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From The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit.
Start of Story
"Don't cry for real," whispered George, "or you'll get chilblains in
your eyes. But pretend to howl--it frightens them."
So Jane went on pretending to howl, and the real crying stopped: It
always does when you begin to pretend. You try it.
Then, speaking very loud so as to be heard over the howls of Jane,
George said: "Yah--who's afraid? We are George and Jane--who are you?"
"We are the sealskin dwarfs," said the brown people, twisting their
furry bodies in and out of the crowd like the changing glass in
kaleidoscopes. "We are very precious and expensive, for we are made,
throughout, of the very best sealskin."
"And what are those fires for?" bellowed George--for Jane was crying
louder and louder.
"Those," shouted the dwarfs, coming a step nearer, "are the fires we
make to thaw the dragon. He is frozen now--so he sleeps curled up around
the Pole--but when we have thawed him with our fires he will wake up and
go and eat everybody in the world except us."
"WHATEVER--DO--YOU--WANT--HIM--TO--DO--THAT--FOR?" yelled George.
"Oh--just for spite," bawled the dwarfs carelessly--as if they were
saying, "Just for fun."
Jane stopped crying to say: "You are heartless."
"No, we aren't," they said. "Our hearts are made of the finest sealskin,
just like little fat sealskin purses--"
And they all came a step nearer. They were very fat and round. Their
bodies were like sealskin jackets on a very stout person; their heads
were like sealskin muffs; their legs were like sealskin boas; and their
hands and feet were like sealskin tobacco pouches. And their faces were
like seals' faces, inasmuch as they, too, were covered with sealskin.
"Thank you so much for telling us," said George. "Good evening. (Keep on
But the dwarfs came a step nearer, muttering and whispering. Then the
muttering stopped--and there was a silence so deep that Jane was afraid
to howl in it. But it was a brown silence, and she had liked the white
Then the chief dwarf came quite close and said: "What's that on your
And George felt it was all up--for he knew it was his father's sealskin
The dwarf did not wait for an answer. "It's made of one of us," he
screamed, "or else one of the seals, our poor relations. Boy, now your
fate is sealed!"
Looking at the wicked seal-faces all around them, George and Jane felt
that their fate was sealed indeed.
The dwarfs seized the children in their furry arms. George kicked, but
it is no use kicking sealskin, and Jane howled, but the dwarfs were
getting used to that. They climbed up the dragon's side and dumped the
children down on his icy spine, with their backs against the North Pole.
You have no idea how cold it was--the kind of cold that makes you feel
small and prickly inside your clothes, and makes you wish you had twenty
times as many clothes to feel small and prickly inside of.
The sealskin dwarfs tied George and Jane to the North Pole, and, as they
had no ropes, they bound them with snow-wreaths, which are very strong
when they are made in the proper way, and they heaped up the fires very
close and said: "Now the dragon will get warm, and when he gets warm he
will wake, and when he wakes he will be hungry, and when he is hungry he
will begin to eat, and the first thing he will eat will be you."
The little, sharp, many-colored flames sprang up like the stalks of
dream lilies, but no heat came to the children, and they grew colder and
"We shan't be very nice when the dragon does eat us, that's one
comfort," said George. "We shall be turned into ice long before that."
Suddenly there was a flapping of wings, and the white grouse perched on
the dragon's head and said: "Can I be of any assistance?"
Now, by this time the children were so cold, so cold, so very, very
cold, that they had forgotten everything but that, and they could say
nothing else. So the white grouse said: "One moment. I am only too
grateful for this opportunity of showing my sense of your manly conduct
about the firework!"
And the next moment there was a soft whispering rustle of wings
overhead, and then, fluttering slowly, softly down, came hundreds and
thousands of little white fluffy feathers. They fell on George and Jane
like snowflakes, and, like flakes of fallen snow lying one above
another, they grew into a thicker and thicker covering, so that
presently the children were buried under a heap of white feathers, and
only their faces peeped out.
"Oh, you dear, good, kind white grouse," said Jane, "but you'll be cold
yourself, won't you, now you have given us all your pretty dear
The white grouse laughed, and his laugh was echoed by thousands of kind,
soft bird voices.
"Did you think all those feathers came out of one breast? There are
hundreds and hundreds of us here, and every one of us can spare a little
tuft of soft breast feathers to help to keep two kind little hearts
Thus spoke the grouse, who certainly had very pretty manners.
So now the children snuggled under the feathers and were warm, and when
the sealskin dwarfs tried to take the feathers away, the grouse and his
friends flew in their faces with flappings and screams, and drove the
dwarfs back. They are a cowardly folk.
The dragon had not moved yet--but then he might at any moment get warm
enough to move, and though George and Jane were now warm they were not
comfortable nor easy in their minds. They tried to explain to the
grouse; but though he is polite, he is not clever, and he only said:
"You've got a warm nest, and we'll see that no one takes it from you.
What more can you possibly want?"
Just then came a new, strange, jerky fluttering of wings far softer
than the grouse's, and George and Jane cried out together: "Oh, _do_
mind your wings in the fires!"
For they saw at once that it was the great white Arctic moth.
"What's the matter?" he asked, settling on the dragon's tail.
So they told him.
"Sealskin, are they?" said the moth. "Just you wait a minute!"
He flew off very crookedly, dodging the flames, and presently he came
back, and there were so many moths with him that it was as if a live
sheet of white wingedness were suddenly drawn between the children and
And then the doom of the bad sealskin dwarfs fell suddenly on them.
For the great sheet of winged whiteness broke up and fell as snow falls,
and it fell upon the sealskin dwarfs; and every snowflake of it was a
live, fluttering, hungry moth that buried its greedy nose deep in the
Grown-up people will tell you that it is not moths but moths' children
who eat fur--but this is only when they are trying to deceive you. When
they are not thinking about you they say, "I fear the moths have got at
my ermine tippet," or, "Your poor Aunt Emma had a lovely sable cloak,
but it was eaten by moths." And now there were more moths than have ever
been together in this world before, all settling on the sealskin dwarfs.