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From Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Start of Story
Age Rating 8 to 10.
The secret of it was, you must know, that the cow was an enchanted cow,
and that, without their being conscious of it, she threw some of her
enchantment over everybody that took so much as half a dozen steps
behind her. They could not possibly help following her, though all the
time they fancied themselves doing it of their own accord. The cow was
by no means very nice in choosing her path; so that sometimes they
had to scramble over rocks, or wade through mud and mire, and all in a
terribly bedraggled condition, and tired to death, and very hungry, into
the bargain. What a weary business it was!
But still they kept trudging stoutly forward, and talking as they went.
The strangers grew very fond of Cadmus, and resolved never to leave him,
but to help him build a city wherever the cow might lie down. In the
center of it there should be a noble palace, in which Cadmus might
dwell, and be their king, with a throne, a crown, a sceptre, a purple
robe, and everything else that a king ought to have; for in him there
was the royal blood, and the royal heart, and the head that knew how to
While they were talking of these schemes, and beguiling the tediousness
of the way with laying out the plan of the new city, one of the company
happened to look at the cow.
"Joy! joy!" cried he, clapping his hands. "Brindle is going to lie
They all looked; and, sure enough, the cow had stopped, and was staring
leisurely about her, as other cows do when on the point of lying down.
And slowly, slowly did she recline herself on the soft grass, first
bending her forelegs, and then crouching her hind ones. When Cadmus and
his companions came up with her, there was the brindled cow taking her
ease, chewing her cud, and looking them quietly in the face; as if this
was just the spot she had been seeking for, and as if it were all a
matter of course.
"This, then," said Cadmus, gazing around him, "this is to be my home."
It was a fertile and lovely plain, with great trees flinging their
sun-speckled shadows over it, and hills fencing it in from the rough
weather At no great distance, they beheld a river gleaming in the
sunshine. A home feeling stole into the heart of poor Cadmus. He was
very glad to know that here he might awake in the morning without the
necessity of putting on his dusty sandals to travel farther and farther.
The days and the years would pass over him, and find him still in this
pleasant spot. If he could have had his brothers with him, and his
friend Thasus, and could have seen his dear mother under a roof of his
own, he might here have been happy after all their disappointments. Some
day or other, too, his sister Europa might have come quietly to the
door of his home, and smiled round upon the familiar faces. But, indeed,
since there was no hope of regaining the friends of his boyhood, or ever
seeing his dear sister again, Cadmus resolved to make himself happy with
these new companions, who had grown so fond of him while following the
"Yes, my friends," said he to them, "this is to be our home. Here we
will build our habitations. The brindled cow, which has led us hither,
will supply us with milk. We will cultivate the neighboring soil and
lead an innocent and happy life."
His companions joyfully assented to this plan; and, in the first place,
being very hungry and thirsty, they looked about them for the means
of providing a comfortable meal. Not far off they saw a tuft of trees,
which appeared as if there might be a spring of water beneath them. They
went thither to fetch some, leaving Cadmus stretched on the ground along
with the brindled cow; for, now that he had found a place of rest, it
seemed as if all the weariness of his pilgrimage, ever since he left
King Agenor's palace, had fallen upon him at once. But his new friends
had not long been gone, when he was suddenly startled by cries, shouts,
and screams, and the noise of a terrible struggle, and in the midst of
it all, a most awful hissing, which went right through his ears like a
Running towards the tuft of trees, he beheld the head and fiery eyes of
an immense serpent or dragon, with the widest jaws that ever a dragon
had, and a vast many rows of horribly sharp teeth. Before Cadmus could
reach the spot, this pitiless reptile had killed his poor companions,
and was busily devouring them, making but a mouthful of each man.
