hurry of the
moment; but you wouldn't regret it half as much as I should!
However, I suppose we've got to trust somebody, as we go through
life, and your plan seems, on the whole, as good a one as any."
"Look here, dragon," interrupted the Boy, a little jealous on
behalf of his friend, who seemed to be getting all the worst of
the bargain: "I don't quite see where you come in! There's to be
a fight, apparently, and you're to be licked; and what I want to
know is, what are you going to get out of it?"
"St. George," said the dragon, "Just tell him, please,--what
will happen after I'm vanquished in the deadly combat?"
"Well, according to the rules I suppose I shall lead you in
triumph down to the market-place or whatever answers to it," said
"Precisely," said the dragon. "And then--"
"And then there'll be shoutings and speeches and things,"
continued St. George. "And I shall explain that you're converted,
and see the error of your ways, and so on."
"Quite so," said the dragon. "And then--?"
"Oh, and then--" said St. George, "why, and then there will be
the usual banquet, I suppose."
"Exactly," said the dragon; "and that's where I come in. Look
here," he continued, addressing the Boy, "I'm bored to death up
here, and no one really appreciates me. I'm going into Society, I
am, through the kindly aid of our friend here, who's taking such
a lot of trouble on my account; and you'll find I've got all the
qualities to endear me to people who entertain! So now that's all
settled, and if you don't mind--I 'm an old-fashioned. fellow--
don't want to turn you out, but--"
"Remember, you'll have to do your proper share of the fighting,
dragon!" said St. George, as he took the hint and rose to go; "I
mean ramping, and breathing fire, and so on!"
"I can ramp all right," replied the dragon, confidently; "as to
breathing fire, it's surprising how easily one gets out of
practice, but I'll do the best I can. Good-night!"
They had descended the hill and were almost back in the village
again, when St. George stopped short, "Knew I had forgotten
something," he said. "There ought to be a Princess. Terror-
stricken and chained to a rock, and all that sort of thing. Boy,
can't you arrange a Princess?"
The Boy was in the middle of a tremendous yawn. "I'm tired to
death," he wailed, "and I can't arrange a Princess, or anything
more, at this time of night. And my mother's sitting up, and do
stop asking me to arrange more things till to-morrow!"
Next morning the people began streaming up to the Downs at
quite an early hour, in their Sunday clothes and carrying baskets
with bottle-necks sticking out of them, every one intent on
securing good places for the combat. This was not exactly a
simple matter, for of course it was quite possible that the
dragon might win, and in that case even those who had put their
money on him felt they could hardly expect him to deal with his
backers on a different footing to the rest. Places were chosen,
therefore, with circumspection and with a view to a speedy
retreat in case of emergency; and the front rank was mostly
composed of boys who had escaped from parental control and now
sprawled and rolled about on the grass, regardless of the shrill
threats and warnings discharged at them by their anxious mothers
The Boy had secured a good front place, well up towards the
cave, and was feeling as anxious as a stage-manager on a first
night. Could the dragon be depended upon? He might change his
mind and vote the whole performance rot; or else, seeing that the
affair had been so hastily planned, without even a rehearsal, he
might be too nervous to show up. The Boy looked narrowly at the
cave, but it showed no sign of life or occupation. Could the
dragon have made a moon-light flitting?
The higher portions of the ground were now black with
sightseers, and presently a sound of cheering and a waving of
handkerchiefs told that something was visible to them which the
Boy, far up towards the dragon-end of the line as he was, could
not yet see. A minute more and St. George's red plumes topped the
hill, as the Saint rode slowly forth on the great level space
which stretched up to the grim mouth of the cave. Very gallant
and beautiful he looked, on his tall war-horse, his golden armour
glancing in the sun, his great spear held erect, the little white
pennon, crimson-crossed, fluttering at its point. He drew rein
and remained motionless. The lines of spectators began to give
back a little, nervously; and even the boys in front stopped
pulling hair and cuffing each other, and leaned forward
"Now then, dragon!" muttered the Boy impatiently, fidgeting
where he sat. He need not have distressed himself, had he only
known. The dramatic possibilities of the thing had tickled the
dragon immensely, and he had been up from an early hour,
preparing for his first public appearance with as much heartiness
as if the years had run backwards, and he had been again a little
dragonlet, playing with his sisters on the floor of their
mother's cave, at the game of saints-and-dragons, in which the
dragon was bound to win.
