THE RED DRAGON

ONCE upon a time a Brahmin, who was walking along the road, came upon
an iron cage in which some men had shut up a great Tiger.

As the Brahmin passed by, the Tiger called out:

“O brother Brahmin, brother Brahmin, have pity on me, and let me out
for only one minute! I am so thirsty I shall die unless I can have a
drink of water.”

“I am afraid,” said the Brahmin, “that if I let you out you will eat
me.”

“No, indeed,” said the Tiger. “As soon as I have had some water, I will
go back to my cage.”

Then the Brahmin was sorry for the thirsty beast, and opened the cage
door. Instantly the Tiger jumped out, and cried, “I will eat you first
and drink the water afterwards.”

“Do not be in such a hurry,” said the Brahmin. “Let us ask the opinions
of six, and, if they all say it is fair for you to kill me, then I am
willing to die.”

“Very well,” said the Tiger, “we will ask the first six living things
we meet.”

So they walked on till they came to a Banyan-tree, and the Brahmin
said, “Banyan-tree, Banyan-tree, hear and judge.”

“Let me hear,” said the Banyan-tree.

“This Tiger,” said the Brahmin, “begged me to let him out of his cage
to drink a little water and he promised not to hurt me. Now that he is
free, he wishes to eat me. Is it fair that he should do so?”

Then the Banyan-tree said: “Men come to rest in my cool shade. When
they have rested, they break my branches and scatter my leaves. They
are a cruel race. Let the Tiger eat the man.”

“Tiger, Tiger,” said the Brahmin, “do not eat me yet. You said that you
would hear the judgment of six.”

“Very well,” said the Tiger, and they went on their way. Soon they met
a Camel.

“Camel, Camel,” cried the Brahmin, “hear and judge.”

“Let me hear,” said the Camel.

Then the Brahmin told his story.

“When I was young and strong and could work, my master took good care
of me,” said the Camel; “but now that I am old, he starves me and beats
me without mercy. Men are a cruel race. Let the Tiger eat the man.”

The Tiger would have killed the Brahmin then and there, but he said:

“Tiger, Tiger, do not eat me yet. You said that you would hear the
judgment of six.”

“Very well,” said the Tiger, and they went on their way. Soon they saw
an Ox lying near the road.

“Brother Ox, brother Ox,” cried the Brahmin, “hear and judge.”

“Let me hear,” said the Ox, and the Brahmin told his story.

“When I was young,” said the Ox, “my master was kind to me. Now that I
am too old to work he has left me here to die. Men are a cruel race.
Let the Tiger eat the man.”

They next saw an Eagle flying through the air, and the Brahmin cried:

“O Eagle, great Eagle, hear and judge.”

“Let me hear,” said the Eagle.

The Brahmin told his story, and the Eagle said:

“Whenever men see me, they try to shoot me; they climb the rocks to my
nest and steal away my little ones. Men are a cruel race. Let the Tiger
eat the man.”

Then the Tiger began to roar, but the Brahmin said, “Wait! we have yet
two to ask.”

Soon they saw an Alligator, and the Brahmin told his story. But the
Alligator said:

“Whenever I put my nose out of the water, men torment me. They are a
cruel race. Let the Tiger eat the man.”

The Brahmin was now in despair, but the Tiger was willing to keep his
word. And the sixth judge was a Jackal. Now the Jackal is a miserable
little beast whom no one likes, but he listened to the Brahmin’s story.

“You must show me just where it was and how it happened,” said the
Jackal.

So they all went back to the cage.

“I was here,” said the Brahmin, standing in the road.

“And I was in the cage,” said the Tiger.

“Which way were you looking?” said the Jackal; “and show me the side of
the cage where you stood.”

“I was on this side,” said the Tiger, jumping into the cage.

“Oh, yes, I see,” said the Jackal. “And was the cage door shut?”

“Shut and bolted,” said the Brahmin.

“Then shut and bolt it,” said the Jackal.

When the Brahmin had done this, the Jackal said: “O wicked and
ungrateful Tiger, you would have killed the good Brahmin who opened
your cage door. Your cruelty shall be punished, for no one will ever
let you out again. Go your way, friend Brahmin, and go in peace.”

* * * * *

“Good for the jackal!” said Roland, clapping his hands. “Now for the
dragon!”

So the Story Lady went right on.

THERE lived in a marsh near a certain village, a red dragon which
terrorized all the people round about; so the king of the country
offered a great reward to any one who would kill the frightful beast.

A great many knights of the king’s army went out one after the other to
slay it, and each came back with a wonderful tale of how he had fought
with the dragon; and, after wounding it, had given up the fight only
for fear of being slain by the monster.

“Never mind; you will have better success next time,” the kind king
would say to each defeated knight. Then he would give him a valuable
gift as a reward for his brave effort.

There was among the king’s pages a little boy who was a great butterfly
hunter. The king’s librarian paid him a gold piece for every new
butterfly he found.

This page was a great favorite of the king, and often rode with him on
long journeys. One day when the king stopped in the neighborhood in
which the dragon lived, the page boy slipped off with his net to hunt
butterflies; and, in chasing a rare specimen, lost his way and wandered
into the very swamp where the dragon was roaming about.