It appears that the fountain of water was enchanted, and that the dragon
had been set to guard it, so that no mortal might ever quench his thirst
there. As the neighboring inhabitants carefully avoided the spot, it was
now a long time (not less than a hundred years or thereabouts) since the
monster had broken his fast; and, as was natural enough, his appetite
had grown to be enormous, and was not half satisfied by the poor people
whom he had just eaten up. When he caught sight of Cadmus, therefore, he
set up another abominable hiss, and flung back his immense jaws, until
his mouth looked like a great red cavern, at the farther end of which
were seen the legs of his last victim, whom he had hardly had time to
But Cadmus was so enraged at the destruction of his friends that he
cared neither for the size of the dragon's jaws nor for his hundreds
of sharp teeth. Drawing his sword, he rushed at the monster, and flung
himself right into his cavernous mouth. This bold method of attacking
him took the dragon by surprise; for, in fact, Cadmus had leaped so far
down into his throat, that the rows of terrible teeth could not close
upon him, nor do him the least harm in the world. Thus, though the
struggle was a tremendous one, and though the dragon shattered the tuft
of trees into small splinters by the lashing of his tail, yet, as Cadmus
was all the while slashing and stabbing at his very vitals, it was not
long before the scaly wretch bethought himself of slipping away. He had
not gone his length, however, when the brave Cadmus gave him a sword
thrust that finished the battle; and creeping out of the gateway of
the creature's jaws, there he beheld him still wriggling his vast bulk,
although there was no longer life enough in him to harm a little child.
But do not you suppose that it made Cadmus sorrowful to think of the
melancholy fate which had befallen those poor, friendly people, who had
followed the cow along with him? It seemed as if he were doomed to lose
everybody whom he loved, or to see them perish in one way or another.
And here he was, after all his toils and troubles, in a solitary place,
with not a single human being to help him build a hut.
"What shall I do?" cried he aloud. "It were better for me to have been
devoured by the dragon, as my poor companions were."
"Cadmus," said a voice but whether it came from above or below him,
or whether it spoke within his own breast, the young man could not
tell--"Cadmus, pluck out the dragon's teeth, and plant them in the
This was a strange thing to do; nor was it very easy, I should imagine,
to dig out all those deep-rooted fangs from the dead dragon's jaws. But
Cadmus toiled and tugged, and after pounding the monstrous head almost
to pieces with a great stone, he at last collected as many teeth as
might have filled a bushel or two. The next thing was to plant them.
This, likewise, was a tedious piece of work, especially as Cadmus was
already exhausted with killing the dragon and knocking his head to
pieces, and had nothing to dig the earth with, that I know of, unless
it were his sword blade. Finally, however, a sufficiently large tract of
ground was turned up, and sown with this new kind of seed; although half
of the dragon's teeth still remained to be planted some other day.
Cadmus, quite out of breath, stood leaning upon his sword, and wondering
what was to happen next. He had waited but a few moments, when he began
to see a sight, which was as great a marvel as the most marvelous thing
I ever told you about.
The sun was shining slantwise over the field, and showed all the moist,
dark soil just like any other newly-planted piece of ground. All at
once, Cadmus fancied he saw something glisten very brightly, first at
one spot, then at another, and then at a hundred and a thousand spots
together. Soon he perceived them to be the steel heads of spears,
sprouting up everywhere like so many stalks of grain, and continually
growing taller and taller. Next appeared a vast number of bright sword
blades, thrusting themselves up in the same way. A moment afterwards,
the whole surface of the ground was broken by a multitude of polished
brass helmets, coming up like a crop of enormous beans. So rapidly did
they grow, that Cadmus now discerned the fierce countenance of a
man beneath every one. In short, before he had time to think what a
wonderful affair it was, he beheld an abundant harvest of what looked
like human beings, armed with helmets and breastplates, shields, swords,
and spears; and before they were well out of the earth, they brandished
their weapons, and clashed them one against another, seeming to think,
little while as they had yet lived, that they had wasted too much of
life without a battle. Every tooth of the dragon had produced one of
these sons of deadly mischief.
