'Can't I keep just a ring or two, and a mite of gold in consideration of cash payment?' said he.

'Not a brass button!' said Giles. And so they kept on for a while, chaffering and arguing like folk at a fair. Yet the end of it was as you might expect; for whatever else might be said, few had ever outlasted Farmer Giles at a bargaining.

The dragon had to walk all the way back to his cave, for Giles stuck to his side with Tailbiter held mighty close. There was a narrow path that wound up and round the the mountain, and there-was barely room for the two of them. The mare came just behind and she looked rather thoughtful.

It was five miles, if it was a step, and stiff going; and Giles trudged along, puffing and blowing, but never taking his eye off the worm. At last on the west side of the mountain they came to the mouth of the cave. It was large and black and forbidding, and its brazen doors swung on great pillars of iron. Plainly it had been a place of strength and pride in days long forgotten; for dragons do not build such works nor delve such mines, but dwell rather, when they may, in the tombs and treasuries of mighty men and giants of old. The doors of this deep house were set wide, and in their shadow they halted. So far Chrysophylax had had no chance to escape, but coming now to his own gate he sprang forward and prepared to plunge in.

Farmer Giles hit him with the flat of the sword. 'Woa!' said he. 'Before you go in, I've something to say to you. If you ain't outside again in quick time with something worth bringing. I shall come in after you and cut off your tail to begin with.'

The mare sniffed. She could not imagine Farmer Giles going down alone into a dragon's den for any money on earth. But Chrysophylax was quite prepared to believe it, with Tailbiter looking so bright and sharp and all. And maybe he was right, and the mare, for all her wisdom, had not yet understood the change in her master. Farmer Giles was backing his luck, and after two encounters was beginning to fancy that no dragon could stand up to him.

Anyway, out came Chrysophylax again in mighty quick time, with twenty pounds (troy) of gold and silver, and a chest of rings and necklaces and other pretty stuff.

'There!' said he.

'Where?' said Giles. 'That's not half enough, if that's what you mean. Nor half what you've got, I'll be bound.'

'Of course not!' said the dragon, rather perturbed to find that the farmer's wits seemed to have become brighter since that day in the village. 'Of course not! But I can't bring it all out at once.'

'Nor at twice, I'll wager,' said Giles. 'In you go again, and out again double quick, or I'll give you a taste of Tailbiter!'

'No!' said the dragon, and in he popped and out again double quick. 'There!' said he putting down an enormous load of gold and two chests of diamonds.

'Now try again!' said the farmer, 'And try harder!'

'It's hard, cruel hard,' said the dragon, as he went back again.

But by this time the grey mare was getting a bit anxious on her own account. 'Who's going to carry all this heavy stuff home, I wonder?' thought she; and she gave such a long sad look at all the bags and the boxes that the farmer guessed her mind.

'Never you worry, lass!' said he. 'We'll make the old worm do the carting.'

'Mercy on us!' said the dragon, who overheard these words as he came out of the cave for the third time with the biggest load of all, and a mort of rich jewels like green and red fire. 'Mercy on us! If I carry all this, it will be near the death of me, and a bag more I never could manage not if you killed me for it.'

'Then there is more still, is there?' said the farmer.

'Yes,' said the dragon, 'enough to keep me respectable.' He spoke near the truth for a rare wonder, and wisely as it turned out. 'If you will leave me what remains,' said he very wily, 'I'll be your friend for ever. And I will carry all this treasure back to your honour's own house and not to the King's. And I will help you to keep it, what is more,' said he.

Then the farmer took out a toothpick with his left hand, and he thought very hard for a minute. Then 'Done with you!' he said, showing a laudable discretion. A knight would have stood out for the whole hoard and got a curse laid upon it. And as likely as not, if Giles had driven the worm to despair, he would have turned and fought in the end, Tailbiter or no Tailbiter. In which case Giles, if not slain himself, would have been obliged to slaughter his transport and leave the best part of his gains in the mountains.

Well, that was the end of it. The farmer stuffed his pockets with jewels, just in case anything went wrong; and he gave the grey mare a small load to carry. All the rest he bound on the back of Chrysophylax in boxes and bags, till he looked like a royal pantechnicon. There was no chance of his flying, for his load was too great, and Giles had tied down his wings.

'Mighty handy this rope has turned out in the end!' he thought, and he remembered the parson with gratitude.

