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The Magic City by Edith Nesbit Chapter 4 The Dragon-Slayer

When Philip walked up the domino path and under the vast arch into the darkness beyond, his heart felt strong with high resolve. His legs, however, felt weak; strangely weak, especially about the knees. The doorway was so enormous, that which lay beyond was so dark, and he himself so very very small. As he passed under the little gateway which he had built of three dominoes with the little silver knight in armour on the top, he noticed that he was only as high as a domino, and you know how very little that is.

Philip went along the domino path. He had to walk carefully, for to him the spots on the dominoes were quite deep hollows. But as they were black they were easy to see. He had made three arches, one beyond another, of two pairs of silver candlesticks with silver inkstands on the top of them. The third pair of silver candlesticks had a book on the top of them because there were no more inkstands. And when he had passed through the three silver arches, he stopped.

Beyond lay a sort of velvety darkness with white gleams in it. And as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he saw that he was in a great hall of silver pillars, gigantic silver candlesticks they seemed to be, and they went in long vistas this way and that way and every way, like the hop-poles in a hop-field, so that whichever way you turned, a long pillared corridor lay in front of you.

Philip had no idea which way he ought to go. It seemed most unlikely that he would find Lucy in a dark hall with silver pillars.

'All the same,' he said, 'it's not so dark as it was, by long chalks.'

It was not. The silver pillars had begun to give out a faint soft glow like the silver phosphorescence that lies in sea pools in summer time.

'It's lucky too,' he said, 'because of the holes in the floor.'

The holes were the spots on the dominoes with which the pillared hall was paved.

'I wonder what part of the city where Lucy is I shall come out at?' Philip asked himself. But he need not have troubled. He did not come out at all. He walked on and on and on and on and on. He thought he was walking straight, but really he was turning first this way and then that, and then the other way among the avenues of silver pillars which all looked just alike.

He was getting very tired, and he had been walking a long time, before he came to anything that was not silver pillars and velvet black under invisible roofs, and floor paved with dominoes laid very close together.

'Oh, I am glad!' he said at last, when he saw the pavement narrow to a single line of dominoes just like the path he had come in by. There was an arch too, like the arch by which he had come in. And then he perceived in a shock of miserable surprise that it was, in fact, the same arch and the same domino path. He had come back, after all that walking, to the point from which he had started. It was most mortifying. So silly! Philip sat down on the edge of the domino path to rest and think.

'Suppose I just walk out and don't believe in magic any more?' he said to himself. 'Helen says magic can only happen to people who believe in magic. So if I just walked out and didn't believe as hard as ever I could, I should be my own right size again, and Lucy would be back, and there wouldn't be any magic.'

'Yes, but,' said that voice that always would come and join in whenever Philip was talking to himself, 'suppose Lucy does believe it? Then it'll all go on for her, whatever you believe, and she won't be back. Besides, you know you've got to believe it, because it's true.'

'Oh, bother!' said Philip; 'I'm tired. I don't want to go on.'

'You shouldn't have deserted Lucy,' said the tiresome voice, 'then you wouldn't have had to go back to look for her.'

'But I can't find my way. How can I find my way?'

'You know well enough. Fix your eyes on a far-off pillar and walk straight to it, and when you're nearly there fix your eyes a little farther. You're bound to come out somewhere.'

'But I'm tired and it's so lonely,' said Philip.

'Lucy's lonely too,' said the voice.

'Drop it!' said Philip. And he got up and began to walk again. Also he took the advice of that worrying voice and fixed his eyes on a distant pillar.

'But why should I bother?' he said; 'this is a sort of dream.'

'Even if it were a dream,' said the voice, 'there are adventures in it. So you may as well be adventurous.'

'Oh, all right,' said Philip, and on he went.

And by walking very carefully and fixing his eyes a long way off, he did at last come right through the hall of silver pillars, and saw beyond the faint glow of the pillars the blue light of day. It shone very brightly through a very little door, and when Philip came to that door he went through it without hesitation. And there he was in a big field. It was rather like the illimitable prairie, only there were great patches of different-coloured flowers. Also there was a path across it, and he followed the path.

'Because,' he said, 'I'm more likely to meet Lucy. Girls always keep to paths. They never explore.'

Which just shows how little he knew about girls.

He looked back after a while, to see what the hall of pillars looked like from outside, but it was already dim in the mists of distance.

