“I don’t exactly like that sound,” said Zuzu, drawing back. “It makes my shoulders creep.” Lulu also hesitated.
“Don’t fear,” said the Private Secretary. “In my belief the Dragon is not so bad as his voice and actions would seem to indicate. I have lived here all my life, and although I have known our Dragon to threaten to do a great many things, I have never known him really to harm anybody in his life. It seems necessary for a Dragon to roar a great deal; but in my experience they are not dangerous if properly approached and handled with care.”
Zuzu and Lulu, none the less, were very much afraid as they went on through the woods with the Private Secretary. The voice of the Dragon seemed to them very loud and ferocious. They held on tight to the hands of the Private Secretary, who led them on until at last they came out into a wide, open space in front of a high and jagged pile of rocks. In these rocks there was a narrow sort of gorge or passageway, and directly in front of this opening or door, as they presently discovered, lay the head and shoulders of the most dreadful looking Dragon either Zuzu or Lulu had ever heard of in all their lives.
The head of the Dragon was as large as a two-horse carriage and its mouth was as wide as a door; so that both of the Twins could have stepped into the mouth had they cared to do so. As they approached, they saw that the roof of the Dragon’s mouth was dark red, the sides of its mouth and its tongue a light red in color. It had teeth as long as one’s arm. Fire at times came out of its nostrils, and its eyes, which were as large as bushel baskets and very bright red in color, rolled from side to side in the most remarkable and threatening manner.
“Arnggh! Arnggh!” it roared, and started up on its forefeet as though to talk to these intruders. As it did this, it moved its long body quite to the extremity of its tail, and the Twins could hear its heavy scales rattling at least fifty feet back in the dark passage where the rest of the body and the tail of the Dragon were lying. At these sights and sounds it was all the Private Secretary could do to keep the Twins from running away, but he held them tight by the hands.
“Good morning, Jankow,” said he to the Dragon. “How are you feeling to-day? Does the same tooth still bother you?”
“Of course it does,” said the Dragon. “How do you suppose you would feel if you had a tooth that had been bothering you for fifty years?”
“I understand,” said the Private Secretary, “but thus far the Royal Dentist has always declined to pay you a visit, Jankow, for fear you would swallow him while he was at work.”
The Dragon only roared a few more times at this, but at length he asked, “Who are these two young persons you have with you?”
“These,” said the Private Secretary, “are the Royal Hereditary Twins, who have been expected on the Island for a thousand years. You will see that one has the Royal Hereditary malazite blue hair, while the other has the genuine and ancient corazine green hair. Moreover, as you will observe, they both bear the Royal Wishing Wands, which all must obey. It is the wish of his Majesty that they have a pleasant life upon our Island.”
“Well, I hope they will have a better time than I have had,” said the Dragon mournfully. “What self-respecting Dragon would ask a place like mine? I am forced to obey the King or he will close my mouth; and I am obliged to obey the Fairies in the valley below, else they will pinch my tail. And I was once the Royal Army of the first King of Gee-Whiz, a thousand years ago!”
“You will see, my young friends,” said the Private Secretary, “that Dragons grow very old and are sometimes, I fear, as short-tempered as they are long-lived; although I mean no offense to Jankow, who really has a tooth which should have been extracted, had he not been so proud of retaining a full set of teeth. And what he says about being the Royal Army is quite true.”
“Indeed, it is,” said the Dragon proudly. “I was the sole defense of this Island against the Wicked Fairies a thousand years ago, but now I am obliged to defend the Fairies as well. Were it not for me, they would get out of the Secret Valley and make trouble perhaps even now. I keep everybody in on one side and everybody out on the other. So I may say that I am still the support of this kingdom, although I am older than I once was.”
“Oh, I see,” cried Lulu. “That is why they telephone to the Fairies.”
“Yes,” growled the Dragon, “that is how they get around me. The new King has in some mysterious way discovered the use of the telephone. It makes me more than ever discontented with my place. And I can tell them that for a faithful, hard-working Dragon they’d have a hard enough time getting my superior, of that I am very sure. And all this indignity to me, who lost a limb in the service of my country!”
“What does he mean by that?” asked Lulu of the Private Secretary.
“It is true,” said the latter. “He should have eight legs, including the two in front, which are by far the largest and most important of the eight. But if you will observe closely, you will see that Jankow’s left foreleg is of wood and merely painted over.”
“Yes, and needs a fresh coat of paint as well,” growled the Dragon, none the less thrusting out his wooden leg that all might see it. “I am a very much neglected Royal Army, as you can readily see for yourself. Moreover, this loss of one of my most important legs confines me to this spot. I have been here for over a thousand years. A great many persons think they would like nothing so much as to be a Dragon, but I can tell them that they might not find it so pleasant after all, for being an honest and hard-working Dragon is no light task.”
“Don’t you go to sleep each night?” asked Zuzu.
“I never go to sleep at all. For over a thousand years I have not had a nap. There is nothing in the world can put me to sleep.”
“Except one thing,” said the Private Secretary, smiling.
The Dragon scowled at him. “What is the use of mocking me?” it said. “Of course, I know that the Enchanted Banjo might put me to sleep, but that plays only for the King; but not until that takes place does any person get by Jankow, the Royal Dragon.”
“We quite trust you, Jankow,” said the Private Secretary, “and I agree with you that you are a most excellent and satisfactory Dragon. But now, my young friends, if you please, we would better start back to the royal palace, for his Majesty will be waking before long. I only hope that the royal Waffles will continue to be satisfactory!”