There were great doings when they got down to the village again, and had formed up in front of the inn. After refreshment St. George made a speech, in which he informed his audience that he had removed their direful scourge, at a great deal of trouble and inconvenience to himself, and now they were n't to go about grumbling and fancying they'd got grievances, because they had n't. And they should n't be so fond oj fights, because next time they might nave to do the fighting themselves, which would not be the same thing at all. And there was a certain badger in the inn stables which had got to be released at once, and he'd come and see it done himself. Then he told them that the dragon had been thinking over things, and saw that there were two sides to every question, and he was n't going to do it any more, and if they were good perhaps he'd stay and settle down there. So they must make friends, and not be prejudiced, and go about fancying they knew everything there was to be known, because they did n't, not by a long way. And he warned them against the sin of romancing, and making up stories and fancying other people would believe them just because they were plausible and highly-coloured. Then he sat down, amidst much repentant cheering, and the dragon nudged the Boy in the ribs and whispered that he could n't have done it better himself. Then every one went off to get ready for the banquet.
Banquets are always pleasant things, consisting mostly, as they do, of eating and drinking; but the specially nice thing about a banquet is, that it comes when something's over, and there's nothing more to worry about, and to-morrow seems a long way off. St. George was happy because there had been a fight and he had n't had to kill anybody; for he did n't really like killing, though he generally had to do it. The dragon was happy because there had been a fight, and so far from being hurt in it he had won popularity and a sure footing in society. The Boy was happy because there had been a fight, and in spite of it all his two friends were on the best of terms. And all the others were happy because there had been a fight, and - well, they did n't require any other reasons for their happiness. The dragon exerted himself to say the right thing to everybody, and proved the life and soul of the evening; while the Saint and the Boy, as they looked on, felt that they were only assisting at a feast of which the honour and the glory were entirely the dragon's. But they did n't mind that, being good fellows, and the dragon was not in the least proud or forgetful. On the contrary, every ten minutes or so he leant over towards the Boy and said impressively: " Look here ! you will see me home afterwards, won't you ? " And the Boy always nodded, though he had promised his mother not to be out late.
At last the banquet was over, the guests had dropped away with many good-nights and congratulations and invitations, and the dragon, who had seen the last of them off the premises, emerged into the street followed by the Boy, wiped his brow, sighed, sat down in the road and gazed at the stars. " Jolly night it's been ! " he murmured. " Jolly stars ! Jolly little place this! Think I shall just stop here. Don't feel like climbing up any beastly hill. Boy's promised to see me home. Boy had better do it then! No responsibility on my part. Responsibility all Boy's ! " And his chin sank on his broad chest and he slumbered peacefully.
" Oh, get up, dragon," cried the Boy, pit-eously. " You know my mother's sitting up, and I'm so tired, and you made me promise to see you home, and I never knew what it meant or I would n't have done it! " And the Boy sat down in the road by the side of the sleeping dragon, and cried.
The door behind them opened, a stream of light illumined the road, and St. George, who had come out for a stroll in the cool night-air, caught sight of the two figures sitting there - the great motionless dragon and the tearful little Boy.
" What's the matter, Boy? " he inquired kindly, stepping to his side.
" Oh, it's this great lumbering pig of a dragon !" sobbed the Boy. " First he makes me promise to see him home, and then he says I 'd better do it, and goes to sleep! Might as well try to see a haystack home ! And I 'm so tired, and mother's - " here he broke down again.
" Now don't take on," said St. George. " I'll stand by you, and we 'll both see him home. Wake up, dragon! " he said sharply, shaking the beast by the elbow.
The dragon looked up sleepily. " What a night, George! " he murmured; " what a - "
" Now look here, dra*gon," said the Saint, firmly. " Here's this little fellow waiting to see you home, and you know he ought to have been in bed these two hours, and what his mother 'll say / don't know, and anybody but a selfish pig would have made him go to bed long ago - "
" And he shall go to bed! " cried the dragon, starting up. " Poor little chap, only fancy his being up at this hour ! It's a shame, that's what it is, and I don't think, St. George, you've been very considerate - but come along at once, and don't let us have any more arguing or shilly-shallying. You give me hold of your hand, Boy - thank you, George, an arm up the hill is just what I wanted! "
So they set off up the hill arm-in-arm, the Saint, the Dragon, and the Boy. The lights in the little village began to go out; but there were stars, and a late moon, as they climbed to the Downs together. And, as they turned the last corner and disappeared from view, snatches of an old song were borne back on the night-breeze. I can't be certain which of them was singing, but I think it was the Dragon!
" Here we are at your gate," said the man, abruptly, laying his hand on it. " Good-night. Cut along in sharp, or you 'll catch it! "
Could it really be our own gate? Yes, there it was, sure enough, with the familiar marks on its bottom bar made by our feet when we swung on it.
Oh, but wait a minute! " cried Charlotte. " I want to know a heap of things. Did the dragon really settle down? And did - "
" There is n't any more of that story," said the man, kindly but firmly. " At least, not to-night. Now be off! Good-bye! "
" Wonder if it's all true ? " said Charlotte, as we hurried up the path. " Sounded dreadfully like nonsense, in parts! "
" P'raps its true for all that," I replied encouragingly.
Charlotte bolted in like a rabbit, out of the cold and the dark; but I lingered a moment in the still, frosty air, for a backward glance at the silent white world without, ere I changed it for the land of firelight and cushions and laughter. It was the day for choir-practice, and carol-time was at hand, and a belated member was passing homewards down the road, singing as he went: -
" Then St. George: ee made rev'rence: in the stable so dim, Oo vanquished the dragon : so fearful and grim, So-o grim: and so-o fierce : that now may we say All peaceful is our wakin': on Chri-istmas Day ! "
The singer receded, the carol died away. But I wondered, with my hand on the door-latch, whether that was the song, or something like it, that the dragon sang as he toddled contentedly up the hill.