Select the desired text size
Age suitability 8 Plus
The dragons tail.
From Fairy Tales from the German Forests by Margaret Arndt.
Start of Story
Helmut was a boy who lived in Eisenach. He was eight years old, and went
to a day school. He lived outside the town, not far from the entrance to
the forest. He was a pale, fair-haired little boy, and did not look the
tremendous hero he fancied himself in his dreams; not even when he
buckled on helmet, breast-plate and sword, and marched out into the
street to take his part in the warfare that went on constantly there,
between the boys of this neighbourhood, and the boys who belonged to
another part of the town.
Now the Dragon's Gorge is a most marvellous place; it is surrounded on
all sides by thick forests, and you come on it suddenly when walking in
the woods. It is a group of huge green rocks like cliffs that stand
picturesquely piled close together, towering up to the sky. There is
only a very narrow pathway between them.
Helmut had often been there with his father and mother or with other
boys. After heavy rain or thawing snow it became impassable; at the best
of times it was advisable for a lady not to put on her Sunday hat,
especially if it were large and had feathers; for the rocks are
constantly dripping with water.
The great boulders are covered with
green moss or tiny ferns; and in the spring time, wood sorrel grows on
them in great patches, the under side of the leaves tinged an exquisite
violet or pink colour. The entrance to the Dragon's Gorge is through
these rocks; they narrow and almost meet overhead, obscuring the sky,
till it seems as if one were walking under the sea. Two persons cannot
walk side by side here. In some parts, indeed, one can only just squeeze
through; the way winds in and out in the most curious manner; there are
little side passages too, that you could hardly get into at all.
In some places you can hear the water roaring under your feet; then the
rocks end abruptly and you come out into the forest again, and hear the
birds singing and see the little brook dancing along by the side of the
way. Altogether it is the most fascinating, wet and delightful walk that
you could imagine.
Helmut had long been planning an expedition to these rocks in company
with other boy friends, in order to slay the dragon. He dreamt of it day
and night, until he brought home a bad mark for "attention" in his
He told his mother about it; she laughed and said he
might leave the poor old fellow alone; there were plenty of dragons to
slay at home, self-will, disobedience, inattention, and so on! She made
a momentary impression on the little boy, who always wanted to be good
but found it difficult at times, curious to say, to carry out his
He looked thoughtful and answered: "Of course, mother, I know; but this
time I want to slay a 'really and truly' dragon, may I? Will you let me
go with the other boys, it would be such fun?"
The Dragon's Gorge was not far off, and mother did not think that Helmut
could do himself any harm, except by getting wet and dirty, and that he
might do as well in the garden at home.
"If you put on your old suit and your thick boots, I think you may go.
Keep with the other boys and promise me not to get lost!"
"Oh, I say, won't it be fine fun! I'll run off and tell the other
fellows. Hurrah!" and Helmut ran off into the street. Soon four heads
were to be seen close together making plans for the next day.
"We'll start quite early at six o'clock," they said, "and take our
second breakfast with us." (In Germany eleven o'clock lunch is called
_second_ breakfast.) However it was seven o'clock a.m. before the boys
had had their first breakfast, and met outside the house.
How mother and father laughed to see the little fellows, all dressed in
the most warlike costumes like miniature soldiers, armed with guns and
Mother was a little anxious and hoped they would come to no harm; but
she liked her boy to be independent, and knew how happy children are if
left to play their pretence games alone. She watched the four set off at
a swinging march down the street. Soon they had recruits, for it was a
holiday, and there were plenty of boys about.
Helmut was commanding officer; the boys shouldered their guns, or
presented arms as he directed. They passed the pond and followed the
stream through the woods, until they came to the Dragon's Gorge, where
the rocks rise up suddenly high and imposing looking. Here they could
only proceed in single file. Helmut headed the band feeling as
courageous as in his dreams; his head swam with elation.
towered above them; the rocks dropped water on their heads. As yet they
had seen or heard nothing of the dragon. Yet as they held their breath
to listen, they could hear something roaring under their feet.
"Don't you tell me that that is only water," said Helmut, "A little
brook can't make such a row as that--that's the dragon."
The other boys laughed, they were sceptical as to the dragon, and were
only pretending, whereas Helmut was in earnest.
"I'm hungry," said one boy, "supposing we find a dry place and have our
They came to where the path wound out again into the open air, and sat
down on some stones, which could hardly be described as dry. Here they
ate bread and sausage, oranges and bananas.
"Give me the orange peel, you fellows. Mother hates us to throw it
about; it makes the place so untidy." So saying Helmut pushed his orange
peel right into a crevice of the rock and covered it with old leaves.
But the other boys laughed at him, and chucked theirs into the little
stream, which made Helmut very angry.
"I won't be your officer any more, if you do not do as I say," he said,
and they began to quarrel.