Up sprouted also a great many trumpeters; and with the first breath that
they drew, they put their brazen trumpets to their lips, and sounded a
tremendous and ear-shattering blast, so that the whole space, just now
so quiet and solitary, reverberated with the clash and clang of arms,
the bray of warlike music, and the shouts of angry men. So enraged did
they all look, that Cadmus fully expected them to put the whole world to
the sword. How fortunate would it be for a great conqueror, if he could
get a bushel of the dragon's teeth to sow!
"Cadmus," said the same voice which he had before heard, "throw a stone
into the midst of the armed men."
So Cadmus seized a large stone, and flinging it into the middle of
the earth army, saw it strike the breastplate of a gigantic and
fierce-looking warrior. Immediately on feeling the blow, he seemed to
take it for granted that somebody had struck him; and, uplifting his
weapon, he smote his next neighbor a blow that cleft his helmet asunder,
and stretched him on the ground. In an instant, those nearest the fallen
warrior began to strike at one another with their swords, and stab with
their spears. The confusion spread wider and wider. Each man smote down
his brother, and was himself smitten down before he had time to exult in
his victory. The trumpeters, all the while, blew their blasts shriller
and shriller; each soldier shouted a battle cry, and often fell with it
on his lips. It was the strangest spectacle of causeless wrath, and of
mischief for no good end, that had ever been witnessed; but, after all,
it was neither more foolish nor more wicked than a thousand battles that
have since been fought, in which men have slain their brothers with just
as little reason as these children of the dragon's teeth. It ought to
be considered, too, that the dragon people were made for nothing else;
whereas other mortals were born to love and help one another.
Well, this memorable battle continued to rage until the ground was
strewn with helmeted heads that had been cut off. Of all the thousands
that began the fight, there were only five left standing. These now
rushed from different parts of the field, and, meeting in the middle of
it, clashed their swords, and struck at each other's hearts as fiercely
"Cadmus," said the voice again, "bid those five warriors sheathe their
swords. They will help you to build the city."
Without hesitating an instant, Cadmus stepped forward, with the aspect
of a king and a leader, and extending his drawn sword amongst them,
spoke to the warriors in a stern and commanding voice.
"Sheathe your weapons!" said he.
And forthwith, feeling themselves bound to obey him, the five remaining
sons of the dragon's teeth made him a military salute with their swords,
returned them to the scabbards, and stood before Cadmus in a rank,
eyeing him as soldiers eye their captain, while awaiting the word of
These five men had probably sprung from the biggest of the dragon's
teeth, and were the boldest and strongest of the whole army. They were
almost giants indeed, and had good need to be so, else they never could
have lived through so terrible a fight. They still had a very furious
look, and, if Cadmus happened to glance aside, would glare at one
another, with fire flashing out of their eyes. It was strange, too,
to observe how the earth, out of which they had so lately grown, was
incrusted, here and there, on their bright breastplates, and even,
begrimed their faces; just as you may have seen it clinging to beets
and carrots, when pulled out of their native soil. Cadmus hardly
knew whether to consider them as men, or some odd kind of vegetable;
although, on the whole, he concluded that there was human nature in
them, because they were so fond of trumpets and weapons, and so ready to
They looked him earnestly in the face, waiting for his next order,
and evidently desiring no other employment than to follow him from one
battlefield to another, all over the wide world. But Cadmus was wiser
than these earth-born creatures, with the dragon's fierceness in them,
and knew better how to use their strength and hardihood.
