Copyright
E. (Edith) Nesbit.

The Book of Dragons online

. (page 1 of 10)
Online LibraryE. (Edith) NesbitThe Book of Dragons → online text (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Suzanne Shell and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net








[Illustration: THE BOOK OF DRAGONS]


The Book of DRAGONS

E. Nesbit

With illustrations by
H. R. Millar

Decorations by
H. Granville Fell

DOVER PUBLICATIONS, INC.
Mineola, New York




Contents

PAGE

I. The Book of Beasts 1

II. Uncle James, or The Purple Stranger 19

III. The Deliverers of Their Country 39

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

V. The Island of the Nine Whirlpools 79

VI. The Dragon Tamers 99

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

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




List of Illustrations

The Book of Dragons _frontispiece_

The Book of Beasts PAGE 1

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

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

Uncle James, or The Purple Stranger PAGE 19

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

"The dragon ran after her." PAGE 36

The Deliverers of Their Country PAGE 39

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

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

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

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

"The dwarfs seized the children." PAGE 73

The Island of the Nine Whirlpools PAGE 79

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

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

The Dragon Tamers PAGE 99

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

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

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

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

"They saw a cloud of steam." PAGE 136

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

"Creeping across the plain." PAGE 148

"That smells good, eh?" PAGE 153


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




The Book of DRAGONS

[Illustration: THE BOOK OF BEASTS]




I. The Book of Beasts


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes?" said Lionel, quickly.

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

"Mad?" asked Lionel, cheerfully.

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

Lionel looked puzzled.

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

"Go on," said Lionel.

" - was called a wizard."

"But he wasn't?"

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

"I see."

"But I wouldn't touch his books."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lionel began to cry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What is he like?" asked the King.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So off he went.

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

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

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


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryE. (Edith) NesbitThe Book of Dragons → online text (page 1 of 10)