A low muttering, mingled with snorts, now made itself heard;
rising to a bellowing roar that seemed to fill the plain. Then a
cloud of smoke obscured the mouth of the cave, and out of the
midst of it the dragon himself, shining, sea-blue, magnificent,
pranced splendidly forth; and everybody said, "Oo-oo-oo!" as if
he had been a mighty rocket! His scales were glittering, his long
spiky tail lashed his sides, his claws tore up the turf and sent
it flying high over his back, and smoke and fire incessantly
jetted from his angry nostrils. "Oh, well done, dragon!" cried
the Boy, excitedly. "Didn't think he had it in him!" he added to
St. George lowered his spear, bent his head, dug his heels into
his horse's sides, and came thundering over the turf. The dragon
charged with a roar and a squeal,--a great blue whirling
combination of coils and snorts and clashing jaws and spikes and
"Missed!" yelled the crowd. There was a moment's entanglement
of golden armour and blue-green coils, and spiky tail, and then
the great horse, tearing at his bit, carried the Saint, his spear
swung high in the air, almost up to the mouth of the cave.
The dragon sat down and barked viciously, while St. George with
difficulty pulled his horse round into position.
"End of Round One!" thought the Boy. "How well they managed it!
But I hope the Saint won't get excited. I can trust the dragon
all right. What a regular play-actor the fellow is!"
St. George had at last prevailed on his horse to stand steady,
and was looking round him as he wiped his brow. Catching sight of
the Boy, he smiled and nodded, and held up three fingers for an
"It seems to be all planned out," said the Boy to himself.
"Round Three is to be the finishing one, evidently. Wish it could
have lasted a bit longer. Whatever's that old fool of a dragon up
The dragon was employing the interval in giving a ramping-
performance for the benefit of the crowd. Ramping, it should be
explained, consists in running round and round in a wide circle,
and sending waves and ripples of movement along the whole length
of your spine, from your pointed ears right down to the spike at
the end of your long tail. When you are covered with blue scales,
the effect is particularly pleasing; and the Boy recollected the
dragon's recently expressed wish to become a social success.
St. George now gathered up his reins and began to move forward,
dropping the point of his spear and settling himself firmly in
"Time!" yelled everybody excitedly; and the dragon, leaving off
his ramping sat up on end, and began to leap from one side to the
other with huge ungainly bounds, whooping like a Red Indian. This
naturally disconcerted the horse, who swerved violently, the
Saint only just saving himself by the mane; and as they shot past
the dragon delivered a vicious snap at the horse's tail which
sent the poor beast careering madly far over the Downs, so that
the language of the Saint, who had lost a stirrup, was
fortunately inaudible to the general assemblage.
Round Two evoked audible evidence of friendly feeling towards
the dragon. The spectators were not slow to appreciate a
combatant who could hold his own so well and clearly wanted to
show good sport; and many encouraging remarks reached the ears of
our friend as he strutted to and fro, his chest thrust out and
his tail in the air, hugely enjoying his new popularity.
St. George had dismounted and was tightening his girths, and
telling his horse, with quite an Oriental flow of imagery,
exactly what he thought of him, and his relations, and his
conduct on the present occasion; so the Boy made his way down to
the Saint's end of the line, and held his spear for him.
"It's been a jolly fight, St. George!" he said with a sigh.
"Can't you let it last a bit longer?"
"Well, I think I'd better not," replied the Saint. "The fact
is, your simple-minded old friend's getting conceited, now
they've begun cheering him, and he'll forget all about the
arrangement and take to playing the fool, and there's no telling
where he would stop. I'll just finish him off this round."