"Come!" said he. "You are sturdy fellows. Make yourselves useful! Quarry
some stones with those great swords of yours, and help me to build a
The five soldiers grumbled a little, and muttered that it was their
business to overthrow cities, not to build them up. But Cadmus looked at
them with a stern eye, and spoke to them in a tone of authority, so that
they knew him for their master, and never again thought of disobeying
his commands. They set to work in good earnest, and toiled so
diligently, that, in a very short time, a city began to make its
appearance. At first, to be sure, the workmen showed a quarrelsome
disposition. Like savage beasts, they would doubtless have done one
another a mischief, if Cadmus had not kept watch over them, and quelled
the fierce old serpent that lurked in their hearts, when he saw it
gleaming out of their wild eyes. But, in course of time, they got
accustomed to honest labor, and had sense enough to feel that there
was more true enjoyment in living at peace, and doing good to one's
neighbor, than in striking at him with a two-edged sword. It may not be
too much to hope that the rest of mankind will by and by grow as wise
and peaceable as these five earth-begrimed warriors, who sprang from the
And now the city was built, and there was a home in it for each of the
workmen. But the palace of Cadmus was not yet erected, because they had
left it till the last, meaning to introduce all the new improvements
of architecture, and make it very commodious, as well as stately and
beautiful. After finishing the rest of their labors, they all went to
bed betimes, in order to rise in the gray of the morning, and get at
least the foundation of the edifice laid before nightfall. But, when
Cadmus arose, and took his way towards the site where the palace was
to be built, followed by his five sturdy workmen marching all in a row,
what do you think he saw?
What should it be but the most magnificent palace that had ever been
seen in the world. It was built of marble and other beautiful kinds of
stone, and rose high into the air, with a splendid dome and a portico
along the front, and carved pillars, and everything else that befitted
the habitation of a mighty king. It had grown up out of the earth in
almost as short a time as it had taken the armed host to spring from the
dragon's teeth; and what made the matter more strange, no seed of this
stately edifice ever had been planted.
When the five workmen beheld the dome, with the morning sunshine making
it look golden and glorious, they gave a great shout.
"Long live King Cadmus," they cried, "in his beautiful palace."
And the new king, with his five faithful followers at his heels,
shouldering their pickaxes and marching in a rank (for they still had a
soldier-like sort of behavior, as their nature was), ascended the palace
steps. Halting at the entrance, they gazed through a long vista of
lofty pillars, that were ranged from end to end of a great hall. At the
farther extremity of this hall, approaching slowly towards him, Cadmus
beheld a female figure, wonderfully beautiful, and adorned with a royal
robe, and a crown of diamonds over her golden ringlets, and the richest
necklace that ever a queen wore. His heart thrilled with delight. He
fancied it his long-lost sister Europa, now grown to womanhood, coming
to make him happy, and to repay him with her sweet sisterly affection,
for all those weary wonderings in quest of her since he left King
Agenor's palace--for the tears that he had shed, on parting with
Phoenix, and Cilix, and Thasus--for the heart-breakings that had made
the whole world seem dismal to him over his dear mother's grave.
But, as Cadmus advanced to meet the beautiful stranger, he saw that
her features were unknown to him, although, in the little time that it
required to tread along the hall, he had already felt a sympathy betwixt
himself and her.
"No, Cadmus," said the same voice that had spoken to him in the field of
the armed men, "this is not that dear sister Europa whom you have sought
so faithfully all over the wide world. This is Harmonia, a daughter of
the sky, who is given you instead of sister, and brothers, and friend,
and mother. You will find all those dear ones in her alone."
So King Cadmus dwelt in the palace, with his new friend Harmonia,
and found a great deal of comfort in his magnificent abode, but would
doubtless have found as much, if not more, in the humblest cottage by
the wayside. Before many years went by, there was a group of rosy little
children (but how they came thither has always been a mystery to me)
sporting in the great hall, and on the marble steps of the palace, and
running joyfully to meet King Cadmus when affairs of state left him at
leisure to play with them. They called him father, and Queen Harmonia
mother. The five old soldiers of the dragon's teeth grew very fond
of these small urchins, and were never weary of showing them how to
shoulder sticks, flourish wooden swords, and march in military order,
blowing a penny trumpet, or beating an abominable rub-a-dub upon a
But King Cadmus, lest there should be too much of the dragon's tooth in
his children's disposition, used to find time from his kingly duties
to teach them their A B C--which he invented for their benefit, and for
which many little people, I am afraid, are not half so grateful to him
as they ought to be.