But ahead of him he saw a great rough building, rather like Stonehenge.

'I wish I'd come into the other city where the people are, and the soldiers, and the greyhounds, and the cocoa-nuts,' he told himself. 'There's nobody here at all, not even Lucy.'

The loneliness of the place grew more and more unpleasing to Philip. But he went on. It seemed more reasonable than to go back.

'I ought to be very hungry,' he said; 'I must have been walking for hours.' But he wasn't hungry. It may have been the magic, or it may have been the odd breakfast he had had. I don't know. He spoke aloud because it was so quiet in that strange open country with no one in it but himself. And no sound but the clump, clump of his boots on the path. And it seemed to him that everything grew quieter and quieter till he could almost hear himself think. Loneliness, real loneliness is a dreadful thing. I hope you will never feel it. Philip looked to right and left, and before him, and on all the wide plain nothing moved. There were the grass and flowers, but no wind stirred them. And there was no sign that any living person had ever trodden that path--except that there was a path to tread, and that the path led to the Stonehenge building, and even that seemed to be only a ruin.

'I'll go as far as that anyhow,' said Philip; 'perhaps there'll be a signboard there or something.'

There was something. Something most unexpected. Philip reached the building; it was really very like Stonehenge, only the pillars were taller and closer together and there was one high solid towering wall; turned the corner of a massive upright and ran almost into the arms, and quite on to the feet of a man in a white apron and a square paper cap, who sat on a fallen column, eating bread and cheese with a clasp-knife.

'I beg your pardon!' Philip gasped.

'Granted, I'm sure,' said the man; 'but it's a dangerous thing to do, Master Philip, running sheer on to chaps' clasp-knives.'

He set Philip on his feet, and waved the knife, which had been so often sharpened that the blade was half worn away.

'Set you down and get your breath,' he said kindly.

'Why, it's you!' said Philip.

'Course it is. Who should I be if I wasn't me? That's poetry.'

'But how did you get here?'

'Ah!' said the man going on with his bread and cheese, while he talked quite in the friendliest way, 'that's telling.'

'Well, tell then,' said Philip impatiently. But he sat down.

'Well, you say it's me. Who be it? Give it a name.'

'You're old Perrin,' said Pip; 'I mean, of course, I beg your pardon, you're Mr. Perrin, the carpenter.'

'And what does carpenters do?'

'Carp, I suppose,' said Philip. 'That means they make things, doesn't it?'

'That's it,' said the man encouragingly; 'what sort of things now might old Perrin have made for you?'

'You made my wheelbarrow, I know,' said Philip, 'and my bricks.'

'Ah!' said Mr. Perrin, 'now you've got it. I made your bricks, seasoned oak, and true to the thousandth of an inch, they was. And that's how I got here. So now you know.'

'But what are you doing here?' said Philip, wriggling restlessly on the fallen column.

'Waiting for you. Them as knows sent me out to meet you, and give you a hint of what's expected of you.'

'Well. What is?' said Philip. 'I mean I think it's very kind of you. What is expected?'

'Plenty of time,' said the carpenter, 'plenty. Nothing ain't expected of you till towards sundown.'

'I do think it was most awfully kind of you,' said Philip, who had now thought this over.

'You was kind to old Perrin once,' said that person.

'Was I?' said Philip, much surprised.

'Yes; when my little girl was ailing you brought her a lot of pears off your own tree. Not one of 'em you didn't 'ave yourself that year, Miss Helen told me. And you brought back our kitten--the sandy and white one with black spots--when it strayed. So I was quite willing to come and meet you when so told. And knowing something of young gentlemen's peckers, owing to being in business once next door to a boys' school, I made so bold as to bring you a snack.'

He reached a hand down behind the fallen pillar on which they sat and brought up a basket.

'Here,' he said. And Philip, raising the lid, was delighted to find that he was hungry. It was a pleasant basketful. Meat pasties, red hairy gooseberries, a stone bottle of ginger-beer, a blue mug with Philip on it in gold letters, a slice of soda cake and two farthing sugar-sticks.

'I'm sure I've seen that basket before,' said the boy as he ate.

'Like enough. It's the one you brought them pears down in.'

'Now look here,' said Philip, through his seventh bite of pasty, 'you must tell me how you got here. And tell me where you've got to. You've simply no idea how muddling it all is to me. Do tell me everything. Where are we, I mean, and why? And what I've got to do. And why? And when? Tell me every single thing.' And he took the eighth bite.