He swung himself into the saddle and took his spear from the
Boy. "Now don't you be afraid," he added kindly. "I've marked my
spot exactly, and he's sure to give me all the assistance in his
power, because he knows it's his only chance of being asked to
St. George now shortened his spear, bringing the butt well up
under his arm; and, instead of galloping as before, trotted
smartly towards the dragon, who crouched at his approach,
flicking his tail till it cracked in the air like a great
cart-whip. The Saint wheeled as he neared his opponent and
circled warily round him, keeping his eye on the spare place;
while the dragon, adopting similar tactics, paced with caution
round the same circle, occasionally feinting with his head. So
the two sparred for an opening, while the spectators maintained a
Though the round lasted for some minutes, the end was so swift
that all the Boy saw was a lightning movement of the Saint's arm,
and then a whirl and a confusion of spines, claws, tail, and
flying bits of turf. The dust cleared away, the spectators
whooped and ran in cheering, and the Boy made out that the dragon
was down, pinned to the earth by the spear, while St. George had
dismounted, and stood astride of him.
It all seemed so genuine that the Boy ran in breathlessly,
hoping the dear old dragon wasn't really hurt. As he approached,
the dragon lifted one large eyelid, winked solemnly, and
collapsed again. He was held fast to earth by the neck, but the
Saint had hit him in the spare place agreed upon, and it didn't
even seem to tickle.
"Bain't you goin' to cut 'is 'ed orf, master?" asked one of the
applauding crowd. He had backed the dragon, and naturally felt a
"Well, not to-day, I think," replied St. George, pleasantly.
"You see, that can be done at any time. There's no hurry at all.
I think we'll all go down to the village first, and have some
refreshment, and then I'll give him a good talking-to, and you'll
find he'll be a very different dragon!"
At that magic word refreshment the whole crowd formed up in
procession and silently awaited the signal to start. The time for
talking and cheering and betting was past, the hour for action
had arrived. St. George, hauling on his spear with both hands,
released the dragon, who rose and shook himself and ran his eye
over his spikes and scales and things, to see that they were all
in order. Then the Saint mounted and led off the procession, the
dragon following meekly in the company of the Boy, while the
thirsty spectators kept at a respectful interval behind.
There were great doings when they got down to the village
again, and had formed up in front of the inn. After refreshment
St. George made a speech, in which he informed his audience that
he had removed their direful scourge, at a great deal of trouble
and inconvenience to himself, and now they weren't to go about
grumbling and fancying they'd got grievances, because they
hadn't. And they shouldn't be so fond of fights, because next
time they might have to do the fighting themselves, which would
not be the same thing at all. And there was a certain badger in
the inn stables which had got to be released at once, and he'd
come and see it done himself. Then he told them that the dragon
had been thinking over things, and saw that there were two sides
to every question, and he wasn't going to do it any more, and if
they were good perhaps he'd stay and settle down there. So they
must make friends, and not be prejudiced; and go about fancying
they knew everything there was to be known, because they didn't,
not by a long way. And he warned them against the sin of
romancing, and making up stories and fancying other people would
believe them just because they were plausible and highly-
coloured. Then he sat down, amidst much repentant cheering, and
the dragon nudged the Boy in the ribs and whispered that he
couldn't have done it better himself. Then every one went off to
get ready for the banquet.
Banquets are always pleasant things, consisting mostly, as they
do, of eating and drinking; but the specially nice thing about a
banquet is, that it comes when something's over, and there's
nothing more to worry about, and to-morrow seems a long way off.
