Snap dragons; old father.., p.5
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       Snap-Dragons; Old Father Christmas, p.5

          
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aBerlin wool shop in a town where there was no competition, fourcommercial travellers, six landladies, six Old Bailey lawyers, severalwidows from almshouses, seven single gentlemen and nine cats, who sworeat everything; a dozen sulphur-coloured screaming cockatoos; a lot ofstreet children from a town; a pack of mongrel curs from the colonies,who snapped at the human beings' heels, and five elderly ladies in theirSunday bonnets with Prayer-books, who had been fighting for good seatsin church."

  "Dear me!" said Harry.

  "If you can find nothing sharper to say than `Dear me,'" said theDragon, "you will fare badly, I can tell you. Why, I thought you'd asharp tongue, but it's not forked yet, I see. Here they are, however.Off with you! And if you value your curls--Snap!"

  And before Harry could reply, the Snap-Dragons came on on their thirdround, and as they passed they swept Harry with them.

  He shuddered as he looked at his companions. They were as transparentas shrimps, but of this lovely cerulaean blue. And as they leaped theybarked--"Howf! Howf?"--like barking Gnus; and when they leaped Harryhad to leap with them. Besides barking, they snapped and wrangled witheach other; and in this Harry must join also.

  "Pleasant, isn't it?" said one of the blue Dragons.

  "Not at all," snapped Harry.

  "That's your bad taste," snapped the blue Dragon.

  "No, it's not!" snapped Harry.

  "Then it's pride and perverseness. You want your hair combing."

  "Oh, please don't!" shrieked Harry, forgetting himself. On which theDragon clawed a handful of hair out of his head, and Harry screamed, andthe blue Dragons barked and danced.

  "That made your hair curl, didn't it?" asked another Dragon, leapingover Harry.

  "That's no business of yours," Harry snapped, as well as he could forcrying.

  "It's more my pleasure than business," retorted the Dragon.

  "Keep it to yourself, then," snapped Harry.

  "I mean to share it with you, when I get hold of your hair," snapped theDragon.

  "Wait till you get the chance," Harry snapped, with desperate presenceof mind.

  "Do you know whom you're talking to?" roared the Dragon; and he openedhis mouth from ear to ear, and shot out his forked tongue in Harry'sface; and the boy was so frightened that he forgot to snap, and criedpiteously,--

  "Oh, I beg your pardon, please don't!"

  On which the blue Dragon clawed another handful of hair out of his head,and all the Dragons barked as before.

  How long the dreadful game went on Harry never exactly knew. Wellpractised as he was in snapping in the nursery, he often failed to thinkof a retort, and paid for his unreadiness by the loss of his hair. Oh,how foolish and wearisome all this rudeness and snapping now seemed tohim! But on he had to go, wondering all the time how near it was totwelve o'clock, and whether the Snap-Dragons would stay till midnightand take him with them to Vesuvius.

  At last, to his joy, it became evident that the brandy was coming to anend. The Dragons moved slower, they could not leap so high, and at lastone after another they began to go out.

  "Oh, if they only all of them get away before twelve!" thought poorHarry.

  At last there was only one. He and Harry jumped about and snapped andbarked, and Harry was thinking with joy that he was the last, when theclock in the hall gave that whirring sound which some clocks do beforethey strike, as if it were clearing its throat.

  "Oh, _please_ go!" screamed Harry in despair.

  The blue Dragon leaped up, and took such a claw-full of hair out of theboy's head, that it seemed as if part of the skin went too. But thatleap was his last. He went out at once, vanishing before the firststroke of twelve. And Harry was left on his face on the floor in thedarkness.

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  CONCLUSION.

  When his friends found him there was blood on his forehead. Harrythought it was where the Dragon had clawed him, but they said it was acut from a fragment of the broken brandy bottle. The Dragons haddisappeared as completely as the brandy.

  Harry was cured of snapping. He had had quite enough of it for alifetime, and the catch-contradictions of the household now made himshudder. Polly had not had the benefit of his experiences, and yet sheimproved also.