'You really don't know, sir?'

'No,' said Philip, contemplating the ninth or last bite but one. It was a large pasty.

'Well then. Here goes. But I was always a poor speaker, and so considered even by friends at cricket dinners and what not.'

'But I don't want you to speak,' said Philip; 'just tell me.'

'Well, then. How did I get here? I got here through having made them bricks what you built this tumble-down old ancient place with.'

'I built?'

'Yes, with them bricks I made you. I understand as this was the first building you ever put up. That's why it's first on the road to where you want to get to!'

Philip looked round at the Stonehenge building and saw that it was indeed built of enormous oak bricks.

'Of course,' he said, 'only I've grown smaller.'

'Or they've grown bigger,' said Mr. Perrin; 'it's the same thing. You see it's like this. All the cities and things you ever built is in this country. I don't know how it's managed, no more'n what you do. But so it is. And as you made 'em, you've the right to come to them--if you can get there. And you have got there. It isn't every one has the luck, I'm told. Well, then, you made the cities, but you made 'em out of what other folks had made, things like bricks and chessmen and books and candlesticks and dominoes and brass basins and every sort of kind of thing. An' all the people who helped to make all them things you used to build with, they're all here too. D'you see? Making's the thing. If it was no more than the lad that turned the handle of the grindstone to sharp the knife that carved a bit of a cabinet or what not, or a child that picked a teazle to finish a bit of the cloth that's glued on to the bottom of a chessman--they're all here. They're what's called the population of your cities.'

'I see. They've got small, like I have,' said Philip.

'Or the cities has got big,' said the carpenter; 'it comes to the same thing. I wish you wouldn't interrupt, Master Philip. You put me out.'

'I won't again,' said Philip. 'Only do tell me just one thing. How can you be here and at Amblehurst too?'

'We come here,' said the carpenter slowly, 'when we're asleep.'

'Oh!' said Philip, deeply disappointed; 'it's just a dream then?'

'Not it. We come here when we're too sound asleep to dream. You go through the dreams and come out on the other side where everything's real. That's here.'

'Go on,' said Philip.

'I dunno where I was. You do put me out so.'

'Pop you something or other,' said Philip.

'Population. Yes. Well, all those people as made the things you made the cities of, they live in the cities and they've made the insides to the houses.'

'What do they do?'

'Oh, they just live here. And they buy and sell and plant gardens and work and play like everybody does in other cities. And when they go to sleep they go slap through their dreams and into the other world, and work and play there, see? That's how it goes on. There's a lot more, but that's enough for one time. You get on with your gooseberries.'

'But they aren't all real people, are they? There's Mr. Noah?'

'Ah, those is aristocracy, the ones you put in when you built the cities. They're our old families. Very much respected. They're all very high up in the world. Came over with the Conker, as the saying is. There's the Noah family. They're the oldest of all, of course. And the dolls you've put in different times and the tin soldiers, and of course all the Noah's ark animals is alive except when you used them for building, and then they're statues.'

'But I don't see,' said Philip, 'I really don't see how all these cities that I built at different times can still be here, all together and all going on at once, when I know they've all been pulled down.'

'Well, I'm no scholard. But I did hear Mr. Noah say once in a lecture--he's a speaker, if you like--I heard him say it was like when you take a person's photo. The person is so many inches thick through and so many feet high and he's round and he's solid. But in the photo he's flat. Because everything's flat in photos. But all the same it's him right enough. You get him into the photo. Then all you've got to do is to get 'im out again into where everything's thick and tall and round and solid. And it's quite easy, I believe, once you know the trick.'

'Stop,' said Philip suddenly. 'I think my head's going to burst.'

'Ah!' said the carpenter kindly. 'I felt like that at first. Lie down and try to sleep it off a bit. Eddication does go to your head something crool. I've often noticed it.'

And indeed Philip was quite glad to lie down among the long grass and be covered up with the carpenter's coat. He fell asleep at once.

An hour later he woke again, looked at the wrinkled-apple face of Mr. Perrin and began to remember.

'I'm glad you're here anyhow,' he said to the carpenter; 'it was horribly lonely. You don't know.'

'That's why I was sent to meet you,' said Mr. Perrin simply.

'But how did you know?'

