Heathcliffe the Water Dragon
A colored picture is coming soon!
Heathcliffe is a Water Dragon.
Not an ordinary lizard.
Heathcliffe is special.
He can swim, climb trees, run on his hind legs and do all sorts of things that ordinary lizards can't.
He's also a very handsome lizard. He has black and green and brown stripes, and two splendid yellow splotches on his sides. When he sits still in the garden, you can hardly see him, he blends in so well with the background. He's also a very big lizard, nearly three feet long from the point of his nose to the tip of his long thin tail.
He has spiky bits on his head and along his back. He thinks the spiky bits make him look very smart. Sometimes he looks at his reflection in the swimming pool and admires himself. Heathcliffe is very vain.
He lives in a beautiful garden at a small hotel in Byron Bay. He's sure it's just the best place to live in the world. The Hotel is run by Alison, who looks after the guests and cooks the breakfasts, and by Ken, who takes care of the garden.
The hotel is not very big. It was an old house, built nearly a hundred years ago. Last year, the builders changed the house from top to bottom. They knocked down old bits and painted everything in sight. They made an awful mess, but now it's all clean, shiny and peaceful again. It has a very big garden filled with palm trees and tropical plants and gum trees. There is a splendid swimming pool in the garden with deep blue tiles. Just the perfect place for a Water Dragon like Heathcliffe.
Heathcliffe sleeps in one of the gum trees every night. He climbs up the trunk, holding on to the rough bark with his sharp claws and long toes. Then he clambers up to a fork in one of the branches, among the twigs and leaves, wraps his long tail around the branches and quietly dozes off.
Each morning, Heathcliffe wakes up to the twittering of the parrots. He thinks parrots are very stupid birds. Especially the King Parrots. They are bright red and green. They have no yellow on them at all. Not like Heathcliffe. He thinks he looks much finer than the parrots.
But Heathcliffe doesn't move when the parrots wake him. He just dozes off again and waits for the sun to rise over the blue Pacific Ocean, to warm him up.
When he's nice and warm, he looks about him to see what the day is like. If it's cloudy or rainy, he might just stay in bed all day. He's a bit lazy at times. But if the day is bright and sunny, he climbs down the tree branch to where it reaches out over the corrugated iron roof of the garage. Heathcliffe looks about to see if any of the hotel guests are having their breakfast yet, down on the verandah. Then he leaps into the air, and lands on the garage roof with a loud BOOM! He runs a little way across the roof making a scratch scratch scratch noise with his toe nails. Then he waits and listens. If the guests haven't heard him, he jumps back onto the tree trunk, climbs up a little way, and jumps back onto to roof with another loud BOOM! Followed by the scratch scratch scratch noise of his toe nails on the metal roof. Then he listens again. This usually gets their attention. One of the guests is bound to say, "Did you hear that loud BOOM and the scratching noise? What was that, Alison?"
"Oh, that's just Heathcliffe, our Water Dragon. He does that every morning." Alison replies.
"What's a Water Dragon?" the guests ask.
"It's a sort of very big lizard that sleeps up in the gum trees", Alison tells them.
"Ooh! Can we see it?" the guests ask.
"Yes", Alison says, "that's him, on the roof".
"Oh, yes! There he is! Isn't he big! And isn't he beautiful!" the guests exclaim.
Yes, thinks Heathcliffe. I'm very big and I'm very beautiful. I'm glad they appreciate what an excellent Dragon I am.
Then he scuttles off across the roof, back to the gum tree, jumps back onto the trunk and clambers down into the garden. He sits at the bottom of the tree and listens for a bit and sniffs the air, to make sure everything is as it should be. The off he goes, into the bushes above the rockery to find his breakfast of juicy worms and beetles and grubs.
The days are usually warm in Byron Bay. Often you can see Heathcliffe sitting beside the swimming pool, basking in the sunshine, and doing very little. But Heathcliffe has a secret. He can swim. When he feels a bit too hot, he plops into the swimming pool and does a few laps. Then he gives a quick flip with his long tail and jumps out onto the paving again.
One day some guests came down to the swimming pool and saw Heathcliffe swimming to and fro. They thought he had fallen in and was going to drown. So they tried to help him out by dangling a stick in the water so that he could climb up it. But Heathcliffe would have none of this. He just kept on swimming. When the guests were sure he was going to drown, he just jumped back out of the water again.
What a surprise! "That must be why he's called a Water Dragon", they said. That's exactly why, Heathcliffe thought. Really, they were very ignorant, not knowing these things.
Another time, Heathcliffe was dozing in the sunshine above the rockery. Ken decided that the leaves needed to be raked up. He didn't see Heathcliffe there among the leaves and accidentally raked him up as well. That gave Heathcliffe a terrible fright. He thought at very least it must by George the Python trying to catch him and eat him. So he rushed as fast as his short legs could carry him, straight into the swimming pool. He swam right to the bottom of the pool and stayed there. "They can't catch me down here", he thought.