  In the first place, snapping, like other kinds of quarrelling, requirestwo parties to it, and Harry would never be a party to snapping anymore. And when he gave civil and kind answers to Polly's smartspeeches, she felt ashamed of herself, and did not repeat them.

  In the second place, she heard about the Snap-Dragons. Harry told allabout it to her and to the hot-tempered gentleman.

  "Now do you think it's true?" Polly asked the hot-tempered gentleman.

  "Hum! Ha!" said he, driving his hands through his hair. "You know Iwarned you, you were going to the Snap-Dragons."

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  Harry and Polly snubbed "the little ones" when they snapped, and utterlydiscountenanced snapping in the nursery. The example and admonitions ofelder children are a powerful instrument of nursery discipline, andbefore long there was not a "sharp tongue" amongst all the littleSkratdjs.

  But I doubt if the parents ever were cured. I don't know if they heardthe story. Besides, bad habits are not easily cured when one is old.

  I fear Mr and Mrs Skratdj have yet got to dance with the Dragons.

  CHAPTER TWO.

  OLD FATHER CHRISTMAS.

  "Can you fancy, young people," said Godfather Garbel, winking with hisprominent eyes, and moving his feet backwards and forwards in his squareshoes, so that you could hear the squeak-leather half a room off--"canyou fancy my having been a very little boy, and having a godmother? ButI had, and she sent me presents on my birthdays too. And young peopledid not get presents when I was a child as they get them now. _Grumph_!We had not half so many toys as you have, but we kept them twice aslong. I think we were fonder of them too, though they were neither sohandsome, nor so expensive as these new-fangled affairs you are alwaysbreaking about the house. _Grumph_!

  "You see, middle-class folk were more saving then. My mother turned anddyed her dresses, and when she had done with them, the servant was veryglad to have them; but, bless me! your mother's maids dress so muchfiner than their mistress, I do not think they would say `thank you' forher best Sunday silk. The bustle's the wrong shape. _Grumph_!

  "What's that you are laughing at, little miss? It's _pannier_, is it?Well, well, bustle or pannier, call it what you like; but only donkeyswore panniers in my young days, and many's the ride I've had in them.

  "Now as I say, my relations and friends thought twice before they pulledout five shillings in a toy-shop, but they didn't forget me, all thesame.

  "On my eighth birthday my mother gave me a bright blue comforter of herown knitting.

  "My little sister gave me a ball. My mother had cut out the divisionsfrom various bits in the rag bag, and my sister had done some of theseaming. It was stuffed with bran, and had a cork inside which hadbroken from old age, and could no longer fit the pickle jar it belongedto. This made the ball bound when we played `prisoner's base.'

  "My father gave me the broken driving-whip that had lost the lash, andan old pair of his gloves, to play coachman with; these I had longwished for, since next to sailing in a ship, in my ideas, came thehonour and glory of driving a coach.

  "My whole soul, I must tell you, was set upon being a sailor. In thosedays I had rather put to sea once on Farmer Fodder's duck-pond than ridetwice atop of his hay-waggon; and between the smell of hay and thesoftness of it, and the height you are up above other folk, and thedanger of tumbling off if you don't look out--for hay is elastic as wellas soft--you don't easily beat a ride on a hay-waggon for pleasure. Butas I say, I'd rather put to sea on the duck-pond, though the best craftI could borrow was the pigsty-door, and a pole to punt with, and thevillage boys jeering when I got aground, which was most of the time--besides the duck-pond never having a wave on it worth the name, punt asyou would, and so shallow you could not have got drowned in it to saveyour life.

  "You're laughing now, little master, are you? But let me tell you thatdrowning's the death for a sailor, whatever you may think. So I'vealways maintained, and have given every navigable sea in the known worlda chance, though here I am after all, laid up in arm-chairs andfeather-beds, to wait for bronchitis or some other slow poison._Grumph_!

  "Well, we must all go as we're called, sailors or landsmen, and as I wassaying if I was never to sail a ship, I would have liked to drive acoach. A mail coach, serving His Majesty. (Her Majesty now God blessher!) carrying the Royal Arms, and bound to go,
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