" Six to four on the dragon!" murmured St. George sadly, resting his cheek on his hand. " This is an evil world, and sometimes I begin to think that all the wickedness in it is not entirely bottled up inside the dragons. And yet - may not this wily beast have misled you as to his real character, in order that your good report of him may serve as a cloak for his evil deeds?- Nay, may there not be, at this very moment, some hapless Princess immured within yonder gloomy cavern?"
The moment he had spoken, St. George was sorry for what he had said, the Boy looked so genuinely distressed.
" I assure you, St. George," he said earnestly, " there's nothing of the sort in the cave at all. The dragon's a real gentleman, every inch of him, and I may say that no one would be more shocked and grieved than he would, at hearing you talk in that - that loose way about matters on which he has very strong views! "
" Well, perhaps I've been over-credulous," said St. George. " Perhaps I Ve misjudged the animal. But what are we to do? Here are the dragon and I, almost face to face, each supposed to be thirsting for each other's blood. I don't see any way out of it, exactly. What do you suggest ? Can't you arrange things, somehow? "
" That's just what the dragon said," replied the Boy, rather nettled. " Really, the way you two seem to leave everything to me - I suppose you could n't be persuaded to go away quietly, could you?"
" Impossible, I fear," said the Saint. " Quite against the rules. You know that as well as I do."
" Well, then, look here," said the Boy, " it's early yet - would you mind strolling up with me and seeing the dragon and talking it over? It's not far, and any friend of mine will be most welcome."
" Well, it's irregular" said St. George, rising, " but really it seems about the most sensible thing to do. You 're taking a lot of trouble on your friend's account," he added, good-naturedly, as they passed out through the door together. " But cheer up! Perhaps there won't have to be any fight after all."
" Oh, but I hope there will, though! " replied the little fellow, wistfully.
" I Ve brought a friend to see you, dragon," said the Boy, rather loud.
The dragon woke up with a start. " I was just - er - thinking about things," he said in his simple way. " Very pleased to make your acquaintance, sir. Charming weather we 're having! "
" This is St. George," said the Boy, shortly. " St. George, let me introduce you to the dragon. We've come up to talk things over quietly, dragon, and now for goodness' sake do let us have a little straight common-sense, and come to some practical business-like arrangement, for I'm sick of views and theories of life and personal tendencies, and all that sort of thing. I may perhaps add that my mother's sitting up."
" So glad to meet you, St. George," began the dragon rather nervously, " because you've been a great traveller, I hear, and I've always been rather a stay-at-home. But I can show you many antiquities, many interesting features of our country-side, if you 're stopping here any time-"
" I think," said St. George, in his frank, pleasant way, "that we'd really better take the advice of our young friend here, and try to come to some understanding, on a business footing, about this little affair of ours. Now don't you think that after all the simplest plan would be just to fight it out, according to the rules, and let the best man win ? They 're betting on you, I may tell you, down in the village, but I don't mind that! "
" Oh, yes, doy dragon," said the Boy, delightedly; " it 'll save such a lot of bother! "
" My young friend, you shut up," said the dragon severely. M Believe me, St. George," he went on, " there's nobody in the world I'd sooner oblige than you and this young gentleman here. But the whole thing's nonsense, and conventionality, and popular thick-headedness. There 's absolutely nothing to fight about, from beginning to end. And anyhow I'm not going to, so that settles it! "
"But supposing I make you?" said St. George, rather nettled.
" You can't," said the dragon, triumphantly. " I should only go into my cave and retire for a time down the hole I came up. You'd soon get heartily sick of sitting outside and waiting for me to come out and fight you. And as soon as you 'd really gone away, why, I'd come up again gaily, for I tell you frankly, I like this place, and I 'm going to stay here! "
St. George gazed for a while on the fair landscape around them. " But this would be a beautiful place for a fight," he began again persuasively. " These great bare rolling Downs for the arena, - and me in my golden armour showing up against your big blue scaly coils! Think what a picture it would make! "
" Now you 're trying to get at me through my artistic sensibilities," said the dragon. " But it won't work. Not but what it would make a very pretty picture, as you say," he added, wavering a little.
" We seem to be getting rather nearer to business" put in the Boy. " You must see, dragon, that there's got to be a fight of some sort, 'cos you can't want to have to go down that dirty old hole again and stop there till goodness knows when."
"It might be arranged," said St. George, thoughtfully. " I must spear you somewhere, of course, but I'm not bound to hurt you very much. There's such a lot of you that there must be a few spare places somewhere. Here, for instance, just behind your foreleg. It could n't hurt you much, just here! "
" Now you 're tickling, George," said the dragon, coyly. " No, that place won't do at all. Even if it did n't hurt, - and I'm sure it would, awfully, - it would make me laugh, and that would spoil everything."
" Let's try somewhere else, then," said St. George, patiently. " Under your neck, for instance, - all these folds of thick skin, - if I speared you here you'd never even know I'd done it! "