'Mr. Noah sent for me early this morning. Bless you, he knows all about everything. Says he, "You go and meet 'im and tell 'im all you can. If he wants to be a Deliverer, let 'im," says Mr. Noah.'

'But how do you begin being a Deliverer?' Philip asked, sitting up and feeling suddenly very grand and manly, and very glad that Lucy was not there to interfere.

'There's lots of different ways,' said Mr. Perrin. 'Your particular way's simple. You just got to kill the dragon.'

'A live dragon?'

'Live!' said Mr. Perrin. 'Why he's all over the place and as green as grass he is. Lively as a kitten. He's got a broken spear sticking out of his side, so some one must have had a try at baggin' him, some time or another.'

'Don't you think,' said Philip, a little overcome by this vivid picture, 'that perhaps I'd better look for Lucy first, and be a Deliverer afterwards?'

'If you're afraid,' said Mr. Perrin.

'I'm not,' said Philip doubtfully.

'You see,' said the carpenter, 'what you've got to consider is: are you going to be the hero of this 'ere adventure or ain't you? You can't 'ave it both ways. An' if you are, you may's well make up your mind, cause killing a dragon ain't the end of it, not by no means.'

'Do you mean there are more dragons?'

'Not dragons,' said the carpenter soothingly; 'not dragons exactly. But there. I don't want to lower your heart. If you kills the dragon, then afterwards there's six more hard things you've got to do. And then they make you king. Take it or leave it. Only, if you take it we'd best be starting. And anyhow we may as well get a move on us, because at sundown the dragon comes out to drink and exercise of himself. You can hear him rattling all night among these 'ere ruins; miles off you can 'ear 'im of a still night.'

'Suppose I don't want to be a Deliverer,' said Philip slowly.

'Then you'll be a Destroyer,' said the carpenter; 'there's only these two situations vacant here at present. Come, Master Philip, sir, don't talk as if you wasn't going to be a man and do your duty for England, Home and Beauty, like it says in the song. Let's be starting, shall us?'

'You think I ought to be the Deliverer?'

'Ought stands for nothing,' said Mr. Perrin. 'I think you're a going to be the Deliverer; that's what I think. Come on!'

As they rose to go, Philip had a brief fleeting vision of a very smart lady in a motor veil, disappearing round the corner of a pillar.

'Are there many motors about here?' he asked, not wishing to talk any more about dragons just then.

'Not a single one,' said Mr. Perrin unexpectedly. 'Nor yet phonographs, nor railways, nor factory chimneys, nor none of them loud ugly things. Nor yet advertisements, nor newspapers, nor barbed wire.'

After that the two walked silently away from the ruin. Philip was trying to feel as brave and confident as a Deliverer should. He reminded himself of St. George. And he remembered that the hero never fails to kill the dragon. But he still felt a little uneasy. It takes some time to accustom yourself to being a hero. But he could not help looking over his shoulder every now and then to see if the dragon was coming. So far it wasn't.

'Well,' said Mr. Perrin as they drew near a square tower with a long flight of steps leading up to it, 'what do you say?'

'I wasn't saying anything,' said Philip.

'I mean are you going to be the Deliverer?'

Then something in Philip's heart seemed to swell, and a choking feeling came into his throat, and he felt more frightened than he had ever felt before, as he said, looking as brave as he could:

'Yes. I am.'

Perrin clapped his hands.

And instantly from the doors of the tower and from behind it came dozens of people, and down the long steps, alone, came Mr. Noah, moving with careful dignity and carrying his yellow mat neatly rolled under his arm. All the people clapped their hands, till Mr. Noah, standing on the third step, raised his hands to command silence.

'Friends,' he said, 'and fellow-citizens of Polistopolis, you see before you one who says that he is the Deliverer. He was yesterday arrested and tried as a trespasser, and condemned to imprisonment. He escaped and you all assumed that he was the Destroyer in disguise. But now he has returned and of his own free will he chooses to attempt the accomplishment of the seven great deeds. And the first of these is the killing of the great green dragon.'

The people, who were a mixed crowd of all nations, cheered loudly.

'So now,' said Mr. Noah, 'we will make him our knight.'

'Kneel,' said Mr. Noah, 'in token of fealty to the Kingdom of Cities.'

Philip knelt.

'You shall now speak after me,' said Mr. Noah solemnly. 'Say what I say,' he whispered, and Philip said it.