When the fierce old dragon saw the boy, he came rushing and roaring
at him in a great rage. The frightened boy looked around; there were
no trees to climb for safety, and he knew that if he ran he could not
escape, for run as he might, the dragon could run still faster.

[Illustration: “WOW,” SHRIEKED THE DRAGON]

He had nothing with which to fight except his butterfly net. The net
was fastened to the end of a long stout stick, and the boy decided to
defend himself with this as best he could. When the monster charged
down upon him, bellowing fearfully, he raised his stick and thrust it
with all his might into the bulging side of the beast.

“Wow!” shrieked the dragon; and with a puff it went up in the air and
burst, just as a balloon does when a hole is slashed in its cover.

The fierce old dragon was nothing but skin and air!

When he was sure it was quite dead, the boy grasped the empty dragon
skin by its spiked tail, and dragged it back to the castle and showed
it to the king. He was the maddest king you ever heard of when he saw
the dead dragon lying there, and sent off at once for the bold knights
who had pretended to fight it so bravely.

“You old humbugs,” he cried. “There lies the red dragon you bragged so
much about fighting. It wasn’t a thing but skin and air. If any one of
you had so much as touched it with the point of a sword, it would have
gone to pieces, as it did when my brave page boy struck it with his
butterfly net.”

The cowardly knights had no word to say. So the king ordered them to
give the gifts they had received for fighting the dragon to the page
boy, who was then so rich that he was able to buy a castle of his own.
When he grew up, he was known as one of the bravest knights of that
country.

“THE page was pretty brave,” said Roland. “When I was little I used
to be scared of the dark, and my mother taught me a poem about being
brave.”

“Oh, say it for us, please!” cried a girl near him.

The boy shook his head in refusal, but Mary Frances gave him a smile
and said, encouragingly, “Please, I want to hear it.”

Then Roland rose, made a bow, and recited his poem:

IF I COULD CROW

Sometimes I waken up at night,
And cannot see a speck of light;
I snuggle down into my bed,
And pull the clothes in overhead.

I look and peer into the dark,
As something seems to whisper, “Hark!”
Then, with an awful sudden jump,
My heart begins to thump and thump.

Oh, my, I think I’ll be so brave,
And all my courage try to save;
Then, as I feel my courage go,
Our yellow rooster starts to crow.

Then I’m ashamed, and feel so small
To think that I’m not brave at all;
To know that in the black, black night,
Our rooster crows–no soul in sight.

He flaps his wings and crows for fair;
His voice sounds like he didn’t care–
Oh, well, what if I’m scared–I know
I’d be brave, too, if I could crow!

Just at this point the cat came bouncing into their midst.

“I have just time enough,” he said, breathlessly; “if you are quite
ready, I will begin.”

You should have heard the children shout!

“We are quite ready! Go on, Puss! Begin, please,” they cried.

So the cat made a bow, twirled his whiskers, and began:

THE TWINS[A]

There were two little kittens, a black and a gray,
And grandmother said, with a frown:
“It never will do to keep them both,
The black one we better drown.

“Don’t cry, my dear,” to tiny Bess,
“One kitten’s enough to keep;
Now run to nurse, for ’tis growing late,
And time you were fast asleep.”

The morrow dawned, and rosy and sweet
Came little Bess from her nap;
The nurse said, “Go into mother’s room,
And look in grandmother’s lap.”

“Come here,” said grandmother, with a smile,
From the rocking-chair where she sat;
“God has sent you two little brothers;
Now what do you think of that?”

Bess looked at the babies a moment,
With their wee heads, yellow and brown,
And then to grandmother soberly said,
“Which one are you going to drown?”

[A] Author unknown.

As soon as he had finished, he waltzed around three times, turned a
somersault, and bounded out of the circle as quickly as he had appeared.

When the Story People had stopped laughing the Story King rose and
waved his hand and said:

“That will do for to-day; we must not tire our guest.”

“Oh, I am not tired,” said Mary Frances; “I could listen to such
stories forever.”

“Dear child, I believe you love stories as much as we do,” said the
Queen, smiling at her enthusiasm. “Well, you shall have a delightful
surprise to-morrow.”

* * * * *

While the stories were being told, Mary Frances had noticed a little
dried-up man, sitting at a table near the Story Lady, and writing
rapidly with an immense quill pen. Before him was a pile of white paper
and an inkwell. As she told the story he wrote it down, keeping even
pace with her words. Mary Frances had never seen any one write so fast
and she watched him, fascinated. Almost without an effort his pen flew
over the paper, and as the last word of the story left the Story Lady’s
lips his pen stopped. Then he folded his papers neatly and laid them on
the table.

As Mary Frances was passing out with the Story Lady, this little man,
much to her surprise, stepped up and handed her the papers he had been
writing.

“These,” said he, “are your copies of the stories you have just heard.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you,” she replied, hesitating to take them.

“Yes, they are for you,” said the Story Lady. “This is the Ready
Writer; he will give you copies of all the stories you hear.”

“Oh, thank you,” said Mary Frances again to the Ready Writer. “How fast
you write! You must be the fastest writer in the world!”

The little man bowed and retired, evidently much pleased with her
praise of his skill.

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