St George was happy because there had been a fight and he hadn't
had to kill anybody; for he didn't really like killing, though he
generally had to do it. The dragon was happy because there had
been a fight, and so far from being hurt in it he had won
popularity and a sure footing in society. The Boy was happy
because there had been a fight, and in spite of it all his two
friends were on the best of terms. And all the others were happy
because there had been a fight, and--well, they didn't require
any other reasons for their happiness. The dragon exerted himself
to say the right thing to everybody, and proved the life and soul
of the evening; while the Saint and the Boy, as they looked on,
felt that they were only assisting at a feast of which the honour
and the glory were entirely the dragon's. But they didn't mind
that, being good fellows, and the dragon was not in the least
proud or forgetful. On the contrary, every ten minutes or so he
leant over towards the Boy and said impressively: "Look here! you
will see me home afterwards, won't you?" And the Boy always
nodded, though he had promised his mother not to be out late.
At last the banquet was over, the guests had dropped away with
many good-nights and congratulations and invitations, and the
dragon, who had seen the last of them off the premises, emerged
into the street followed by the Boy, wiped his brow, sighed, sat
down in the road and gazed at the stars. "Jolly night it's been!"
he murmured. "Jolly stars! Jolly little place this! Think I shall
just stop here. Don't feel like climbing up any beastly hill.
Boy's promised to see me home. Boy had better do it then! No
responsibility on my part. Responsibility all Boy's!" And his
chin sank on his broad chest and he slumbered peacefully.
"Oh, get up, dragon," cried the Boy, piteously. "You know my
mother's sitting up, and I 'm so tired, and you made me promise
to see you home, and I never knew what it meant or I wouldn't
have done it!" And the Boy sat down in the road by the side of
the sleeping dragon, and cried.
The door behind them opened, a stream of light illumined the
road, and St. George, who had come out for a stroll in the cool
night-air, caught sight of the two figures sitting there--the
great motionless dragon and the tearful little Boy.
"What's the matter, Boy?" he inquired kindly, stepping to his
"Oh, it's this great lumbering pig of a dragon!" sobbed the
Boy. "First he makes me promise to see him home, and then he says
I'd better do it, and goes to sleep! Might as well try to see a
haystack home! And I'm so tired, and mother's--" here he broke
"Now don't take on," said St. George. "I'll stand by you, and
we'll both see him home. Wake up, dragon!" he said sharply,
shaking the beast by the elbow.
The dragon looked up sleepily. "What a night, George!" he
murmured; "what a--"
"Now look here, dragon," said the Saint, firmly. "Here's this
little fellow waiting to see you home, and you know he ought to
have been in bed these two hours, and what his mother'll say I
don't know, and anybody but a selfish pig would have made him go
to bed long ago--"
"And he shall go to bed!" cried the dragon, starting up. "Poor
little chap, only fancy his being up at this hour! It's a shame,
that's what it is, and I don't think, St. George, you've been
very considerate--but come along at once, and don't let us have
any more arguing or shilly-shallying. You give me hold of your
hand, Boy--thank you, George, an arm up the hill is just what I
So they set off up the hill arm-in-arm, the Saint, the Dragon,
and the Boy. The lights in the little village began to go out;
but there were stars, and a late moon, as they climbed to the
Downs together. And, as they turned the last corner and
disappeared from view, snatches of an old song were borne back on
the night-breeze. I can't be certain which of them was singing,
but I think it was the Dragon!
"Here we are at your gate," said the man, abruptly, laying his
hand on it. "Good-night. Cut along in sharp, or you'll catch it!"
Could it really be our own gate? Yes, there it was, sure
enough, with the familiar marks on its bottom bar made by our
feet when we swung on it
"Oh, but wait a minute!" cried Charlotte. "I want to know a
heap of things. Did the dragon really settle down? And did--"
"There isn't any more of that story," said the man, kindly but
firmly. "At least, not to-night. Now be off! Good-bye!"
"Wonder if it's all true?" said Charlotte, as we hurried up the
path. "Sounded dreadfully like nonsense, in parts!"
"P'raps its true for all that," I replied encouragingly.
Charlotte bolted in like a rabbit, out of the cold and the
dark; but I lingered a moment in the still, frosty air, for a
backward glance at the silent white world without, ere I changed
it for the land of firelight and cushions and laughter. It was
the day for choir-practice, and carol-time was at hand, and a
belated member was passing homewards down the road, singing as he
"Then St. George: ee made rev'rence: in the stable so dim,
Oo vanquished the dragon: so fearful and grim.