Ken was very worried. He hadn't meant to disturb him, but Heathcliffe is very hard to see when he sits still among the leaves. Now he was at the bottom of the pool, sitting on the blue tiles, and Ken wondered if he was alright. Heathcliffe stayed there, deep underwater. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen. Ken was getting very worried. Heathcliffe must surely drown, he thought. Twenty minutes, then twenty five and he was still down there. Finally after nearly half an hour, when Heathcliffe was sure that whatever it was had gone away, he swam up to the surface again, and had a good look around. All clear. Only Ken was there, watching him from the edge of the pool. So Heathcliffe hopped out again and sat in the sun at the edge of the pool. He needed to warm up. It was a bit cool, down at the bottom of the pool. Lizards need to stay warm if they wanted to catch their dinners. Ken was very relieved.
Heathcliffe is also very good at high diving. He can climb out onto the furthest branches of his gum tree that overhang the swimming pool, and leap into the pool with a great belly flop dive.
One day when Heathcliffe was dozing quietly in the sunshine near the pool, one of the guests jumped into the pool and started to make a lot of noise. This woke Heathcliffe up with a start. He thought, "What a noisy and inconsiderate guest. Guests aren't supposed to make so much noise. I'll have to teach him a lesson!"
So Heathcliffe snuck quietly back through the garden to his gum tree, climbed quietly up it, then out onto the further branches that overhang the pool. Then he leaped in, belly first, making a huge splash, right next to the guest! This gave the guest a terrible surprise and he jumped out of the pool in fright. He though at very least that it was George the Python coming to get him. But no, it was only Heathcliffe, looking smug and swimming around in circles in the middle of the pool. "That'll teach you to wake me up", thought Heathcliffe.
One day, one of the guests asked what Heathcliffe liked to eat for dinner. Alison thought he probably ate insects and other pests in the garden, but she never suspected that he also likes fruit and scones.
Heathcliffe is very fond of grapes. There is a big grapevine that grows along the side of the house, along the verandah next to the kitchen. Sometimes Heathcliffe trots along the path from the swimming pool, climbs up the steps and though the gate. Then, after a little pause to see who is around, he walks along the path and jumps up onto the verandah. Then he looks into the kitchen door to see if anyone is there. When he is sure that nobody is looking, he climbs up the grapevine trunk and into the leaves and the grapes. There, he sits and quietly nibbles at the ripest and juiciest grapes.
Heathcliffe also likes other sorts of fruit. One day, when he was sitting beside the pool basking in the sun, he noticed one of the guests sitting in the shade reading a book. But the guest was also eating something that looked to Heathcliffe like a big red grape. It also smelled a bit like a grape. Heathcliffe was curious. What was he eating? So he trotted up to take a closer look. Yes, it was definitely something like a big grape, Heathcliffe thought, and the guest seemed to be enjoying it. So Heathcliffe approached a bit closer. The guest looked down and saw Heathcliffe looking at him. Perhaps Heathcliffe liked apples, he wondered.
"Here, Heathcliffe, do you like apples?" the guest asked, and placed the partly eaten apple in front of Heathcliffe. He looked up at the guest and then down at the apple. It smelled very nice, he thought. So he nibbled a bit. Yes, it was very nice indeed. Sweet and juicy like a grape but a bit crunchy like a beetle. Just perfect, thought Heathcliffe. He munched his way through the whole apple, leaving only the pips and the stalk.
"Well", said the guest, now we know you like apples too!"
The next day, the same guest was sitting there again. Heathcliffe saw him and trotted up, expecting to be given another apple. He sat there, looking straight at the guest, as if to say, "Come on, where's my apple then?" But the guest didn't give him any today. Heathcliffe sat there for some minutes, looking at the guest, first with one eye, then the other, then both. Still no apple. Very disappointing.
"I don't know", thought Heathcliffe. "Some guests aren't very bright. They know I like apples but they won't give me any. And in my own garden. What does a Dragon have to do to get fed around here?", he thought, and wandered away sadly.
Heathcliffe also likes scones and jam. One day when he jumped up onto the verandah, to see if the grapes were ripe yet, he smelled something delicious. Alison had just cooked a batch of scones, and had put them out on a table on the verandah. Heathcliffe could see the steam rising from them. He clambered up onto the chair, out onto its arm, and looked up onto the table.
And there they were: scones with raspberry jam and cream! Heathcliffe reached out and grabbed the nearest one in his mouth. But just then he heard Alison returning. She saw him at the same instant. "Shoo! shoo! You naughty lizard!" she called out. Heathcliffe dashed off into the undergrowth, with the scone firmly in his mouth. When things had quietened down, he slinked away up into the rockery and ate the whole scone. The jam was especially tasty, the thought.
But mostly, Heathcliffe just sits and dozes in the sunshine. And at the end of the day, he climbs back up into his gum tree, up high in the branches to his nest among the twigs and leaves, and watches the sun set behind the hills to the west. Then he sleeps and dreams lizard dreams of adventures still to come.
There are more Heathcliffe stories to come. This is just the beginning.
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[Copyright © 1997 David Nicholls]