"Your music must be very sticky, for you're always stuck fast."
"Hold your tongue!" said the hot-tempered gentleman.
With what he imagined to be a very waggish air, Harry put out his tongue, and held it with his finger and thumb. It was unfortunate that he had not time to draw it in again before the hot-tempered gentleman gave him a stinging box on the ear, which brought his teeth rather sharply together on the tip of his tongue, which was bitten in consequence.
"It's no use _speaking_," said the hot-tempered gentleman, driving his hands through his hair.
Children are like dogs: they are very good judges of their real friends. Harry did not like the hot-tempered gentleman a bit the less because he was obliged to respect and obey him; and all the children welcomed him boisterously when he arrived that Christmas which we have spoken of in connection with his attack on Snap.
It was on the morning of Christmas Eve that the china punch-bowl was broken. Mr. Skratdj had a warm dispute with Mrs. Skratdj as to whether it had been kept in a safe place; after which both had a brisk encounter with the housemaid, who did not know how it happened; and she, flouncing down the back passage, kicked Snap, who forthwith flew at the gardener as he was bringing in the horseradish for the beef; who, stepping backwards, trod upon the cat; who spit and swore, and went up the pump with her tail as big as a fox's brush.
To avoid this domestic scene, the hot-tempered gentleman withdrew to the breakfast-room and took up a newspaper. By and by, Harry and Polly came in, and they were soon snapping comfortably over their own affairs in a corner.
The hot-tempered gentleman's umber eyes had been looking over the top of his newspaper at them for some time, before he called, "Harry, my boy!"
And Harry came up to him.
"Show me your tongue, Harry," said he.
"What for?" said Harry; "you're not a doctor."
"Do as I tell you," said the hot-tempered gentleman; and as Harry saw his hand moving, he put his tongue out with all possible haste. The hot-tempered gentleman sighed. "Ah!" he said in depressed tones; "I thought so!--Polly, come and let me look at yours."
Polly, who had crept up during this process, now put out hers. But the hot-tempered gentleman looked gloomier still, and shook his head.
"What is it?" cried both the children, "What do you mean?" And they seized the tips of their tongues in their fingers, to feel for themselves.
But the hot-tempered gentleman went slowly out of the room without answering; passing his hands through his hair, and saying, "Ah! hum!"
and nodding with an air of grave foreboding.
Just as he crossed the threshold, he turned back, and put his head into the room. "Have you ever noticed that your tongues are growing pointed?" he asked.
"No!" cried the children with alarm. "Are they?"
"If ever you find them becoming forked," said the gentleman in solemn tones, "let me know."
With which he departed, gravely shaking his head.
In the afternoon the children attacked him again.
"_Do_ tell us what's the matter with our tongues."
"You were snapping and squabbling just as usual this morning," said the hot-tempered gentleman.
"Well, we forgot," said Polly. "We don't mean anything, you know. But never mind that now, please. Tell us about our tongues. What is going to happen to them?"
"I'm very much afraid," said the hot-tempered gentleman, in solemn, measured tones, "that you are both of you--fast--going--to--the--"
"Dogs?" suggested Harry, who was learned in cant expressions.
"Dogs!" said the hot-tempered gentleman, driving his hands through his hair. "Bless your life, no! Nothing half so pleasant! (That is, unless all dogs were like Snap, which mercifully they are not.) No, my sad fear is, that you are both of you--rapidly--going--_to the Snap-Dragons_!"
And not another word would the hot-tempered gentleman say on the subject.
In the course of a few hours Mr. and Mrs. Skratdj recovered their equanimity. The punch was brewed in a jug, and tasted quite as good as usual. The evening was very lively. There were a Christmas tree, Yule cakes, log, and candles, furmety, and snap-dragon after supper. When the company were tired of the tree, and had gained an appetite by the hard exercise of stretching to high branches, blowing out "dangerous"
tapers, and cutting ribbon and pack-threads in all directions, supper came, with its welcome cakes, and furmety, and punch. And when furmety somewhat palled upon the taste (and it must be admitted to boast more sentiment than flavor as a Christmas dish), the Yule candles were blown out and both the spirits and the palates of the party were stimulated by the mysterious and pungent pleasures of snap-dragon.
