Select the desired text size

Ice dragon.

From The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit.

Press F5 to hear again

Start of Story

This is the tale of the wonders that befell on the evening of the eleventh of December, when they did what they were told not to do. You may think that you know all the unpleasant things that could possibly happen to you if you are disobedient, but there are some things which even you do not know, and they did not know them either. Their names were George and Jane. There were no fireworks that year on Guy Fawkes' Day, because the heir to the throne was not well. He was cutting his first tooth, and that is a very anxious time for any person--even for a Royal one. He was really very poorly, so that fireworks would have been in the worst possible taste, even at Land's End or in the Isle of Man, whilst in Forest Hill, which was the home of Jane and George, anything of the kind was quite out of the question. Even the Crystal Palace, empty-headed as it is, felt that this was no time for Catherine-wheels. But when the Prince had cut his tooth, rejoicings were not only admissible but correct, and the eleventh of December was proclaimed firework day. All the people were most anxious to show their loyalty, and to enjoy themselves at the same time. So there were fireworks and torchlight processions, and set pieces at the Crystal Palace, with "Blessings on our Prince" and "Long Live our Royal Darling" in different-colored fires; and the most private of boarding schools had a half holiday; and even the children of plumbers and authors had tuppence each given them to spend as they liked. George and Jane had sixpence each--and they spent the whole amount on a golden rain, which would not light for ever so long, and when it did light went out almost at once, so they had to look at the fireworks in the gardens next door, and at the ones at the Crystal Palace, which were very glorious indeed.

All their relations had colds in their heads, so Jane and George were allowed to go out into the garden alone to let off their firework. Jane had put on her fur cape and her thick gloves, and her hood with the silver fox fur on it that was made out of Mother's old muff; and George had his overcoat with the three capes, and his comforter, and Father's sealskin traveling cap with the pieces that come down over your ears. It was dark in the garden, but the fireworks all about made it seem very gay, and though the children were cold they were quite sure that they were enjoying themselves. They got up on the fence at the end of the garden to see better; and then they saw, very far away, where the edge of the dark world is, a shining line of straight, beautiful lights arranged in a row, as if they were the spears carried by a fairy army. "Oh, how pretty," said Jane. "I wonder what they are. It looks as if the fairies were planting little shining baby poplar trees and watering them with liquid light." "Liquid fiddlestick!" said George. He had been to school, so he knew that these were only the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. And he said so. "But what is the Rory Bory what's-its-name?" asked Jane. "Who lights it, and what's it there for?" George had to own that he had not learned that. "But I know," said he, "that it has something to do with the Great Bear, and the Dipper, and the Plough, and Charles's Wain." "And what are they?" asked Jane. "Oh, they're the surnames of some of the star families. There goes a jolly rocket," answered George, and Jane felt as if she almost understood about the star families.

The fairy spears of light twinkled and gleamed: They were much prettier than the big, blaring, blazing bonfire that was smoking and flaming and spluttering in the next-door-but-one garden--prettier even than the colored fires at the Crystal Palace. "I wish we could see them nearer," Jane said. "I wonder if the star families are nice families--the kind that Mother would like us to go to tea with, if we were little stars?" "They aren't that sort of families at all, Silly," said her brother, kindly trying to explain. "I only said 'families' because a kid like you wouldn't have understood if I'd said constel ... and, besides, I've forgotten the end of the word. Anyway, the stars are all up in the sky, so you can't go to tea with them." "No," said Jane. "I said if we were little stars." "But we aren't," said George. "No," said Jane, with a sigh. "I know that. I'm not so stupid as you think, George. But the Tory Bories are somewhere at the edge. Couldn't we go and see them?" "Considering you're eight, you haven't much sense." George kicked his boots against the fencing to warm his toes. "It's half the world away." "It looks very near," said Jane, hunching up her shoulders to keep her neck warm. "They're close to the North Pole," said George. "Look here--I don't care a straw about the Aurora Borealis, but I shouldn't mind discovering the North Pole: It's awfully difficult and dangerous, and then you come home and write a book about it with a lot of pictures, and everybody says how brave you are." Jane got off the fence. "Oh, George, _let's_," she said. "We shall never have such a chance again--all alone by ourselves--and quite late, too." "I'd go right enough if it wasn't for you," George answered gloomily, "but you know they always say I lead you into mischief--and if we went to the North Pole we should get our boots wet, as likely as not, and you remember what they said about not going on the grass."

"They said the _lawn_," said Jane. "We're not going on the _lawn_. Oh, George, do, do let's. It doesn't look so _very_ far--we could be back before they had time to get dreadfully angry." "All right," said George, "but mind, I don't want to go." So off they went. They got over the fence, which was very cold and white and shiny because it was beginning to freeze, and on the other side of the fence was somebody else's garden, so they got out of that as quickly as they could, and beyond that was a field where there was another big bonfire, with people standing around it who looked quite dark-skinned. "It's like Indians," said George, and wanted to stop and look, but Jane pulled him on, and they passed by the bonfire and got through a gap in the hedge into another field--a dark one; and far away, beyond quite a number of other dark fields, the Northern Lights shone and sparkled and twinkled. Now, during the winter the Arctic regions come much farther south than they are marked on the map. Very few people know this, though you would think they could tell it by the ice in the jugs of a morning. And just when George and Jane were starting for the North Pole, the Arctic regions had come down very nearly as far as Forest Hill, so that, as the children walked on, it grew colder and colder, and presently they saw that the fields were covered with snow, and there were great icicles hanging from all the hedges and gates. And the Northern Lights still seemed some way off. They were crossing a very rough, snowy field when Jane first noticed the animals. There were white rabbits and white hares and all sorts and sizes of white birds, and some larger creatures in the shadows of the hedges that Jane was sure were wolves and bears.


back to top
Back To Top
next page
Next Page