So-o grim: and so-o fierce: that now may we say
All peaceful is our wakin': on Chri-istmas Day!"
The singer receded, the carol died away. But I wondered, with
my hand on the door-latch, whether that was the song, or
something like it, that the dragon sang as he toddled contentedly
up the hill.
It is a very fine thing to be a real Prince. There are points
about a Pirate Chief, and to succeed to the Captaincy of a Robber
Band is a truly magnificent thing. But to be an Heir has also
about it something extremely captivating. Not only a long-lost
heir--an heir of the melodrama, strutting into your hitherto
unsuspected kingdom at just the right moment, loaded up with the
consciousness of unguessed merit and of rights so long
feloniously withheld--but even to be a common humdrum domestic
heir is a profession to which few would refuse to be apprenticed.
To step from leading-strings and restrictions and one glass of
port after dinner, into property and liberty and due
appreciation, saved up, polished and varnished, dusted and laid
in lavender, all expressly for you--why, even the Princedom and
the Robber Captaincy, when their anxieties and responsibilities
are considered, have hardly more to offer. And so it will
continue to be a problem, to the youth in whom ambition struggles
with a certain sensuous appreciation of life's side-dishes,
whether the career he is called upon to select out of the
glittering knick-knacks that strew the counter had better be that
of an heir or an engine-driver.
In the case of eldest sons, this problem has a way of solving
itself. In childhood, however, the actual heirship is apt to work
on the principle of the "Borough-English" of our happier
ancestors, and in most cases of inheritance it is the youngest
that succeeds. Where the "res" is "angusta," and the weekly books
are simply a series of stiff hurdles at each of which in
succession the paternal legs falter with growing suspicion of
their powers to clear the flight, it is in the affair of clothes
that the right of succession tells, and "the hard heir strides
about the land" in trousers long ago framed for fraternal limbs--
frondes novas et non sua poma. A bitter thing indeed! Of those
pretty silken threads that knit humanity together, high and low,
past and present, none is tougher, more pervading, or more
iridescent, than the honest, simple pleasure of new clothes. It
tugs at the man as it tugs at the woman; the smirk of the
well-fitted prince is no different from the smirk of the Sunday-
clad peasant; and the veins of the elders tingle with the same
thrill that sets their fresh-frocked grandchildren skipping.
Never trust people who pretend that they have no joy in their new
Let not our souls be wrung, however, at contemplation of the
luckless urchin cut off by parental penury from the rapture of
new clothes. Just as the heroes of his dreams are his immediate
seniors, so his heroes' clothes share the glamour, and the
reversion of them carries a high privilege--a special thing not
sold by Swears and Wells. The sword of Galahad--and of many
another hero--arrived on the scene already hoary with history,
and the boy rather prefers his trousers to be legendary, famous,
haloed by his hero's renown--even though the nap may have
altogether vanished in the process.
But, putting clothes aside, there are other matters in which
this reversed heirship comes into play. Take the case of Toys. It
is hardly right or fitting--and in this the child quite
acquiesces--that as he approaches the reverend period of nine or
say ten years, he should still be the unabashed and proclaimed
possessor of a hoop and a Noah's Ark. The child will quite see
the reasonableness of this, and, the goal of his ambition being
now a catapult, a pistol, or even a sword-stick, will be
satisfied that the titular ownership should lapse to his juniors,
so far below him in their kilted or petticoated incompetence.
After all, the things are still there, and if relapses of spirit
occur, on wet afternoons, one can still (nominally) borrow them
and be happy on the floor as of old, without the reproach of
being a habitual baby toy-caresser. Also one can pretend it's
being done to amuse the younger ones.
