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The book of beasts.

From The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit.

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The Blue Bird sang more sweetly than ever, and the Butterfly shone more brightly, as Lionel once more carried _The Book of Beasts_ out into the rose garden, and opened it--very quickly, so that he might not be afraid and change his mind. The book fell open wide, almost in the middle, and there was written at the bottom of the page, "Hippogriff," and before Lionel had time to see what the picture was, there was a fluttering of great wings and a stamping of hoofs, and a sweet, soft, friendly neighing; and there came out of the book a beautiful white horse with a long, long, white mane and a long, long, white tail, and he had great wings like swan's wings, and the softest, kindest eyes in the world, and he stood there among the roses. The Hippogriff rubbed its silky-soft, milky white nose against the little King's shoulder, and the little King thought: "But for the wings you are very like my poor, dear lost Rocking Horse." And the Blue Bird's song was very loud and sweet. Then suddenly the King saw coming through the sky the great straggling, sprawling, wicked shape of the Red Dragon. And he knew at once what he must do. He caught up _The Book of Beasts_ and jumped on the back of the gentle, beautiful Hippogriff, and leaning down he whispered in the sharp, white ear: "Fly, dear Hippogriff, fly your very fastest to the Pebbly Waste." And when the Dragon saw them start, he turned and flew after them, with his great wings flapping like clouds at sunset, and the Hippogriff's wide wings were snowy as clouds at moonrise.



When the people in the town saw the Dragon fly off after the Hippogriff and the King they all came out of their houses to look, and when they saw the two disappear they made up their minds to the worst, and began to think what they would wear for Court mourning. But the Dragon could not catch the Hippogriff. The red wings were bigger than the white ones, but they were not so strong, and so the white-winged horse flew away and away and away, with the Dragon pursuing, till he reached the very middle of the Pebbly Waste. Now, the Pebbly Waste is just like the parts of the seaside where there is no sand--all round, loose, shifting stones, and there is no grass there and no tree within a hundred miles of it. Lionel jumped off the white horse's back in the very middle of the Pebbly Waste, and he hurriedly unclasped _The Book of Beasts_ and laid it open on the pebbles. Then he clattered among the pebbles in his haste to get back on to his white horse, and had just jumped on when up came the Dragon. He was flying very feebly, and looking around everywhere for a tree, for it was just on the stroke of twelve, the sun was shining like a gold guinea in the blue sky, and there was not a tree for a hundred miles. The white-winged horse flew around and around the Dragon as he writhed on the dry pebbles. He was getting very hot: indeed, parts of him even had begun to smoke. He knew that he must certainly catch fire in another minute unless he could get under a tree. He made a snatch with his red claws at the King and Hippogriff, but he was too feeble to reach them, and besides, he did not dare to overexert himself for fear he should get any hotter.



It was then that he saw _The Book of Beasts_ lying on the pebbles, open at the page with "Dragon" written at the bottom. He looked and he hesitated, and he looked again, and then, with one last squirm of rage, the Dragon wriggled himself back into the picture and sat down under the palm tree, and the page was a little singed as he went in. As soon as Lionel saw that the Dragon had really been obliged to go and sit under his own palm tree because it was the only tree there, he jumped off his horse and shut the book with a bang. "Oh, hurrah!" he cried. "Now we really have done it." And he clasped the book very tightly with the turquoise and ruby clasps. "Oh, my precious Hippogriff," he cried. "You are the bravest, dearest, most beautiful--" "Hush," whispered the Hippogriff modestly. "Don't you see that we are not alone?" And indeed there was quite a crowd round them on the Pebbly Waste: the Prime Minister and the Parliament and the Soccer Players and the Orphanage and the Manticora and the Rocking Horse, and indeed everyone who had been eaten by the Dragon. You see, it was impossible for the Dragon to take them into the book with him--it was a tight fit even for one Dragon--so, of course, he had to leave them outside. * * * * * They all got home somehow, and all lived happy ever after. When the King asked the Manticora where he would like to live he begged to be allowed to go back into the book. "I do not care for public life," he said.



Of course he knew his way onto his own page, so there was no danger of his opening the book at the wrong page and letting out a Dragon or anything. So he got back into his picture and has never come out since: That is why you will never see a Manticora as long as you live, except in a picture-book. And of course he left the kitties outside, because there was no room for them in the book--and the milk cans too. Then the Rocking Horse begged to be allowed to go and live on the Hippogriff's page of the book. "I should like," he said, "to live somewhere where Dragons can't get at me." So the beautiful, white-winged Hippogriff showed him the way in, and there he stayed till the King had him taken out for his great-great-great-great-grandchildren to play with. As for the Hippogriff, he accepted the position of the King's Own Rocking Horse--a situation left vacant by the retirement of the wooden one. And the Blue Bird and the Butterfly sing and flutter among the lilies and roses of the Palace garden to this very day.

       



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