“Life is not fair… Fact!” reflected Peter as he lay in bed that night.
He would have admitted, right from the start, that he knew he was doing the wrong thing… He knew he was breaking all the rules…
His mother and father had made it perfectly clear that Bernard was not to leave the house. “Never, ever!”… “Under no circumstances!”
And school had a very clear rule – no pets allowed. (Many, many years ago, when Mrs Honeywell was a new, idealistic head teacher, there had been a Bring-your-pets-to-school Day, but it had not gone well. Her very own tabby cat had consumed two shubunkins and a white mouse before morning break and, during assembly, a blackface budgerigar was found dead on the floor of its cage. Tabbikins was lying stretched-out nearby and a long, green tail-feather was protruding from between her front paws. On top of all that, the cook’s cocker spaniel had done something unmentionable on the reading corner carpet. There was still a dark stain there, on the floor, which children avoided sitting on at story time. The teacher said it was from when someone had spilled a pot of brown paint, but all the boys and girls knew better!)
Despite knowing all this, Peter had been unable to resist Bernard’s begging: “Please, please take me to school with you.” And arguing: “It’s not fair leaving me all alone while you go out every day, doing stuff…” And persuading: “I’ll be really good! No-one will know I’m there! I won’t let you down!”
Now, Peter’s parents would tell you that he had made all that up, since Bernard is Peter’s pet dragon and, obviously, cannot talk. But Peter felt that he was very good at empathising with people (and pets) who were “down on their luck”. He thought he knew exactly what they were thinking, “Because,” he said, “things go badly for me all the time so it’s easy for me to understand how they feel!”
So, that is why Peter ended up packing Bernard carefully into his rucksack that morning and taking him to school, despite being fairly sure that this was going to prove to be a big mistake.
It was a crisp, cold morning. The snow that had fallen two days before was still perfect for building snowmen and making snowballs and a light mist clung to the fields beside the road.
In fact, this seemed to be the ideal choice for a day to take Bernard with him. Because of the bad weather, his mother and father left home early in order to get to a very important meeting affecting the future of their catering company. (They were hoping to win a contract which would mean that they would be preparing meals for special guests at every international rugby match played at Twickenham, guaranteeing work for all their employees for years to come.) Consequently, Peter had plenty of time after they had left to make a cosy nest for Bernard in his school bag and ensure that nothing would fall out even if he left the zip partially undone so that Bernard could breathe easily.
To understand the other reason why this cold weather turned out to be helpful, you need to know that Bernard had started smoking. Now, please do not think that Bernard had begun smoking cigarettes. It is just that he had started making smoke – breathing it out. He developed this ability about six-months after hatching. If he became hot, he would glow, deep in his throat, and light clouds of white smoke would puff out. Peter’s mother had said that this was probably normal for a dragon. So the fact that there was mist swirling gently in the air that day camouflaged Bernard’s occasional wisp of smoke nicely.
By the time Peter arrived at school, he had almost forgotten about Bernard. He was deep in thought about the snowball he was planning to make and the scream that Wendy Westman would emit when he threw it at her. (Wendy, or “The Weasel” as he called her, is the class know-all and goody-goody. Perhaps you know the type… most classes have one: the person who thinks they are in charge whenever the teacher is out of the room; the person who is always waving their hand around, bouncing on their bottom and busting a gut to answer the teacher’s questions; the person who is the last one to realise that it is not very sensible to tell tales, in front of the whole class, about the person who is sitting next to them.) However, Peter’s snowballing plans for Wendy all came to nothing because, when he reached the playground, it was deserted and he found that everyone had been told to go straight in because of the snow.
Disappointed, he hung up his coat and bag carefully, gave Bernard a little stroke along his back and made sure that he was safe from being crushed by other children’s bags. Promising to visit him at break-time, Peter collected his pencils and ruler from his tray and started work on the class’ starter activity.
The morning progressed without incident until halfway through the first lesson. Suddenly, the quiet activity of planning an acrostic poem about snowy weather was interrupted by Wendy the Weasel whining that she could smell smoke. “It’s coming from the cloakroom, Miss!” she continued.
