A S you will guess from his name, Drakestail was a little drake. But he was not an ordinary drake, such as you may see any fine day waddling on the grass or paddling in a pond. He was clever and he was rich. So rich was he that the King of the country, happening to be hard up, came and borrowed a hundred crowns from little Drakestail.
At first Drakestail felt very important because he had lent money to his sovereign. But when one year went by, and then another, and still the King did not pay him back, he resolved to go on a personal visit to his Majesty, and ask him about it.
So he preened his feathers till he looked very spruce and trim, and set off one morning, singing as he went:
He had not gone far when he met his friend Mr. Fox.
"Good-day, neighbour," said the Fox, "where are you going, pray?"
"I am going to the King, to ask him for the money he owes me."
"May I come with you?"
"Certainly you may. But you will get tired, trotting on all fours. Make yourself very tiny, pop into my beak, go down into my gizzard, and I will carry you."
"That's a good idea!" cried Mr. Fox. And in a twinkling he had vanished down Drakestail's throat.
When the little drake, still quacking his little song, had gone about half-a-mile on his way, he met his friend Lady Ladder, leaning against a wall.
"Good-day, Drakestail," said Lady Ladder, "where are you off to, so spruce and trim?"
"I am going to the King, to ask for the money he owes me."
"Do take me with you!"
"By all means. But wooden legs soon grow weary. Make yourself very tiny, pop into my beak, go down into my gizzard, and I will carry you!"
"That's an excellent idea!" cried Lady Ladder. And a moment later she had joined Mr. Fox in Drakestail's gizzard.
The next friend whom Drakestail met was his dear Lady River.
"Whither away, little friend?" asked Lady River.
"Sweet Lady River, I am going to the King, to ask for the money he owes me."
"Then let me come with you!"
"To be sure I will. But you, who dream and sing as you go, might grow weary. Make yourself very tiny, pop into my beak, go down into my gizzard, and I shall have the honour of carrying you."
"What a delightful idea!" cried Lady River.
And gurgle, gurgle, gurgle, down into his gizzard she went.
The next friend whom Drakestail met was Captain Wasp-hive drilling his regiment of wasps.
"Good morning, gallant Drakestail," said Captain Wasp-hive. "Whither are you bound?"
"To the King's palace, to ask him for the money he owes me."
"Upon my word, I should like very much to come with you!"
"Well, why not? But with all those wasps to drag along you would grow weary. Make yourself very small, pop into my beak, go down into my gizzard, and I will carry you."
"Bravo, that is a splendid idea!" cried Captain Wasp-hive. And down he and all his wasps went into Drakestail's magic gizzard.
Still singing his little song, Drakestail reached the capital of the kingdom and waddled boldly up the principal street.
When he reached the outer gate of the palace he seized the heavy iron knocker and knocked, tap, tap.
The porter peeped out of the lancet window. "Who's there?"
"Drakestail is here. I wish to have speech with the King."
"His Majesty is at dinner."
"Tell him that I have come, Mr. Porter. You need not tell him why."
The porter went to the dining-room of the palace, where the King and all his ten councillors were just sitting down to dinner.
"Ha, ha!" laughed the King, "Oh, yes, I know why Drakestail has come! Ha, ha!"
"Is it your Majesty's wish that he should be admitted?" asked the porter.
"By all means, admit him—to his proper place—the poultry-yard!"
So the porter went back to the gate.
"Pray come in, Drakestail, pray come in—this way, please!"
Quite delighted, Drakestail made haste to follow the porter. But what was his astonishment and wrath when he suddenly found himself in the poultry-yard, with turkeys and chickens and geese all round him, and the door locked!
Nothing daunted, he began to sing his song again. But the turkeys and the chickens and the geese had not heard such a song before, and they did not like the sound of it. Nor had they seen a drake like Drakestail before; and they did not like the look of him. So, after consulting together for a moment, they resolved to fall upon him and peck him to death.
Just for a moment Drakestail felt frightened.
Then he began to shout,
Then out came Mr. Fox, and before you could count, One, Two, Three, all those cross turkeys and chickens and hens were lying dead on the ground!
So Drakestail sang again,
When the King heard what had happened, he was in a fearful rage.
"Take this wretched drake," cried he, "and throw him down the well!"
Down, down, down went poor Drakestail, in the dark, muddy, mossy well.
Then, suddenly, he began to whisper,
Then out came Lady Ladder, and leaned her two wooden bands against the side of the deep, steep well, and pit, pat, pit, pat, Drakestail climbed up her back and out into the sunlight again. And then, of course, he began to sing,
When the King, who was still sitting at table with his ten councillors, heard this song, and knew that Drakestail was still alive, he turned red and purple with rage.
"Take this wretched drake," he commanded, "and throw him into the great big kitchen fire!"
But even when his pretty striped wings were scorched by the flames Drakestail did not lose heart. He called softly,
Out came the silver River, gurgle, gurgle, gurgle, and put out the great big kitchen fire in a trice, and flowed round the ankles of the royal cooks, and then round their knees, and then up to their chins, and then upstairs to the dining-room where the King was still sitting with his ten councillors. And on the top of the flood swam Drakestail, singing,
Then the King turned blue and green with rage.
"Bring this wretched drake to me," he roared, "and I will cut his throat with my own royal hands!"
Two footmen seized hold of Drakestail, and dragged him before the throne. The King had drawn his sword, and all the ten councillors had drawn theirs. It was a very alarming sight, and Drakestail's voice was faint and unsteady as he said,
Then out rushed Captain Wasp-hive, with his whole regiment of black-and-yellow-clad wasps.
"Fix bayonets, my lads, and let 'em have it!" buzzed the Captain, and they all fell upon the King and the ten councillors. Blinded and maddened by the wasps' bayonets, the King and the ten councillors darted hither and thither, trying to escape. At last, one after another, plop, plop, plop, they jumped out of the window. And after that they were never heard of again!
Drakestail was very much astonished when he found himself all alone in the palace. "Quack, quack," said he, "I think I'd better look round me a little, and see if I can find my hundred crowns anywhere."
So he hunted high and low, in all the cupboards and on all the shelves, but though he found many precious and wonderful things, he did not come across his hundred crowns, because the King had spent them all quite a long time ago. Presently he felt tired, and as the throne was the most comfortable-looking seat in sight he climbed up on to it, pit, pat, pit, pat, and there the people found him when they came streaming into the palace to see what had happened. Their leaders began to sing,
Some of the people murmured, and said they had never heard of a drake being crowned king of a country. But others, who knew what a wise little fellow Drakestail was, declared that the country would be far better off under its new monarch than under its old one. And it was.
So they crowned him on the spot, and then Drakestail, looking round the cheering crowd, said graciously, "Let us have some supper, ladies and gentlemen—for I am so hungry!"