"Don't be violent, Boy," he said without looking round. " Sit down and get your breath, and try and remember that the noun governs the verb, and then perhaps you'll be good enough to tell me who's coming?"
" That's right, take it coolly," said the Boy. " Hope you 'll be half as cool when I Ve got through with my news. It's only St. George who's coming, that's all; he rode into the village half-an-hour ago. Of course you can lick him - a great big fellow like you ! But I thought I'd warn you, 'cos he's sure to be round early, and he's got the longest, wickedest-looking spear you ever did see!" And the Boy got up and began to jump round in sheer delight at the prospect of the battle.
" O deary, deary me," moaned the dragon; " this is too awful. I won't see him, and that's flat. I don't want to know the fellow at all. I'm sure he's not nice. You must tell him to go away at once, please. Say he can write if he likes, but I can't give him an interview. I'm not seeing anybody at present."
" Now dragon, dragon," said the Boy imploringly, "don't be perverse and wrongheaded. You've got to fight him some time or other, you know, 'cos he's St. George and you 're the dragon. Better get it over, and then we can go on with the sonnets. And you ought to consider other people a little, too. If it's been dull up here for you, think how dull it's been for me ! "
" My dear little man," said the dragon solemnly, "just understand, once for all, that I can't fight and I won't fight. I've never fought in my life, and I'm not going to begin now, just to give you a Roman holiday. In old days I always let the other fellows -the earnest fellows-do all the fighting, and no doubt that's why I have the pleasure of being here now."
" But if you don't fight he 'll cut your head off! " gasped the Boy, miserable at the prospect of losing both his fight and his friend.
" Oh, I think not," said the dragon in his lazy way. " You 'll be able to arrange something. I Ve every confidence in you, you 're such a manager. Just run down, there's a dear chap, and make it all right. I leave it entirely to you."
The Boy made his way back to the village in a state of great despondency. First of all, there was n't going to be any fight; next, his dear and honoured friend the dragon had n't shown up in quite such a heroic light as he would have liked; and lastly, whether the dragon was a hero at heart or not, it made no difference, for St. George would most undoubtedly cut his head off. " Arrange things indeed! " he said bitterly to himself. "The dragon treats the whole affair as if it was an invitation to tea and croquet."
The villagers were straggling homewards as he passed up the street, all of them in the highest spirits, and gleefully discussing the splendid fight that was in store. The Boy pursued his way to the inn, and passed into the principal chamber, where St George .now sat alone, musing over the chances of the fight, and the sad stories of rapine and of wrong that had so lately been poured into his sympathetic ear?.
" May I come in, St. George ?" said the Boy politely, as he paused at the door. " I want to talk to you about this little matter of the dragon, if you're not tired of it by this time."
"Yes, come in, Boy," said the Saint kindly. " Another tale of misery and wrong, I fear me. Is it a kind parent, then, of whom the tyrant has bereft you? Or some tender sister or brother? Well, it shall soon be avenged."
" Nothing of the sort," said the Boy. " There's a misunderstanding somewhere, and I want to put it right. The fact is, this is a good dragon."
" Exactly," said St. George, smiling pleasantly, " I quite understand. A good dragon. Believe me, I do not in the least regret that he is an adversary worthy of my steel, and no feeble specimen of his noxious tribe."
"But he's not a noxious tribe," cried the Boy distressedly. " Oh dear, oh dear, how stupid men are when they get an idea into their heads ! I tell you he's a good dragon, and a friend of mine, and tells me the most beautiful stories you ever heard, all about old times and when he was little. And he's been so kind to mother, and mother'd do anything for him. And father likes him too, though father does n't hold with art and poetry much, and always falls asleep when the dragon starts talking about style. But the fact is, nobody can help liking him when once they know him. He's so engaging and so trustful, and as simple as a child!"
" Sit down, and draw your chair up," said St. George. " I like a fellow who sticks up for his friends, and I'm sure the dragon has his good points, if he's got a friend like you. But that's not the question. All this evening I've been listening, with grief and anguish unspeakable, to tales of murder, theft, and wrong; rather too highly coloured, perhaps, not always quite convincing, but forming in the main a most serious roll of crime. History teaches us that the greatest rascals often possess all the domestic virtues; and I fear that your cultivated friend, in spite of the qualities which have won (and rightly) your regard, has got to be speedily exterminated."
" Oh, you've been taking in all the yarns those fellows have been telling you," said the Boy impatiently. " Why, our villagers are the biggest story-tellers in all the country round. It's a known fact. You 're a stranger in these parts, or else you'd have heard it already. All they want is a fight. They 're the most awful beggars for getting up fights - it's meat and drink to them. Dogs, bulls, dragons - anything so long as it's a fight. Why, they've got a poor innocent badger in the stable behind here, at this moment. They were going to have some fun with him to-day, but they 're saving him up now till your little affair's over. And I've no doubt they've been telling you what a hero you were, and how you were bound to win, in the cause of right and justice, and so on; but let me tell you, I came down the street just now, and they were betting six to four on the dragon freely! "