This was it. 'I, Philip, claim to be the Deliverer of this great nation, and I pledge myself to carry out the seven great deeds that shall prove my claim to the Deliverership and the throne. I pledge my honour to be the champion of this city, and the enemy of its Destroyer.'

When Philip had said this, Mr. Noah drew forth a bright silver-hilted sword and held it over him.

'You must be knighted,' he said; 'those among my audience who have read any history will be aware that no mere commoner can expect to conquer a dragon. We must give our would-be Deliverer every chance. So I will make him a knight.' He tapped Philip lightly on the shoulder and said, 'Rise up, Sir Philip!'

This was really grand, and Philip felt new courage as Mr. Noah handed him the silver sword, and all the people cheered.

But as the cheers died down, a thin and disagreeable voice suddenly said:

'But I claim to be the Deliverer too.'

It was like a thunderbolt. Every one stopped cheering and stood with mouth open and head turned towards the person who had spoken. And the person who had spoken was the smartly dressed lady in the motor veil, whom Philip had seen among the ruins.

'A trespasser! a trespasser!' cried the crowd; 'to prison with it!' and angry, threatening voices began to arise.

'I'm no more a trespasser than he is,' said the voice, 'and if I say I am the Deliverer, you can't stop me. I can kill dragons or do anything he can do.'

'Silence, trespasser,' said Mr. Noah, with cold dignity. 'You should have spoken earlier. At present Sir Philip occupies the position of candidate to the post of King-Deliverer. There is no other position open to you except that of Destroyer.'

'But suppose the boy doesn't do it?' said the voice behind the veil.

'True,' said Mr. Noah. 'You may if you choose, occupy for the present the position of Pretender-in-Chief to the Claimancy of the Deliverership, an office now and here created expressly for you. The position of Claimant to the Destroyership is also,' he added reflectively, 'open to you.'

'Then if he doesn't do it,' said the veiled lady, 'I can be the Deliverer.'

'You can try,' said Mr. Noah. 'There are a special set of tasks to be performed if the claimant to the Deliverership be a woman.'

'What are they?' said the veiled lady.

'If Sir Philip fails you will be duly instructed in the deeds required of a Deliverer who is a woman. And now, my friends, let us retire and leave Sir Philip to deal with the dragon. We shall watch anxiously from yonder ramparts,' he added encouragingly.

'But isn't any one to help me?' said Philip, deeply uneasy.

'It is not usual,' said Mr. Noah, 'for champions to require assistance with dragons.'

'I should think not indeed,' said the veiled lady; 'but you're not going the usual way about it at all. Where's the princess, I should like to know?'

'There isn't any princess,' said Mr. Noah.

'Then it won't be a proper dragon-killing,' she said, with an angry shaking of skirts; 'that's all I can say.'

'I wish it was all,' said Mr. Noah to himself.

'If there isn't a princess it isn't fair,' said the veiled one; 'and I shall consider it's my turn to be Deliverer.'

'Be silent, woman,' said Mr. Noah.

'Woman, indeed,' said the lady. 'I ought to have a proper title.'

'Your title is the Pretender to the----'

'I know,' she interrupted; 'but you forget you're speaking to a lady. You can call me the Pretenderette.'

Mr. Noah turned coldly from her and pressed two Roman candles and a box of matches into Philip's hand.

'When you have arranged your plans and are quite sure that you will be able to kill the dragon, light one of these. We will then have a princess in readiness, and on observing your signal will tie her to a tree, or, since this is a district where trees are rare and buildings frequent, to a pillar. She will be perfectly safe if you make your plans correctly. And in any case you must not attempt to deal with the dragon without first lighting the Roman candle.'

'And the dragon will see it and go away.'

'Exactly,' said Mr. Noah. 'Or perhaps he will see it and not go away. Time alone will show. The task that is without difficulties can never really appeal to a hero. You will find weapons, cords, nets, shields and various first aids to the young dragon-catcher in the vaults below this tower. Good evening, Sir Philip,' he ended warmly. 'We wish you every success.'

And with that the whole crowd began to go away.

'I know who you ought to have for princess,' the Pretenderette said as they went. And Mr. Noah said:

'Silence in court.'

'This isn't a court,' said the Pretenderette aggravatingly.