So off now the dragon trotted, puffing and blowing, with the mare at his tail, and the farmer holding out Caudimordax very bright and threatening. He dared try no tricks. In spite of their burdens the mare and the dragon made better speed going back than the cavalcade had made coming. For Farmer Giles was in a hurry ĘC not the least reason being that he had little food in his bags. Also he had no trust in Chrysophylax after his breaking of oaths so solemn and binding, and he wondered much how to get through a night without death or great loss. But before that night fell he ran again into luck; for they overtook half a dozen of the servants and ponies that had departed in haste and were now wandering at a loss in the Wild Hills. They scattered in fear and amazement, but Giles shouted after them.

'Hey, lads' said he. 'Come back! I have a job for you, and good wages while this packet lasts.'

So they entered his service, being glad of a guide, and thinking that their wages might indeed come more regular now than had been usual. Then they rode on, seven men, six ponies, one mare, and a dragon; and Giles began to feel like a lord and stuck out his chest. They halted as seldom as they could. At night Farmer Giles roped the dragon to four pickets, one to each leg, with three men to watch him in turn. But the grey mare kept half an eye open, in case the men should try any tricks on their own account.

After three days they were back over the borders of their own country; and their arrival caused such wonder and uproar as had seldom been seen between the two seas before. In the first village that they stopped at food and drink was showered on them free, and half the young lads wanted to join in the procession. Giles chose out a dozen likely young fellows. He promised them good wages, and bought them such mounts as he could get. He was beginning to have ideas.

After resting a day he rode on again, with his new escort at his heels. They sang songs in his honour: rough and ready, but they sounded good in his ears. Some folk cheered and others laughed. It was a sight both merry and wonderful.

Soon Farmer Giles took a bend southward, and steered towards his own home, and never went near the court of the King nor sent any message. But the news of the return of Master Aegidius spread like fire from the West; and there was great astonishment and confusion. For he came hard on the heels of a royal proclamation bidding all the towns and villages to go into mourning for the fall of the brave knights in the pass of the mountains.

Wherever Giles went the mourning was cast aside, and bells were set ringing, and people thronged by the wayside shouting and waving their caps and their scarves. But they booed the poor dragon, till he began bitterly to regret the bargain he had made. It was most humiliating for one of ancient and imperial lineage. When they got back to Ham all the dogs barked at him scornfully. All except Garm: he had eyes, ears, and nose only for his master. Indeed, he went quite off his head, and turned somersaults, all along the street. Ham, of course, gave the farmer a wonderful welcome; but probably nothing pleased him more than finding the miller at a loss for a sneer and the blacksmith quite out of countenance.

'This is not the end of the affair, mark my words!' said he; but he could not think of anything worse to say and hung his head gloomily. Farmer Giles, with his six men and his dozen likely lads and the dragon and all, went on up the hill, and there they stayed quiet for a while. Only the parson was invited to the house.

The news soon reached the capital, and forgetting the official mourning, and their business as well, people gathered in the streets. There was much shouting and noise.

The King was in his great house, biting his nails and tugging his beard. Between grief and rage (and financial anxiety) his mood was so grim that no one dared speak to him. But at last the noise of the town came to his ears; it did not sound like mourning or weeping.

'What is all the noise about?' he demanded. 'Tell the people to go indoors and mourn decently! It sounds more like a goose-fair.'

'The dragon has come back, lord,' they answered.

'What!' said the King. 'Summon our knights, or what is left of them.'

'There is no need, lord,' they answered. 'With Master Aegidius behind him the dragon is tame as tame. Or so we are informed. The news has not long come in, and reports are conflicting.'

'Bless our Soul!' said the King, looking greatly relieved. 'And to think that we ordered a Dirge to be sung for the fellow the day after tomorrow! Cancel it! Is there any sign of our treasure?'

'Reports say that there is a veritable mountain of it, lord,' they answered.

'When will it arrive?' said the King eagerly. 'A good man, this Aegidius ĘC send him in to us as soon as he comes!'

There was some hesitation in replying to this. At last someone took courage and said: 'Your pardon, lord, but we hear that the farmer has turned aside towards his own home. But doubtless he will hasten here in suitable raiment at the earliest opportunity.'

'Doubtless,' said the King. 'But confound his raiment! He had no business to go home without reporting. We are much displeased.'

The earliest opportunity presented itself, and passed, and so did many later ones. In fact, Farmer Giles had been back for a good week or more, and still no word or news of him came to the court.

On the tenth day the King's rage exploded. 'Send for the fellow!' he said; and they sent. It was a day's hard riding to Ham, each way.

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