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The book of beasts.
From The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit.
Start of Story
But Nurse said: "Don't count your chickens, my dear. You haven't seen
the last of that Dragon yet."
Now, the next day was Saturday. And in the afternoon the Dragon suddenly
swooped down upon the common in all his hideous redness, and carried off
the Soccer Players, umpires, goal-posts, ball, and all.
Then the people were very angry indeed, and they said: "We might as well
be a Republic. After saving up all these years to get his crown, and
And wise people shook their heads and foretold a decline in the National
Love of Sport. And, indeed, soccer was not at all popular for some time
Lionel did his best to be a good King during the week, and the people
were beginning to forgive him for letting the Dragon out of the book.
"After all," they said, "soccer is a dangerous game, and perhaps it is
wise to discourage it."
Popular opinion held that the Soccer Players, being tough and hard, had
disagreed with the Dragon so much that he had gone away to some place
where they only play cats' cradle and games that do not make you hard
All the same, Parliament met on the Saturday afternoon, a convenient
time, for most of the Members would be free to attend, to consider the
Dragon. But unfortunately the Dragon, who had only been asleep, woke up
because it was Saturday, and he considered the Parliament, and
afterwards there were not any Members left, so they tried to make a new
Parliament, but being a member of Parliament had somehow grown as
unpopular as soccer playing, and no one would consent to be elected, so
they had to do without a Parliament. When the next Saturday came around
everyone was a little nervous, but the Red Dragon was pretty quiet that
day and only ate an Orphanage.
Lionel was very, very unhappy. He felt that it was his disobedience that
had brought this trouble on the Parliament and the Orphanage and the
Soccer Players, and he felt that it was his duty to try and do
something. The question was, what?
The Blue Bird that had come out of the book used to sing very nicely in
the Palace rose garden, and the Butterfly was very tame, and would perch
on his shoulder when he walked among the tall lilies: so Lionel saw that
all the creatures in _The Book of Beasts_ could not be wicked, like the
Dragon, and he thought: "Suppose I could get another beast out who would
fight the Dragon?"
So he took _The Book of Beasts_ out into the rose garden and opened the
page next to the one where the Dragon had been just a tiny bit to see
what the name was. He could only see "cora," but he felt the middle of
the page swelling up thick with the creature that was trying to come
out, and it was only by putting the book down and sitting on it
suddenly, very hard, that he managed to get it shut. Then he fastened
the clasps with the rubies and turquoises in them and sent for the
Chancellor, who had been ill since Saturday, and so had not been eaten
with the rest of the Parliament, and he said: "What animal ends in
The Chancellor answered: "The Manticora, of course."
"What is he like?" asked the King.
"He is the sworn foe of Dragons," said the Chancellor. "He drinks their
blood. He is yellow, with the body of a lion and the face of a man. I
wish we had a few Manticoras here now. But the last died hundreds of
years ago--worse luck!"
Then the King ran and opened the book at the page that had "cora" on it,
and there was the picture--Manticora, all yellow, with a lion's body and
a man's face, just as the Chancellor had said. And under the picture
was written, "Manticora."
In a few minutes the Manticora came sleepily out of the book, rubbing
its eyes with its hands and mewing piteously. It seemed very stupid, and
when Lionel gave it a push and said, "Go along and fight the Dragon,
do," it put its tail between its legs and fairly ran away. It went and
hid behind the Town Hall, and at night when the people were asleep it
went around and ate all the pussy-cats in the town. And then it mewed
more than ever. And on the Saturday morning, when people were a little
timid about going out, because the Dragon had no regular hour for
calling, the Manticora went up and down the streets and drank all the
milk that was left in the cans at the doors for people's teas, and it
ate the cans as well.
And just when it had finished the very last little halfpenny worth,
which was short measure, because the milkman's nerves were quite upset,
the Red Dragon came down the street looking for the Manticora. It edged
off when it saw him coming, for it was not at all the Dragon-fighting
kind; and, seeing no other door open, the poor, hunted creature took
refuge in the General Post Office, and there the Dragon found it, trying
to conceal itself among the ten o'clock mail. The Dragon fell on the
Manticora at once, and the mail was no defense.
The mewings were heard
all over the town. All the kitties and the milk the Manticora had had
seemed to have strengthened its mew wonderfully. Then there was a sad
silence, and presently the people whose windows looked that way saw the
Dragon come walking down the steps of the General Post Office spitting
fire and smoke, together with tufts of Manticora fur, and the fragments
of the registered letters. Things were growing very serious. However
popular the King might become during the week, the Dragon was sure to do
something on Saturday to upset the people's loyalty.
The Dragon was a perfect nuisance for the whole of Saturday, except
during the hour of noon, and then he had to rest under a tree or he
would have caught fire from the heat of the sun. You see, he was very
hot to begin with.
At last came a Saturday when the Dragon actually walked into the Royal
nursery and carried off the King's own pet Rocking Horse. Then the King
cried for six days, and on the seventh he was so tired that he had to
stop. He heard the Blue Bird singing among the roses and saw the
Butterfly fluttering among the lilies, and he said: "Nurse, wipe my
face, please. I am not going to cry any more."
Nurse washed his face, and told him not to be a silly little King.
"Crying," said she, "never did anyone any good yet."
"I don't know," said the little King, "I seem to see better, and to hear
better now that I've cried for a week. Now, Nurse, dear, I know I'm
right, so kiss me in case I never come back. I _must_ try to see if I
can't save the people."
"Well, if you must, you must," said Nurse, "but don't tear your clothes
or get your feet wet."
So off he went.