'Wherever justice is, is a court,' said Mr. Noah, 'and I accuse you of contempt of it. Guards, arrest this person and take her to prison at once.'

There was a scuffling and a shrieking and then the voices withdrew gradually, the angry voice of even the Pretenderette growing fainter and fainter till it died away altogether.

Philip was left alone.

His first act was to go up to the top of the tower and look out to see if he could see the dragon. He looked east and north and south and west, and he saw the ramparts of the fort where Mr. Noah and the others were now safely bestowed. He saw also other towers and cities in the distance, and he saw the ruins where he had met Mr. Perrin.

And among those ruins something was moving. Something long and jointed and green. It could be nothing but the dragon.

'Oh, Crikey!' said Philip to himself; 'whatever shall I do? Perhaps I'd better see what weapons there are.'

So he ran down the stairs and down and down till he came to the vaults of the castle, and there he found everything a dragon-killer could possibly need, even to a little red book called the Young Dragon-Catcher's Vade Mecum, or a Complete Guide to the Good Sport of Dragon-Slaying; and a pair of excellent field-glasses.

The top of the tower seemed the safest place. It was there that he tried to read the book. The words were very long and most difficultly spelt. But he did manage to make out that all dragons sleep for one hour after sunset. Then he heard a loud rattling sound from the ruin, and he knew it was the dragon who was making that sound, so he looked through the field-glasses, frowning with anxiety to see what the dragon was doing.

And as he looked he started and almost dropped the glasses, and the frown cleared away from his forehead and he gave a sigh that was almost a sob and almost a laugh, and then he said

'That old thing!'

Then he looked again, and this is what he saw. An enormous green dragon, very long and fierce-looking, that rattled as it moved, going in and out among the ruins, rubbing itself against the fallen pillars. And the reason Philip laughed and sighed was that he knew that dragon very well indeed. He had known it long ago. It was the clockwork lizard that had been given him the Christmas before last. And he remembered that he had put it into one of the cities he and Helen had built together. Only now, of course, it had grown big and had come alive like all the other images of live things he had put in his cities. But he saw that it was still a clockwork creature. And its key was sticking out of its side. And it was rubbing itself against the pillars so as to turn the key and wind itself up. But this was a slow business and the winding was not half done when the sun set. The dragon instantly lay down and went to sleep.

'Well,' said Philip, 'now I've got to think.'

He did think, harder than he had ever done before. And when he had finished thinking he went down into the vault and got a long rope. Then he stood still a moment, wondering if he really were brave enough. And then he remembered 'Rise up, Sir Philip,' and he knew that a knight simply mustn't be afraid.

So he went out in the dusk towards the dragon.

He knew it would sleep for an hour. But all the same---- And the twilight was growing deeper and deeper. Still there was plenty of light to find the ruin, and also to find the dragon. There it lay--about ten or twelve yards of solid dark dragon-flesh. Its metal claws gleamed in the last of the daylight. Its great mouth was open, and its breathing, as it slept, was like the sound of the sea on a rough night.

'Rise up, Sir Philip,' he said to himself, and walked along close to the dragon till he came to the middle part where the key was sticking out--which Mr. Perrin had thought was a piece of an old spear with which some one had once tried to kill the monster.

Philip fastened one end of his rope very securely to the key--how thankful he was that Helen had taught him to tie knots that were not granny-knots. The dragon lay quite still, and went on breathing like a stormy sea. Then the dragon-slayer fastened the other end of the rope to the main wall of the ruin which was very strong and firm, and then he went back to his tower as fast as he could and struck a match and lighted his Roman candle.

You see the idea? It was really rather a clever one. When the dragon woke it would find that it was held prisoner by the ropes. It would be furious and try to get free. And in its struggles it would be certain to get free, but this it could only do by detaching itself from its key. When once the key was out the dragon would be unable to wind itself up any more, and would be as good as dead. Of course Sir Philip could cut off its head with the silver-hilted sword if Mr. Noah really wished it.

It was, as you see, an excellent plan, as far as it went. Philip sat on the top of his tower quite free from anxiety, and ate a few hairy red gooseberries that happened to be loose in his pocket. Within three minutes of his lighting his Roman candle a shower of golden rain went up in the south, some immense Catherine-wheels appeared in the east, and in the north a long line of rockets presented almost the appearance of an aurora borealis. Red fire, green fire, then rockets again. The whole of the plain was lit by more fireworks than Philip had ever seen, even at the Crystal Palace. By their light he saw a procession come out of the fort, cross to a pillar that stood solitary on the plain, and tie to it a white figure.