None of us, therefore, grumbled when in the natural course of
things the nominal ownership of the toys slipped down to Harold,
and from him in turn devolved upon Charlotte. The toys were still
there; they always had been there and always would be there, and
when the nursery door was fast shut there were no Kings or Queens
or First Estates in that small Republic on the floor. Charlotte,
to be sure, chin-tilted, at last an owner of real estate, might
patronize a little at times; but it was tacitly understood that
her "title" was only a drawing-room one.
Why does a coming bereavement project no thin faint voice, no
shadow of its woe, to warn its happy, heedless victims? Why
cannot Olympians ever think it worth while to give some hint of
the thunderbolts they are silently forging? And why, oh, why did
it never enter any of our thick heads that the day would come
when even Charlotte would be considered too matronly for toys?
One's so�called education is hammered into one with rulers and
with canes. Each fresh grammar or musical instrument, each new
historical period or quaint arithmetical rule, is impressed on
one by some painful physical prelude. Why does Time, the biggest
Schoolmaster, alone neglect premonitory raps, at each stage of
his curriculum, on our knuckles or our heads?
Uncle Thomas was at the bottom of it. This was not the first
mine he had exploded under our bows. In his favourite pursuit of
fads he had passed in turn from Psychical Research to the White
Rose and thence to a Children's Hospital, and we were being daily
inundated with leaflets headed by a woodcut depicting Little
Annie (of Poplar) sitting up in her little white cot, surrounded
by the toys of the nice, kind, rich children. The idea caught on
with the Olympians, always open to sentiment of a treacly,
woodcut order; and accordingly Charlotte, on entering one day
dishevelled and panting, having been pursued by yelling Redskins
up to the very threshold of our peaceful home, was curtly
that her French lessons would begin on Monday, that she was
henceforth to cease all pretence of being a trapper or a Redskin
on utterly inadequate grounds, and moreover that the whole of her
toys were at that moment being finally packed up in a box, for
despatch to London, to gladden the lives and bring light into the
eyes of London waifs and Poplar Annies.
Naturally enough, perhaps, we others received no official
intimation of this grave cession of territory. We were not
supposed to be interested. Harold had long ago been promoted to a
knife--a recognized, birthday knife. As for me, it was known that
I was already given over, heart and soul, to lawless abandoned
catapults --catapults which were confiscated weekly for reasons
of international complications, but with which Edward kept me
steadily supplied, his school having a fine old tradition for
excellence in their manufacture. Therefore no one was supposed to
be really affected but Charlotte, and even she had already
reached Miss Yonge, and should therefore have been more
interested in prolific curates and harrowing deathbeds.
Notwithstanding, we all felt indignant, betrayed, and sullen
to the verge of mutiny. Though for long we had affected to
despise them, these toys, yet they had grown up with us, shared
our joys and our sorrows, seen us at our worst, and become part
of the accepted scheme of existence. As we gazed at untenanted
shelves and empty, hatefully tidy corners, perhaps for the first
time for long we began to do them a tardy justice.
There was old Leotard, for instance. Somehow he had come to be
sadly neglected of late years--and yet how exactly he always
responded to certain moods! He was an acrobat, this Leotard, who
lived in a glass-fronted box. His loose-jointed limbs were
cardboard, cardboard his slender trunk; and his hands eternally
grasped the bar of a trapeze. You turned the box round swiftly
five or six times; the wonderful unsolved machinery worked, and
Leotard swung and leapt, backwards, forwards, now astride the
bar, now flying free; iron-jointed, supple-sinewed, unceasingly
novel in his invention of new, unguessable attitudes; while
above, below, and around him, a richly-dressed audience, painted
in skilful perspective of stalls, boxes, dress-circle, and
gallery, watched the thrilling performance with a stolidity which
seemed to mark them out as made in Germany. Hardly versatile
enough, perhaps, this Leotard; unsympathetic, not a companion for
all hours; nor would you have chosen him to take to bed with you.
And yet, within his own limits, how fresh, how engrossing, how
resourceful and inventive! Well, he was gone, it seemed--merely
gone. Never specially cherished while he tarried with us, he had
yet contrived to build himself a particular niche of his own.
