Miss Cubbidge and the Dragon of Romance

This tale is told in the balconies ofBelgrave

Square and among the towers of Pont Street;

men sing it atevening inthe Brompton Road.

Little upon her eighteenth birthday thought MissCubbidge, of Number 12A Prince of Wales' Square, that beforeanotheryear had gone its way she would lose the sight of that unshapelyoblongthat was so long her home. And, had you told her further thatwithinthat year all trace of that so-called square, and of the day whenherfather was elected by a thumping majority to share in theguidance ofthe destinies of the empire, should utterly fade from her memory,shewould merely have said in that affected voice of hers, "Go to!"

There was nothing about it in the daily Press, the policyof herfather's party had no provision for it, there was no hint of itinconversation at evening parties to which Miss Cubbidge went:there wasnothing to warn her at all that a loathsome dragon with goldenscalesthat rattled as he went would have come up clean out of the primeofromance and gone by night (so far as we know) throughHammersmith, andcome to Ardle Mansion, and then had turned to his left, which ofcoursebrought him to Miss Cubbidge's father's house.

There sat Miss Cubbidge at evening on her balcony quitealone,waiting for her father to be made a baronet. She was wearingwalking-boots and a hat and a low-necked evening dress; for apainterwas but just now painting her portrait and neither she nor thepaintersaw anything odd in the strange combination. She did not noticethe roarof the dragon's golden scales, nor distinguish above the manifoldlightsof London the small, red glare of his eyes. He suddenly liftedhis head,a blaze of gold, over the balcony; he did not appear a yellowdragonthen, for his glistening scales reflected the beauty that Londonputsupon her only at evening and night. She screamed, but to noknight, norknew what knight to call on, nor guessed where were the dragons'overthrowers of far, romantic days, nor what mightier game theychased,or what wars they waged; perchance they were busy even thenarming forArmageddon.

Out of the balcony of her father's house in Prince ofWales'Square, the painted dark-green balcony that grew blacker everyyear, thedragon lifted Miss Cubbidge and spread his rattling wings, andLondonfell away like an old fashion. And England fell away, and thesmoke ofits factories, and the round material world that goes humminground thesun vexed and pursued by time, until there appeared the eternalandancient lands of Romance lying low by mystical seas.

You had not pictured Miss Cubbidge stroking the goldenhead ofone of the dragons of song with one hand idly, while with theother shesometime played with pearls brought up from lonely places of thesea.They filled huge haliotis shells with pearls and laid them therebesideher, they brought her emeralds which she set to flash among thetressesof her long black hair, they brought her threaded sapphires forhercloak: all this the princes of fable did and the elves and thegnomes ofmyth. And partly she still lived, and partly she was one withlong-agoand with those sacred tales that nurses tell, when all theirchildrenare good, and evening has come, and the fire is burning well, andthesoft pat-pat of the snowflakes on the pane is like the furtivetread offearful things in old, enchanted woods. If at first she missedthosedainty novelties among which she was reared, the old, sufficientsong ofthe mystical sea singing of faery lore at first soothed and atlastconsoled her. Even, she forgot those advertisements of pills thatare sodear to England; even, she forgot political cant and the thingsthat onediscusses and the things that one does not, and had perforce tocontendherself with seeing sailing by huge golden-laden galleons withtreasurefor Madrid, and the merry skull-and-crossbones of the pirateers,and thetiny nautilus setting out to sea, and ships of heroes traffickinginromance or of princes seeking for enchanted isles.

It was not by chains that the dragon kept her there, butby oneof the spells of old. To one to whom the facilities of the dailyPresshad for so long been accorded spells would have palled — youwouldhave said — and galleons after a time and all thingsout-of-date.After a time. But whether the centuries passed her or whether theyearsor whether no time at all, she did not know. If any thingindicated thepassing of time it was the rhythm of elfin horns blowing upon theheights. If the centuries went by her the spell that bound hergave heralso perennial youth, and kept alight for ever the lantern by herside,and saved from decay the marble palace facing the mystical sea.And ifno time went by her there at all, her single moment on thosemarvellouscoasts was turned as it were to a crystal reflecting a thousandscenes.If it was all a dream, it was a dream that knew no morning and nofadingaway. The tide roamed on and whispered of master and of myth,while nearthat captive lady, asleep in his marble tank the golden dragondreamed:and a little way out from the coast all that the dragon dreamedshowedfaintly in the mist that lay over the sea. He never dreamed ofanyrescuing knight. So long as he dreamed, it was twilight; but whenhecame up nimbly out of his tank night fell and starlight glistenedon thedripping, golden scales.

There he and his captive either defeated Time or neverencountered him at all; while, in the world we know, ragedRoncesvallesor battles yet to be — I know not to what part of the shore ofRomance he bore her. Perhaps she became one of those princessesof whomfable loves to tell, but let it suffice that there she lived bythe sea:and kings ruled, and Demons ruled, and kings came again, and manycitiesreturned to their native dust, and still she abided there, andstill hermarble palace passed not away nor the power that there was in thedragon's spell.

And only once did there ever come to her a message fromtheworld that of old she knew. It came in a pearly ship across themysticalsea; it was from an old school-friend that she had had in Putney,merelya note, no more, in a little, neat, round hand: it said, "It isnotProper for you to be there alone."