"We're not going to fight your old dragon, we're going home again to
play football, that will be far better fun," said the boys who had
joined as recruits, and they went off home, till only Helmut's chums
were left. They were glad enough to get rid of the other boys.
"We have more chance of seeing the dragon without those stupid fellows,"
They finished their lunch, shouldered their guns again, and entered the
second gorge, which is even more picturesque and narrow than the first.
Suddenly Helmut espied something round, and slimy, and long lying on
the path before him like a blind worm, but much thicker than blind worms
generally are. He became fearfully excited, "Come along you fellows,
hurry up," he said, "I do believe it is the dragon's tail!"
They came up close behind him and looked over his shoulders; the gorge
was so narrow here that they could not pass one another.
"Good gracious!" they said, "whatever shall we do now?"
They all felt frightened at the idea of a real dragon, but they stood to
their guns like men, all but the youngest, Adolf, who wanted to run away
home; but the others would not let him.
"Helmut catch hold of it, quick now," whispered Werner and Wolf, the
other two boys.
Helmut stretched out his hand courageously; perhaps it was only a huge,
blind worm after all; but as he tried to catch it, the thing slipped
swiftly away. They all followed it, running as fast as they could
through the narrow gorge, bumping themselves against the walls,
scratching themselves and tearing their clothes, but all the time Helmut
never let that tail (if it was a tail) out of his sight.
"If we had some salt to put on it," said he, "we might catch it like a
"It would be a fine thing to present to a museum," said Wolf.
Well, that thing led them a fine dance. It would stop short, and then
when they thought they had got it, it started off again, until they were
all puffing and blowing.
"We've got to catch it somehow," said Helmut, who thought the chase fine
sport. At that moment the gorge opened out again into the woods, and the
tail gave them the slip; for it disappeared in a crevice of the rock
where there was no room for a boy to follow it.
"It _was_ a blind worm you see," said Werner.
Presently, however, they heard a noise as of thunder, and looking down
the path they saw a head glaring at them out of the rocks, undeniably a
dragon's head, with a huge jaw, red tongue, and rows of jagged teeth.
The boys stared aghast: they were in for an adventure this time, and no
mistake. Slowly the dragon raised himself out of the rocks, so that they
saw his whole scaly length, like a huge crocodile. Then he began to move
along the path away from them. He moved quite slowly now, so there was
no difficulty in keeping up with him; but his tail was so slimy and
slippery that they could not keep hold of it; moreover it wriggled
dreadfully whenever they tried to seize it. But Helmut had inherited
the cool courage of the Wartburg knights, and he was not going to be
overcome by difficulties.
With a wild Indian whoop he sprang on the dragon's back, and all the
other boys followed his example, except little Adolf who was timid and
began to set up a howl for his mother, I'm sorry to say. No sooner were
the boys on his back than the dragon set off at a fine trot up and down
the Dragon's Gorge, they had to hold on tight and to duck whenever the
rock projected overhead, or when they went sharply round a corner.
"Hurrah," cried Helmut waving a flag, "this is better than a motor ride.
Isn't he a jolly old fellow?"
At this remark the jolly old fellow stopped dead and began to snort out
fire and smoke, that made the boys cough and choke.
"Now stop that, will you!" said Helmut imperatively, "or we shall have
to slay you after all, that's what we came out for you know." He pointed
his gun at the head of the dragon as he spoke like a real hero.
The dragon began to tremble, and though they could only see his profile,
they thought he turned pale.
"Where's that other little boy?" he asked in a hollow voice. "If you
will give him to me for my dinner, I will spare you all."
Helmut laughed scornfully, "Thanks, old fellow," he said--"you're very
kind, I'm sure Adolf would be much obliged to you. I expect he's run
home to his mother long ago; he's a bit of a funk, we shan't take him
with us another time."
"He looked so sweet and juicy and tender," said the dragon sighing, "I
never get a child for dinner nowadays! Woe is me," he sniffed.
"You are an old cannibal," said the boys horrified, and mistaking the
meaning of the word cannibal. "Hurry up now and give us another ride,
it's first-rate fun this!"
The dragon groaned and seemed disinclined to stir, but the boys kicked
him with their heels, and there was nothing for it but to gee-up.
After he had been up and down several times, and the boys' clothes were
nearly torn to pieces, he suddenly turned into a great crevice in the
rocks that led down into a dark passage, and the boys felt really
frightened for the first time. Daylight has a wonderfully bracing effect
on the nerves.
In a moment, however, a few rays of sunshine penetrated the black
darkness, and they saw that they were in a small cave. The next thing
they experienced was that the dragon shook himself violently, and the
small boys fell off his back like apples from a tree on to the wet and
sloppy floor. They picked themselves up again in a second, and there
they saw the dragon before them, panting after his exertions and filling
the cavern with a poisonous-smelling smoke. Helmut and Wolf and Werner
stood near the cracks which did the duty of windows, and held their
pistols pointed at him. Luckily he was too stupid to know that they were
only toy guns, and when they fired them off crack-crack, they soon
discovered that he was in a terrible fright.