Then, as the hot-tempered gentleman warmed his coat tails at the Yule log, a grim smile stole over his features as he listened to the sounds in the room. In the darkness the blue flames leaped and danced, the raisins were snapped and snatched from hand to hand, scattering fragments of flame hither and thither. The children shouted as the fiery sweetmeats burnt away the mawkish taste of the furmety. Mr.
Skratdj cried that they were spoiling the carpet; Mrs. Skratdj complained that he had spilled some brandy on her dress. Mr. Skratdj retorted that she should not wear dresses so susceptible of damage in the family circle. Mrs. Skratdj recalled an old speech of Mr. Skratdj on the subject of wearing one's nice things for the benefit of one's family and not reserving them for visitors. Mr. Skratdj remembered that Mrs. Skratdj's excuse for buying that particular dress when she did not need it, was her intention of keeping it for the next year.
The children disputed as to the credit for courage and the amount of raisins due to each. Snap barked furiously at the flames; and the maids hustled each other for good places in the doorway, and would not have allowed the man servant to see at all, but he looked over their heads.
"St! St! At it! At it!" chuckled the hot-tempered gentleman in undertones. And when he said this, it seemed as if the voices of Mr.
and Mrs. Skratdj rose higher in matrimonial repartee, and the children's squabbles became louder, and the dog yelped as if he were mad, and the maids' contest was sharper; whilst the snap-dragon flames leaped up and up, and blue fire flew about the room like foam.
At last the raisins were finished, the flames were all put out, and the company withdrew to the drawing-room. Only Harry lingered.
"Come along, Harry," said the hot-tempered gentleman.
"Wait a minute," said Harry.
"You had better come," said the gentleman.
"Why?" said Harry.
"There's nothing to stop for. The raisins are eaten, the brandy is burnt out."
"No, it's not," said Harry.
"Well, almost. It would be better if it were quite out. Now come. It's dangerous for a boy like you to be alone with the Snap-Dragons tonight."
"Fiddlesticks!" said Harry.
"Go your own way, then!" said the hot-tempered gentleman; and he bounced out of the room, and Harry was left alone.
He crept up to the table, where one little pale blue flame flickered in the snap-dragon dish.
"What a pity it should go out!" said Harry. At this moment the brandy bottle on the sideboard caught his eye.
"Just a little more," murmured Harry to himself; and he uncorked the bottle, and poured a little brandy on to the flame.
Now, of course, as soon as the brandy touched the fire, all the brandy in the bottle blazed up at once, and the bottle split to pieces; and it was very fortunate for Harry that he did not get seriously hurt. A little of the hot brandy did get into his eyes, and made them smart, so that he had to shut them for a few seconds.
But when he opened them again what a sight he saw! All over the room the blue flames leaped and danced as they had leaped and danced in the soup-plate with the raisins. And Harry saw that each successive flame was the fold in the long body of a bright-blue Dragon, which moved like the body of a snake. And the room was full of these Dragons. In the face they were like the dragons one sees made of very old blue and white china; and they had forked tongues like the tongues of serpents.
They were most beautiful in color, being sky-blue. Lobsters who have just changed their coats are very handsome, but the violet and indigo of a lobster's coat is nothing to the brilliant sky-blue of a Snap-Dragon.
How they leaped about! They were forever leaping over each other like seals at play. But if it was "play" at all with them, it was of a very rough kind; for as they jumped, they snapped and barked at each other, and their barking was like that of the barking Gnu in the Zoological Gardens; and from time to time they tore the hair out of each other's heads with their claws, and scattered it about the floor. And as it dropped it was like the flecks of flame people shake from their fingers when they are eating snap-dragon raisins.