Sunrise and sunset, and the dinner-bell, and the sudden rainbow,
and lessons, and Leotard, and the moon through the nursery
windows--they were all part of the great order of things, and the
displacement of any one item seemed to disorganize the whole
machinery. The immediate point was, not that the world would
continue to go round as of old, but that Leotard wouldn't.
Yonder corner, now swept and garnished, had been the stall
wherein the spotty horse, at the close of each laborious day, was
accustomed to doze peacefully the long night through. In days of
old each of us in turn had been jerked thrillingly round the room
on his precarious back, had dug our heels into his unyielding
sides, and had scratched our hands on the tin tacks that secured
his mane to his stiffly-curving neck. Later, with increasing
stature, we came to overlook his merits as a beast of burden; but
how frankly, how good-naturedly, he had recognized the new
conditions, and adapted himself to them without a murmur! When
the military spirit was abroad, who so ready to be a squadron of
cavalry, a horde of Cossacks, or artillery pounding into
position? He had even served with honour as a gun-boat, during a
period when naval strategy was the only theme; and no false
equine pride ever hindered him from taking the part of a roaring
locomotive, earth-shaking, clangorous, annihilating time and
space. Really it was no longer clear how life, with its manifold
emergencies, was to be carried on at all without a fellow like
the spotty horse, ready to step in at critical moments and take
up just the part required of him. In moments of mental
depression, nothing is quite so consoling as the honest smell of
a painted animal; and mechanically I turned towards the shelf
that had been so long the Ararat of our weather-beaten Ark. The
shelf was empty, the Ark had cast off moorings and sailed away to
Poplar, and had taken with it its haunting smell, as well as that
pleasant sense of disorder that the best conducted Ark is always
able to impart. The sliding roof had rarely been known to close
entirely. There was always a pair of giraffe-legs sticking out,
or an elephant-trunk, taking from the stiffness of its outline,
and reminding us that our motley crowd of friends inside were
uncomfortably cramped for room and only too ready to leap in a
cascade on the floor and browse and gallop, flutter and bellow
and neigh, and be their natural selves again. I think that none
of us ever really thought very much of Ham and Shem and Japhet.
They were only there because they were in the story, but nobody
really wanted them. The Ark was built for the animals, of
course--animals with tails, and trunks, and horns, and at least
three legs apiece, though some unfortunates had been unable to
retain even that number. And in the animals were of course
included the birds--the dove, for instance, grey with black
wings, and the red-crested woodpecker--or was it a hoopoe?--and
the insects, for there was a dear beetle, about the same size as
the dove, that held its own with any of the mammalia.
Of the doll-department Charlotte had naturally been sole chief
for a long time; if the staff were not in their places to-day, it
was not I who had any official right to take notice. And yet one
may have been member of a Club for many a year without ever
exactly understanding the use and object of the other members,
until one enters, some Christmas day or other holiday, and,
surveying the deserted armchairs, the untenanted sofas, the
barren hat-pegs, realizes, with depression, that those other
fellows had their allotted functions, after all. Where was old
Jerry? Where were Eugenie, Rosa, Sophy, Esmeralda? We had long
drifted apart, it was true, we spoke but rarely; perhaps,
absorbed in new ambitions, new achievements, I had even come to
look down on these conservative, unprogressive members who were
so clearly content to remain simply what they were. And now that
their corners were unfilled, their chairs unoccupied--well, my
eyes were opened and I wanted 'em back!
However, it was no business of mine. If grievances were the
question, I hadn't a leg to stand upon. Though my catapults were
officially confiscated, I knew the drawer in which they were
incarcerated, and where the key of it was hidden, and I could
make life a burden, if I chose, to every living thing within a
square-mile radius, so long as the catapult was restored to its
drawer in due and decent time. But I wondered how the others were
taking it. The edict hit them more severely. They should have my
moral countenance at any rate, if not more, in any protest or
countermine they might be planning. And, indeed, something seemed
possible, from the dogged, sullen air with which the two of them
had trotted off in the direction of the raspberry-canes. Certain
spots always had their insensible attraction for certain moods.