"What have I done to you, young sirs?" he gasped out. "What have I done
to you, that you should want to shoot me? Yet shoot me! yes, destroy me
if you will and end my miserable existence!" He began to groan until the
cavern reverberated with his cries.
"What's the matter now, old chappie?" said Helmut, who, observing the
weakness of the enemy, had regained his courage.
"I am an anachronism," said the dragon, "don't you know what that
is?--well, I am one born out of my age. I am a survival of anything but
the fittest. _You_ are the masters now, you miserable floppy-looking
race of mankind. _You_ can shoot me, you can blow me up with dynamite,
you can poison me, you can stuff me--Oh, oh--you can put me into a cage
in the Zoological Gardens, you have flying dragons in the sky who could
drop on me suddenly and crush me. You have the power. We great creatures
of bygone ages have only been able to creep into the rocks and caves to
hide from your superior cleverness and your wily machinations. We must
perish while you go on like the brook for ever." So saying he began to
shed great tears, that dropped on the floor splash, splash, like the
water from the rocks.
The boys felt embarrassed: this was not their idea of manly conduct, and
considerably lowered their opinion of dragons in general.
"Do not betray me, young sirs," went on the dragon in a pathetic and
weepy voice, "I have managed so far to lie here concealed though
multitudes of people have passed this way and never perceived me."
"I tell you what," said Helmut touched by the dragon's evident terror,
"let's make friends with him, boys; he's given us a nice ride for
nothing; we will present him with the flag of truce."
Turning to the dragon he said: "Allow us to give you a banana and a roll
in token of our friendship and esteem."
"O," said the dragon brightening up, "I like bananas. People often throw
the skins away here. I prefer them to orange peel. I live on such
things, you must know, the cast-off refuse of humanity," he said,
becoming tragic again.
They presented him with the banana, and he ate it skin and all, it
seemed to give him an appetite. He appeared to recover his spirits, and
the boys thought it would be better to look for the way out. The cavern
seemed quite smooth and round, except for the cracks through which the
daylight came; they could not discover the passage by which they had
The dragon's eyes were beginning to look bloodthirsty;
remembrances of his former strength shot across his dulled brains. He
could crush and eat these little boys after all and nobody would be the
wiser. Little boys tasted nicer than bananas even.
Meanwhile Wolf and Werner had stuck their flags through the holes in the
rocks, so that they were visible from the outside.
Now little Adolf had gone straight home, and had told awful tales of the
games the others were up to, and he conducted the four mothers to the
Dragon's Gorge where they wandered up and down looking for their boys.
Adolf observed the flags sticking up on the rocks, and drew attention to
them. The Dragon's Gorge resounded with the cries of "Helmut! Wolf!
The dragon heard the voices as well; his evil intentions died away; the
chronic fear of discovery came upon him again. He grew paler and paler;
clouds of smoke came from his nostrils, until he became invisible. At
the same moment Helmut groping against the wall that lay in shadow,
found the opening of the passage through which they had come. Through
this the three boys now crawled, hardly daring to breathe, for fear of
exciting the dragon again. Soon a gleam of light at the other end told
of their deliverance. Their tender mothers fell on their necks, and
scolded them at the same time. Truly, never did boys look dirtier or
"We feel positively ashamed to go home with you," their mothers said to
"Well, for once I was jolly glad you did come, mother," said Helmut.
"That treacherous old dragon wanted to turn on us after all; he might
have devoured us, if you had not turned up in the nick of time. Not that
I believe that he _really_ would have done anything of the sort, he was
a coward you know, and when we levelled our guns at him he was awfully
frightened. Still he _might_ have found out that our guns were not
properly loaded, and then it would have been unpleasant."
Mother smiled, she did not seem to take the story quite so seriously as
"We had a gorgeous ride on his back, mother dear; would you like to see
him? You have only to lie down flat and squeeze yourself through that
crack in the rocks till you come to his cave."
"No thank you," said mother, "I think I can do without seeing your
"Oh, we have forgotten our flags!" called out Wolf and Werner, "wait a
minute for us," and they climbed up over the rocks and rescued the
flags. "He's still in there," they whispered to Helmut in a mysterious
"Mother," said Helmut that evening when she came to wish him good night,
"do you know, if you stand up to a dragon like a man, and are not afraid
of him, he is not so difficult to vanquish after all."
"I'm glad you think so," said mother, "'Volo cum Deo'--there is a Latin
proverb for you; it means, that with God's help, will-power is the chief
thing necessary; this even dragons know. Thus a little boy can conquer
even greater dragons than the monsters vast of ages past."
"Hum!" said Helmut musingly, "mother, dear, I was a real hero to-day, I
think you would have been proud of me; but I must confess between
ourselves, that the old dragon was a bit of a fool!"