A shiver of fear ran down Peter’s spine and his throat was instantly dry. Surely, there could be no other explanation than this smoke was emanating from Bernard! Miss Johnston stopped what she was doing, sniffed and looked towards the rows of coats in the alcove off the classroom. Peter’s stomach did flips as she strode over to look more closely. Everyone was watching and he held his breath in fear.
“I can’t see or smell anything,” Miss Johnston told Wendy when she reappeared. “Get on with your work everyone! And remember – I want to see your best vocabulary in this poem… your most interesting ideas. Don’t bother telling me that snow is white and cold!”
While Miss Johnston was helping Gemma and Anton with a spelling, Peter dodged into the cloak room and opened his bag. Bernard seemed to be fine and not too over-heated, but there was a clear scorch mark on the back of the rucksack. He splashed some water on it and lifted Bernard nearer the opening of the bag before telling him to be good and taking the water bottle back to his place.
Mis Johnston was calling for everyone’s attention. She was disappointed with the class’ writing, she told them. “You are not showing any imagination,” she was saying. “This will all have to be done again!” But, she told them, after assembly, they would all be allowed to play out in the snow until lunch-time to help them get some ideas for their work.
Excitement filled the room. This was going to be the best school day ever. Playing in the snow right up until lunchtime was a real treat, even if they would have to write about it later. Peter smiled to himself as he reviewed his plans to snowball The Weasel. He could not wait.
First, Mr. Stone, the school caretaker came into the room and spoke to Miss Johnston. “The screw-feed on the solid fuel boiler has broken down,” she explained. “We have no heating in school anymore and we’re going to have to phone everyone’s parents so that you can be collected and taken home.”
The excited chatter of a few minutes before turned to groans. The chance to play in the snow with their friends had gone. Worse, for Peter, this would interrupt his parents’ meeting and could ruin their chance of landing an important contract.
Then he had to tell everyone, everything. Mrs Honeywell had appeared, as had Mr. Stone. He had to show them Bernard. He had to tell them why he had brought him to school. He had to admit that he knew it was against the rules. He had to confess that his mother and father didn’t know what he’d done. He was quiet when they asked him what would happen when his parents found out. But the Weasel was right there beside him giving her opinion about what they would do – and, he suspected, she was probably not far wrong.
Mrs Honeywell said that Bernard could not stay in the classroom one moment longer. “Far too much of a fire risk!” she said. So Peter had to go with Mr. Stone to find a safe place for him in the boiler room.
He had never been in the boiler room before and it was surprisingly interesting looking at the machinery there and the control panel, full of dials and knobs, on the wall. But they had to decide what to do with Bernard. Eventually, they thought that he would be safe in the boiler – after all, that was a place designed specifically for flames! And as soon as they popped him in, Mr. Stones noticed the water temperature rising. “Huston… We have lift-off!” he exclaimed. Peter didn’t know what he meant by that, but the consequence was that since the school had heat in the radiators again, the children didn’t all have to go home and everyone got to play out in the snow until lunchtime.
In a few short minutes, Peter had gone from villain to hero.
Everyone in the school knew that it was Peter who had saved the day. They patted him on the back, asked him all about Bernard and they even shared their snacks with him. (Peter’s had become soggy when Miss Johnston threw water over his bag and he had been forced to put in the bin.) Better still, in his own mind, Peter had the chance to execute his snowballing plan. He made a brilliant snowball and, chasing after Wendy, made it splat right in the middle of her back. (He was feeling in such a good mood by this time, he didn’t launch it straight into her face as he had originally intended!)
It is true that his mother and father were not best pleased when they found out that Peter had taken Bernard to school. However, when they realised that without the little dragon being there, they would have had to leave their crucial meeting to collect their son. So, not only did Peter escape the punishments he expected, but the family stopped off at McDonald’s for tea on the way home from school!
But for once, he’d come out a winner… and it felt great!