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CENTURIES of years ago, when almost all this part of the country was wilderness, there was a little boy, who lived in a poor bit of property and his father gave him a little bull-calf, and with it he gave him everything he wanted for it.
But soon after his father died, and his mother got married again to a man that turned out to be a very vicious stepfather, who couldn't abide the little boy. So at last the stepfather said:
'If you bring that bull-calf into this house, I'll kill it.' What a villain he was, wasn't he?
Now this little boy used to go out and feed his bull-calf every day with barley bread, and when he did so this time, an old man came up to him -- we can guess who that was, eh? -- and said to him: 'You and your bull-calf had better go away and seek your fortune.'
So he went on and he went on and he went on, as far as I could tell you till tomorrow night, and he went up to a farmhouse and begged a crust of bread, and when he got back he broke it in two and gave half of it to the bull-calf. And he went to another house and begged a bit of cheese crud, and when he got back he wanted to give half of it to the bull-calf. 'No,' says the bull-calf, 'I'm going across the field, into the wild-wood wilderness country, where there'll be tigers, leopards, wolves, monkeys, and a fiery dragon, and I'll kill them all except the fiery dragon, and he'll kill me.'
The little boy did cry, and said: 'Oh, no, my little bull-calf; I hope he won't kill you.'
'Yes, he will,' said the little bull-calf, 'so you climb up that tree, so that no one can come nigh you but the monkeys, and if they come the cheese crud will save you. And when I'm killed, the dragon will go away for a bit, then you must come down the tree and skin me, and take out my bladder and blow it out, and it will kill everything you hit with it. So when the fiery dragon comes back, you hit it with my bladder and cut its tongue out.'
(We know there were fiery dragons in those days, like George and his dragon in the legend; but, there! it's not the same world nowadays. The world is turned topsy-turvey since then, like as if you'd turn it over with a spade!)
Of course, he did all the little bull-calf told him. He climbed up the tree, and the monkeys climbed up the tree after him. But he held the cheese crud in his hand, and said: 'I'll squeeze your heart like the flint-stone.' So the monkey cocked his eye as much as to say: 'If you can squeeze a flint-stone to make the juice come out of it, you can squeeze me.' But he didn't say anything, for a monkey's cunning, but down he went. And all the while the little bull-calf was fighting all the wild beasts on the ground, and the little lad was clapping his hands up the tree, and calling out: 'Go in, my little bull-calf! Well fought, little bull-calf!' And he mastered everything except the fiery dragon, but the fiery dragon killed the little bull-calf.
But the lad waited and waited till he saw the dragon go away, then he came down and skinned the little bull-calf, and took out its bladder and went after the dragon. And as he went on, what should he see but a king's daughter, staked down by the hair of her head, for she had been put there for the dragon to destroy her.
So he went up and untied her hair, but she said: 'My time has come for the dragon to destroy me; go away, you can do no good.' But he said: 'No! I can master it, and I won't go'; nor for all her begging and praying he would stop.
And soon he heard it coming, roaring and raging from afar off, and at last it came near, spitting fire, and with a tongue like a great spear, and you could hear it roaring for miles, and it was making for the place where the king's daughter was staked down. But when it came up to them, the lad just hit it on the head with the bladder and the dragon fell down dead, but before it died, it bit off the little boy's forefinger.
Then the lad cut out the dragon's tongue and said to the king's daughter: 'I've done all I can, I must leave you.' And sorry she was he had to go, and before he went she tied a diamond ring in his hair, and said good-bye to him.
By and by, who should come along but the old king, lamenting and weeping, expecting to see nothing of his daughter but the prints of the place where she had been. But he was surprised to find her there alive and safe, and he said: 'How came you to be saved?' So she told him how she had been saved, and he took her home to his castle again.
Well, he put it into all the papers to find out who saved his daughter, and who had the dragon's tongue and the princess's diamond ring, and was without his forefinger.
Whoever could show these signs should marry his daughter and have his kingdom after his death. Well, any number of gentlemen came from all parts of England, with forefingers cut off, and with diamond rings and all kinds of tongues, wild beasts' tongues and foreign tongues. But they couldn't show any dragons' tongues, so they were turned away.
At last the little boy turned up, looking very ragged and desolated like, and the king's daughter cast her eye on him, till her father grew very angry and ordered them to turn the little beggar boy away. 'Father,' says she; 'I know something of that boy.'
Well, still the fine gentlemen came, bringing up their dragons' tongues that weren't dragons' tongues, and at last the little boy came up, dressed a little better. So the old king says:
'I see you've got an eye on that boy. If it has to be him, it must be him.' But all the others were fit to kill him, and cried out:
'Pooh, pooh, turn that boy out; it can't be him.' But the king said: 'Now, my boy, let's see what you have to show.' Well, he showed the diamond ring with her name on it, and the fiery dragon's tongue. How the others were thunderstruck when he showed his proofs! But the king told him: 'You shall have my daughter and my estate.'
So he married the princess, and afterwards got the king's estate. Then his stepfather came and wanted to own him, but the young king didn't know such a man.