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From The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit.
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Start of Story
This is the tale of the wonders that befell on the evening of the
eleventh of December, when they did what they were told not to do. You
may think that you know all the unpleasant things that could possibly
happen to you if you are disobedient, but there are some things which
even you do not know, and they did not know them either.
Their names were George and Jane.
There were no fireworks that year on Guy Fawkes' Day, because the heir
to the throne was not well. He was cutting his first tooth, and that is
a very anxious time for any person--even for a Royal one. He was really
very poorly, so that fireworks would have been in the worst possible
taste, even at Land's End or in the Isle of Man, whilst in Forest Hill,
which was the home of Jane and George, anything of the kind was quite
out of the question. Even the Crystal Palace, empty-headed as it is,
felt that this was no time for Catherine-wheels.
But when the Prince had cut his tooth, rejoicings were not only
admissible but correct, and the eleventh of December was proclaimed
firework day. All the people were most anxious to show their loyalty,
and to enjoy themselves at the same time. So there were fireworks and
torchlight processions, and set pieces at the Crystal Palace, with
"Blessings on our Prince" and "Long Live our Royal Darling" in
different-colored fires; and the most private of boarding schools had a
half holiday; and even the children of plumbers and authors had tuppence
each given them to spend as they liked.
George and Jane had sixpence each--and they spent the whole amount on a
golden rain, which would not light for ever so long, and when it did
light went out almost at once, so they had to look at the fireworks in
the gardens next door, and at the ones at the Crystal Palace, which were
very glorious indeed.
All their relations had colds in their heads, so Jane and George were
allowed to go out into the garden alone to let off their firework. Jane
had put on her fur cape and her thick gloves, and her hood with the
silver fox fur on it that was made out of Mother's old muff; and George
had his overcoat with the three capes, and his comforter, and Father's
sealskin traveling cap with the pieces that come down over your ears.
It was dark in the garden, but the fireworks all about made it seem very
gay, and though the children were cold they were quite sure that they
were enjoying themselves.
They got up on the fence at the end of the garden to see better; and
then they saw, very far away, where the edge of the dark world is, a
shining line of straight, beautiful lights arranged in a row, as if they
were the spears carried by a fairy army.
"Oh, how pretty," said Jane. "I wonder what they are. It looks as if the
fairies were planting little shining baby poplar trees and watering them
with liquid light."
"Liquid fiddlestick!" said George. He had been to school, so he knew
that these were only the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. And he
"But what is the Rory Bory what's-its-name?" asked Jane. "Who lights it,
and what's it there for?"
George had to own that he had not learned that.
"But I know," said he, "that it has something to do with the Great Bear,
and the Dipper, and the Plough, and Charles's Wain."
"And what are they?" asked Jane.
"Oh, they're the surnames of some of the star families. There goes a
jolly rocket," answered George, and Jane felt as if she almost
understood about the star families.
The fairy spears of light twinkled and gleamed: They were much prettier
than the big, blaring, blazing bonfire that was smoking and flaming and
spluttering in the next-door-but-one garden--prettier even than the
colored fires at the Crystal Palace.
"I wish we could see them nearer," Jane said. "I wonder if the star
families are nice families--the kind that Mother would like us to go to
tea with, if we were little stars?"
"They aren't that sort of families at all, Silly," said her brother,
kindly trying to explain. "I only said 'families' because a kid like you
wouldn't have understood if I'd said constel ... and, besides, I've
forgotten the end of the word. Anyway, the stars are all up in the sky,
so you can't go to tea with them."
"No," said Jane. "I said if we were little stars."
"But we aren't," said George.
"No," said Jane, with a sigh. "I know that. I'm not so stupid as you
think, George. But the Tory Bories are somewhere at the edge. Couldn't
we go and see them?"
"Considering you're eight, you haven't much sense." George kicked his
boots against the fencing to warm his toes. "It's half the world away."
"It looks very near," said Jane, hunching up her shoulders to keep her
"They're close to the North Pole," said George. "Look here--I don't care
a straw about the Aurora Borealis, but I shouldn't mind discovering the
North Pole: It's awfully difficult and dangerous, and then you come home
and write a book about it with a lot of pictures, and everybody says how
brave you are."
Jane got off the fence.
"Oh, George, _let's_," she said. "We shall never have such a chance
again--all alone by ourselves--and quite late, too."
"I'd go right enough if it wasn't for you," George answered gloomily,
"but you know they always say I lead you into mischief--and if we went
to the North Pole we should get our boots wet, as likely as not, and
you remember what they said about not going on the grass."
"They said the _lawn_," said Jane. "We're not going on the _lawn_. Oh,
George, do, do let's. It doesn't look so _very_ far--we could be back
before they had time to get dreadfully angry."
"All right," said George, "but mind, I don't want to go."
So off they went. They got over the fence, which was very cold and white
and shiny because it was beginning to freeze, and on the other side of
the fence was somebody else's garden, so they got out of that as quickly
as they could, and beyond that was a field where there was another big
bonfire, with people standing around it who looked quite dark-skinned.
"It's like Indians," said George, and wanted to stop and look, but Jane
pulled him on, and they passed by the bonfire and got through a gap in
the hedge into another field--a dark one; and far away, beyond quite a
number of other dark fields, the Northern Lights shone and sparkled and
Now, during the winter the Arctic regions come much farther south than
they are marked on the map. Very few people know this, though you would
think they could tell it by the ice in the jugs of a morning. And just
when George and Jane were starting for the North Pole, the Arctic
regions had come down very nearly as far as Forest Hill, so that, as the
children walked on, it grew colder and colder, and presently they saw
that the fields were covered with snow, and there were great icicles
hanging from all the hedges and gates. And the Northern Lights still
seemed some way off.
They were crossing a very rough, snowy field when Jane first noticed the
animals. There were white rabbits and white hares and all sorts and
sizes of white birds, and some larger creatures in the shadows of the
hedges that Jane was sure were wolves and bears.