In love, one sought the orchard. Weary of discipline, sick of
convention, impassioned for the road, the mining-camp, the land
across the border, one made for the big meadow. Mutinous, sulky,
charged with plots and conspiracies. one always got behind the
shelter of the raspberry-canes.
"You can come too if you like," said Harold, in a subdued sort
of way, as soon as he was aware that I was sitting up in bed
watching him. "We didn't think you'd care, 'cos you've got to
catapults. But we're goin' to do what we've settled to do, so
it's no good sayin' we hadn't ought and that sort of thing, 'cos
we're goin' to!
The day had passed in an ominous peacefulness. Charlotte and
Harold had kept out of my way, as well as out of everybody
else's, in a purposeful manner that ought to have bred suspicion.
In the evening we had read books, or fitfully drawn ships and
battles on fly-leaves, apart, in separate corners, void of
conversation or criticism, oppressed by the lowering tidiness of
the universe, till bedtime came, and disrobement, and prayers
even more mechanical than usual, and lastly bed itself without so
much as a giraffe under the pillow. Harold had grunted himself
between the sheets with an ostentatious pretence of overpowering
fatigue; but I noticed that he pulled his pillow forward and
propped his head against the brass bars of his crib, and, as I
was acquainted with most of his tricks and subterfuges, it was
easy for me to gather that a painful wakefulness was his aim that
I had dozed off, however, and Harold was out and on his feet,
poking under the bed for his shoes, when I sat up and grimly
regarded him. Just as he said I could come if I liked, Charlotte
slipped in, her face rigid and set. And then it was borne in upon
me that I was not on in this scene. These youngsters had planned
it all out, the piece was their own, and the mounting, and the
cast. My sceptre had fallen, my rule had ceased. In this magic
hour of the summer night laws went for nothing, codes were
cancelled, and those who were most in touch with the moonlight
and the warm June spirit and the topsy-turvydom that reigns when
the clock strikes ten, were the true lords and lawmakers.
Humbly, almost timidly, I followed without a protest in the
wake of these two remorseless, purposeful young persons, who were
marching straight for the schoolroom. Here in the moonlight the
grim big box stood visible--the box in which so large a portion
of our past and our personality lay entombed, cold, swathed in
paper, awaiting the carrier of the morning who should speed them
forth to the strange, cold, distant Children s Hospital, where
their little failings would all be misunderstood and no one would
make allowances. A dreamy spectator, I stood idly by while
Harold propped up the lid and the two plunged in their arms and
probed and felt and grappled.
"Here's Rosa," said Harold, suddenly. "I know the feel of her
hair. Will you have Rosa out?"
"Oh, give me Rosa!" cried Charlotte with a sort of gasp. And
when Rosa had been dragged forth, quite unmoved apparently,
placid as ever in her moonfaced contemplation of this comedy-
world with its ups and downs, Charlotte retired with her to the
window-seat, and there in the moonlight the two exchanged their
private confidences, leaving Harold to his exploration alone.
"Here's something with sharp corners," said Harold, presently.
"Must be Leotard, I think. Better let him go."
"Oh, yes, we can't save Leotard," assented Charlotte, limply.
Poor old Leotard! I said nothing, of course; I was not on in
this piece. But, surely, had Leotard heard and rightly understood
all that was going on above him, he must have sent up one feeble,
strangled cry, one faint appeal to be rescued from unfamiliar
little Annies and retained for an audience certain to appreciate
and never unduly critical.
"Now I've got to the Noah's Ark," panted Harold, still groping
"Try and shove the lid back a bit," said Charlotte, "and pull
out a dove or a zebra or a giraffe if there's one handy."
Harold toiled on with grunts and contortions, and presently
produced in triumph a small grey elephant and a large beetle with