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by Mary Ansell, Copyright © 2001

Once upon a time there was a story which was so shy it did not want to be told. It was one of the stories of the Red-gold Dragon, a dragon who was three feet long, and lived in an oak tree in the middle of a forest. The story asked the Red-gold Dragon not to tell it.

"But why don't you want to be told? Usually that's what stories like most," said the Red-gold Dragon.

"I don't see how they could," said the story. "I don't like it at all. Don't you remember the first time you told me? You told me to the big cart horse who took a rest here, and he fell asleep!"

"You shouldn't feel badly about that," said the Red-gold Dragon. "You know I found out afterwards he only likes stories which mention oats and apples."

"And then you told me to two tree swallows," continued the story. "At first, they wouldn't stay still to listen, and then they laughed at me. And then you told me to a wandering prince, and he said he didn't understand me. Every time you tell me I feel worse. Please, don't tell me again."

"You really shouldn't be upset," said the dragon. "The tree swallows are a only light-hearted, and the prince takes everything too seriously. I'm sure they didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

"All the same, I'd much rather you didn't tell me again," said the story. "Who knows what might happen the next time?"

The dragon thought for awhile, and then said, "What we need to do is to find you the right kind of audience. Once you've had the feeling of being appreciated, then I think you will probably get over feeling shy, and you'll like being told. That's the way it is with most stories. It doesn't make them feel badly if the audience falls asleep or laughs. They always like to be heard."

The story was very doubtful about this, but the Red-gold Dragon suggested, "I know what would be the best audience for you - a cat. You will know whether the cat appreciates you, because if he's pleased, he will purr. And I'm sure he will purr, because, after all, you are a good story."

The story felt a little better at hearing the dragon's praise.

"There's a cat who lives only half an hour from here, who always likes to hear a story," continued the dragon. "It's a warm day; he's probably sunning himself now. Let's go and find him."

The story couldn't help feeling a little excited to think that perhaps there was someone who might like to hear it. It agreed to go with the dragon, and they flew through the trees for half an hour, until they came to the part of the woods where the cat lived. They found him sunning himself on a branch and landed in a tree nearby, within easy speaking distance.

"It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" said the dragon. "I thought you might like to hear a story you haven't heard before."

"Certainly," said the cat. "How kind of you to think of it!"

"I'm rather shy," said the story, "so, please, don't laugh or fall asleep if you can help it."

"The Red-gold Dragon is such a good story-teller," said the cat, "and chooses his stories so well, that I shall be very surprised if I can keep myself from purring."

The Red-gold Dragon began telling the story, and the cat stretched himself out on his branch and closed his eyes. It looked as though he might be falling asleep, but after a few moments he began to purr. Then he purred a little louder, and purred just quietly enough that he could still hear the story.

When the story was finished, the cat sat up and opened his eyes. "What a wonderful story!" he exclaimed. "I'm very pleased you came to tell it to me."

The story was delighted.

"Do you still feel shy?" the dragon asked the story.

"I'm still a little shy," replied the story, "but the cat is a perfect audience. If you tell me again, to someone else, could the cat be there too?"

"I wouldn't mind that," said the cat. "You're the kind of story one doesn't get tired of. I'll be pleased to hear you as many times as the Red-gold Dragon wants to tell you."

The Red-gold Dragon and the story flew home, and the next several times the Red-gold Dragon told the story, they made sure the cat was part of the audience. Every time the story heard the cat purring while it was being told, it felt more and more confident, until finally it was not afraid of any audience, whether the cat was there or not. Even if there was an audience where someone fell asleep, and someone else laughed or said the story was too difficult to understand, the story didn't mind, because in its imagination it could still hear the purring of the cat.

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