'The Princess, I suppose,' said Philip; 'well, she's all right anyway.'

Then the procession went back to the fort, and then the dragon awoke. Philip could see the great creature stretching itself and shaking its vast head as a dog does when it comes out of the water.

'I expect it doesn't like the fireworks,' said Philip. And he was quite right.

And now the dragon saw the Princess who had been placed at a convenient spot about half-way between the ruins and Philip's tower.

It threw up its snout and uttered a devastating howl, and Philip felt with a thrill of horror that, clockwork or no clockwork, the brute was alive, and desperately dangerous.

And now it had perceived that it was bound. With great heavings and throes, with snortings and bellowings, with scratchings and tearings of its great claws and lashings of its terrible tail, it writhed and fought to be free, and the light of thousands of fireworks illuminated the gigantic struggle.

Then what Philip had known would happen, did happen. The great wall held fast, the rope held fast, the dragon held fast. It was the key that gave way. With an echoing grinding rusty sound like a goods train shunting on a siding, the key was drawn from the keyhole in the dragon's side and left still fast to its rope like an anchor to a cable.

Left. For now that happened which Philip had not foreseen. He had forgotten that before it fell asleep the dragon had partly wound itself up. And its struggles had not used up all the winding. There was go in the dragon yet. And with a yell of fury it set off across the plain, wriggling its green rattling length towards--the Princess.

And now there was no time to think whether one was afraid or not. Philip went down those tower stairs more quickly than he had ever gone down stairs in his life, and he was not bad at stairs even at ordinary times.

He put his sword over his shoulder as you do a gun, and ran. Like the dragon he made straight for the Princess. And now it was a race between him and the dragon. Philip ran and ran. His heart thumped, his feet had that leaden feeling that comes in nightmares. He felt as if he were dying.

Keep on, keep on, faster, faster, you mustn't stop. Ah! that's better. He has got his second wind. He is going faster. And the dragon, or is it fancy? is going not quite so fast.

How he did it Philip never knew. But with a last spurt he reached the pillar where the Princess stood bound. And the dragon was twenty yards away, coming on and on and on.

Philip stood quite still, recovering his breath. And more and more slowly, but with no sign of stopping, the dragon came on. Behind him, where the pillar was, Philip heard some one crying softly.

Then the dragon was quite near. Philip took three steps forward, took aim with his sword, shut his eyes and hit as hard as he could. Then something hard and heavy knocked him over, and for a time he knew no more.

* * * * * * *

When he came to himself again, Mr. Noah was giving him something nasty to drink out of a medicine glass, Mr. Perrin was patting him on the back, all the people were shouting like mad, and more fireworks than ever were being let off. Beside him lay the dragon, lifeless and still.

'Oh!' said Philip, 'did I really do it?'

'You did indeed,' said Mr. Noah; 'however you may succeed with the other deeds, you are the hero of this one. And now, if you feel well enough, prepare to receive the reward of Valour and Chivalry.'

'Oh!' said Philip, brightening, 'I didn't know there was to be a reward.'

'Only the usual one,' said Mr Noah. 'The Princess, you know.'

Philip became aware that a figure in a white veil was standing quite near him; round its feet lay lengths of cut rope.

'The Princess is yours,' said Mr. Noah, with generous affability.

'But I don't want her,' said Philip, adding by an afterthought, 'thank you.'

'You should have thought of that before,' said Mr. Noah. 'You can't go doing deeds of valour, you know, and then shirking the reward. Take her. She is yours.'

'Any one who likes may have her,' said Philip desperately. 'If she's mine, I can give her away, can't I? You must see yourself I can't be bothered with princesses if I've got all those other deeds to do.'

'That's not my affair,' said Mr. Noah. 'Perhaps you might arrange to board her out while you're doing your deeds. But at present she is waiting for you to take her by the hand and raise her veil.'

'Must I?' said Philip miserably. 'Well, here goes.'

He took a small cold hand in one of his and with the other lifted, very gingerly, a corner of the veil. The other hand of the Princess drew back the veil, and the Dragon-Slayer and the Princess were face to face.

'Why!' cried Philip, between relief and disgust, 'it's only Lucy!'

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