“Cheer up,” said he. “I’ll light your fire for you.” And off he went, and in a few minutes he came back with a great armful of sticks from the pine trees outside, and with these and a lesson book or two that he had forgotten to lose before, and which, quite by an oversight, were safe in his pocket, he lit a fire all around the cockatrice. The wood blazed up, and presently something in the basin caught fire, and Edmund saw that it was a sort of liquid that burned like the brandy in a snapdragon. And now the cockatrice stirred it with his tail and flapped his wings in it so that some of it splashed out on Edmund’s hand and burnt it rather badly. But the cockatrice grew red and strong and happy, and its comb grew scarlet, and its feathers glossy, and it lifted itself up and crowed “Cock-a-trice-a-doodle-doo!” very loudly and clearly.
Edmund’s kindly nature was charmed to see the cockatrice so much improved in health, and he said: “Don’t mention it; delighted, I’m sure,” when the cockatrice began to thank him.
“But what can I do for you?” said the creature.
“Tell me stories,” said Edmund.
“What about?” said the cockatrice.
“About true things that they don’t know at school,” said Edmund.
So the cockatrice began, and he told him about mines and treasures and geological formations, and about gnomes and fairies and dragons, and about glaciers and the Stone Age and the beginning of the world, and about the unicorn and the phoenix, and about Magic, black and white.
And Edmund ate his eggs and his turnover, and listened. And when he got hungry again he said good-bye and went home. But he came again the next day for more stories, and the next day, and the next, for a long time.
He told the boys at school about the cockatrice and his wonderful true tales, and the boys liked the stories; but when he told the master he was caned for untruthfulness.
“But it’s true,” said Edmund. “Just you look where the fire burnt my hand.”
“I see you’ve been playing with fire–into mischief as usual,” said the master, and he caned Edmund harder than ever. The master was ignorant and unbelieving: but I am told that some schoolmasters are not like that.
Now, one day Edmund made a new lantern out of something chemical that he sneaked from the school laboratory. And with it he went exploring again to see if he could find the things that made the other sorts of noises. And in quite another part of the mountain he found a dark passage, all lined with brass, so that it was like the inside of a huge telescope, and at the very end of it he found a bright green door. There was a brass plate on the door that said MRS. D. KNOCK AND RING, and a white label that said CALL ME AT THREE. Edmund had a watch: It had been given to him on his birthday two days before, and he had not yet had time to take it to pieces and see what made it go, so it was still going. He looked at it now. It said a quarter to three.
Did I tell you before what a kindhearted boy Edmund was? He sat down on the brass doorstep and waited till three o’clock. Then he knocked and rang, and there was a rattling and puffing inside. The great door flew open, and Edmund had only just time to hide behind it when out came an immense yellow dragon, who wriggled off down the brass cave like a long, rattling worm–or perhaps more like a monstrous centipede.
Edmund crept slowly out and saw the dragon stretching herself on the rocks in the sun, and he crept past the great creature and tore down the hill into the town and burst into school, crying out: “There’s a great dragon coming! Somebody ought to do something, or we shall all be destroyed.”
He was caned for untruthfulness without any delay. His master was never one for postponing a duty.
“But it’s true,” said Edmund. “You just see if it isn’t.”
He pointed out of the window, and everyone could see a vast yellow cloud rising up into the air above the mountain.
“It’s only a thunder shower,” said the master, and caned Edmund more than ever. This master was not like some masters I know: He was very obstinate, and would not believe his own eyes if they told him anything different from what he had been saying before his eyes spoke.
So while the master was writing Lying is very wrong, and liars must be caned. It is all for their own good on the black-board for Edmund to copy out seven hundred times, Edmund sneaked out of school and ran for his life across the town to warn his granny, but she was not at home. So then he made off through the back door of the town, and raced up the hill to tell the cockatrice and ask for his help. It never occurred to him that the cockatrice might not believe him. You see, he had heard so many wonderful tales from him and had believed them all–and when you believe all a person’s stories they ought to believe yours. This is only fair.
At the mouth of the cockatrice’s cave Edmund stopped, very much out of breath, to look back at the town. As he ran he had felt his little legs tremble and shake, while the shadows of the great yellow cloud fell upon him. Now he stood once more between warm earth and blue sky, and looked down on the green plain dotted with fruit trees and red-roofed farms and plots of gold corn. In the middle of that plain the gray town lay, with its strong walls with the holes pierced for the archers, and its square towers with holes for dropping melted lead on the heads of strangers; its bridges and its steeples; the quiet river edged with willow and alder; and the pleasant green garden place in the middle of
the town, where people sat on holidays to smoke their pipes and listen to the band.
Edmund saw it all; and he saw, too, creeping across the plain, marking her way by a black line as everything withered at her touch, the great yellow dragon–and he saw that she was many times bigger than the whole town.
“Oh, my poor, dear granny,” said Edmund, for he had a feeling heart, as I ought to have told you before.
The yellow dragon crept nearer and nearer, licking her greedy lips with her long red tongue, and Edmund knew that in the school his master was still teaching earnestly and still not believing Edmund’s tale the least little bit.
“He’ll jolly well have to believe it soon, anyhow,” said Edmund to himself, and though he was a very tender-hearted boy–I think it only fair to tell you that he was this–I am afraid he was not as sorry as he ought to have been to think of the way in which his master was going to learn how to believe what Edmund said. Then the dragon opened her jaws wider and wider and wider. Edmund shut his eyes, for though his master was in the town, the amiable Edmund shrank from beholding the awful sight.
When he opened his eyes again there was no town–only a bare place where it had stood, and the dragon licking her lips and curling herself up to go to sleep, just as Kitty does when she has quite finished with a mouse. Edmund gasped once or twice, and then ran into the cave to tell the cockatrice.
“Well,” said the cockatrice thoughtfully, when the tale had been told. “What then?”
“I don’t think you quite understand,” said Edmund gently. “The dragon has swallowed up the town.”
“Does it matter?” said the cockatrice.
“But I live there,” said Edmund blankly.
“Never mind,” said the cockatrice, turning over in the pool of fire to warm its other side, which was chilly, because Edmund had, as usual, forgotten to close the cave door. “You can live here with me.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t made my meaning clear,” said Edmund patiently. “You see, my granny is in the town, and I can’t bear to lose my granny like this.”
“I don’t know what a granny may be,” said the cockatrice, who seemed to be growing weary of the subject, “but if it’s a possession to which you attach any importance—-”
“Of course it is,” said Edmund, losing patience at last. “Oh–do help me. What can I do?”
“If I were you,” said his friend, stretching itself out in the pool of flame so that the waves covered him up to his chin, “I should find the drakling and bring it here.”
“But why?” said Edmund. He had gotten into the habit of asking why at school, and the master had always found it trying. As for the cockatrice, he was not going to stand that sort of thing for a moment.
“Oh, don’t talk to me!” he said, splashing angrily in the flames. “I give you advice; take it or leave it–I shan’t bother about you anymore. If you bring the drakling here to me, I’ll tell you what to do next. If not, not.”
And the cockatrice drew the fire up close around his shoulders, tucked himself up in it, and went to sleep.