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Kind little Edmund.

From The Book of Stories for the Storyteller by Fanny E. Coe.

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"Yes," said Edmund, "well, that's the fire in the middle of the earth. There's plenty of it, all done to a turn. You'd better go down and begin your breakfast, hadn't you?" So the drakling wriggled through the hole, and began to crawl faster and faster down the slanting shaft that leads to the fire in the middle of the earth. And Edmund, doing exactly as he had been told, for a wonder, caught the end of the drakling's tail and ran the iron hook through it so that the drakling was held fast. And it could not turn around and wriggle up again to look after its poor tail, because, as everyone knows, the way to the fires below is very easy to go down, but quite impossible to come back on. There is something about it in Latin, beginning: "_Facilis descensus_." So there was the drakling, fast by the silly tail of it, and there was Edmund very busy and important and very pleased with himself, hurrying back to the cockatrice. "Now," said he. "Well, now," said the cockatrice. "Go to the mouth of the cave and laugh at the dragon so that she hears you." Edmund very nearly said "Why?" but he stopped in time, and instead, said: "She won't hear me--" "Oh, very well," said the cockatrice. "No doubt you know best," and he began to tuck himself up again in the fire, so Edmund did as he was bid. And when he began to laugh his laughter echoed in the mouth of the cave till it sounded like the laughter of a whole castleful of giants. And the dragon, lying asleep in the sun, woke up and said very crossly: "What are you laughing at?"

"At you," said Edmund, and went on laughing. The dragon bore it as long as she could, but, like everyone else, she couldn't stand being made fun of, so presently she dragged herself up the mountain very slowly, because she had just had a rather heavy meal, and stood outside and said, "What are you laughing at?" in a voice that made Edmund feel as if he should never laugh again. Then the good cockatrice called out: "At you! You've eaten your own drakling--swallowed it with the town. Your own little drakling! He, he, he! Ha, ha, ha!" And Edmund found the courage to cry "Ha, ha!" which sounded like tremendous laughter in the echo of the cave. "Dear me," said the dragon. "I _thought_ the town stuck in my throat rather. I must take it out, and look through it more carefully." And with that she coughed--and choked--and there was the town, on the hillside. Edmund had run back to the cockatrice, and it had told him what to do. So before the dragon had time to look through the town again for her drakling, the voice of the drakling itself was heard howling miserably from inside the mountain, because Edmund was pinching its tail as hard as he could in the round iron door, like the one where the men pour the coals out of the sacks into the cellar. And the dragon heard the voice and said: "Why, whatever's the matter with Baby? He's not here!" and made herself thin, and crept into the mountain to find her drakling. The cockatrice kept on laughing as loud as it could, and Edmund kept on pinching, and presently the great dragon--very long and narrow she had made herself--found her head where the round hole was with the iron lid.

Her tail was a mile or two off--outside the mountain. When Edmund heard her coming he gave one last nip to the drakling's tail, and then heaved up the lid and stood behind it, so that the dragon could not see him. Then he loosed the drakling's tail from the hook, and the dragon peeped down the hole just in time to see her drakling's tail disappear down the smooth, slanting shaft with one last squeak of pain. Whatever may have been the poor dragon's other faults, she was an excellent mother. She plunged headfirst into the hole, and slid down the shaft after her baby. Edmund watched her head go--and then the rest of her. She was so long, now she had stretched herself thin, that it took all night. It was like watching a goods train go by in Germany. When the last joint of her tail had gone Edmund slammed down the iron door. He was a kindhearted boy, as you have guessed, and he was glad to think that dragon and drakling would now have plenty to eat of their favorite food, forever and ever. He thanked the cockatrice for his kindness, and got home just in time to have breakfast and get to school by nine. Of course, he could not have done this if the town had been in its old place by the river in the middle of the plain, but it had taken root on the hillside just where the dragon left it. "Well," said the master, "where were you yesterday?" Edmund explained, and the master at once caned him for not speaking the truth. "But it _is_ true," said Edmund. "Why, the whole town was swallowed by the dragon. You know it was--" "Nonsense," said the master. "There was a thunderstorm and an earthquake, that's all." And he caned Edmund more than ever.

"But," said Edmund, who always would argue, even in the least favorable circumstances, "how do you account for the town being on the hillside now, instead of by the river as it used to be?" "It was _always_ on the hillside," said the master. And all the class said the same, for they had more sense than to argue with a person who carried a cane. "But look at the maps," said Edmund, who wasn't going to be beaten in argument, whatever he might be in the flesh. The master pointed to the map on the wall. There was the town, on the hillside! And nobody but Edmund could see that of course the shock of being swallowed by the dragon had upset all the maps and put them wrong. And then the master caned Edmund again, explaining that this time it was not for untruthfulness, but for his vexatious argumentative habits. This will show you what a prejudiced and ignorant man Edmund's master was--how different from the revered Head of the nice school where your good parents are kind enough to send you. The next day Edmund thought he would prove his tale by showing people the cockatrice, and he actually persuaded some people to go into the cave with him; but the cockatrice had bolted himself in and would not open the door--so Edmund got nothing by that except a scolding for taking people on a wild-goose chase. "A wild goose," said they, "is nothing like a cockatrice." And poor Edmund could not say a word, though he knew how wrong they were. The only person who believed him was his granny. But then she was very old and very kind, and had always said he was the best of boys. Only one good thing came of all this long story. Edmund has never been quite the same boy since. He does not argue quite so much, and he agreed to be apprenticed to a locksmith, so that he might one day be able to pick the lock of the cockatrice's front door--and learn some more of the things that other people don't know. But he is quite an old man now, and he hasn't gotten that door open


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