Swiss Fairy Tales




The whole family of dragons, that are scattered all over the world, have a very bad reputation. It is said that they feed on fat girls, and will not taste anything but nice, tender, juicy maidens. If they try to eat old folks, and grown up people, they get a stomach ache at once. Then, it takes many bottles of medicine, besides keeping them a long time on a baby’s diet of milk and bread, while they are getting well, before they are in full health again.

But when they regain their appetite, they roam around through the country, devouring maidens by the dozen. Then all the fathers, that have lovely daughters, must be on their guard. They keep their girls at home, for fear there will be none of them left.

This habit of the dragons to relish, on their bill of fare, only lovely maidens, makes the brave young men want to fight and kill the monsters, because, with so few girls left, they fear that they may not be able to get wives, and, without these, they cannot have homes or be husbands.

But the old dragons were foxy fellows, very cunning and crafty. So they kept out of the way of the knights and heroes, with their swords and spears, and arrows, and bow guns: and even from the fairies, who cast spells over them. It was only once in a while, that a lucky fellow, like Saint George, could stick his spear clear down the monster’s throat. It happened, only rarely, that one like Sigurd, the Norseman, or Susanoo, the Japanese, was able to slay one of the big, clumsy, crawling creatures, with their trusty swords.

Happily there came, once in a while, a good natured dragon; that is, the right sort of a fellow, jolly in disposition, and kind to boys. Such a dragon would even invite a well-behaved man to take dinner with him, and even point out what food on the dragon’s table tasted best.

Of course, the man would not always like what was served up before him to eat; for a mortal cannot always enjoy what comes out of the dragon’s kitchen, nor can he be sure of what he may be swallowing. Nobody enjoys chewing up his grandmother, or his aunts, or cousins, or sisters, even though he might, once in a great while, feel like doing so.

So when one goes to see a dragon, and does not, himself, get swallowed up, he had better take a sandwich or two with him, and not taste the dragon’s delicacies.

No pretty girl, or plump young lady, ought ever to pay a visit to a dragon’s cave, because, however kind and polite the monster would wish to be, to his guest, his appetite might be too strong for him. Moreover, the very sight of the lovely maiden might make his mouth water, and then, after roaring out, “um, um,” he would be very apt to gulp her down, at one mouthful. This might happen so quickly, that she would not know where she was, or even think what her mother would say, when she missed her, on ironing day. So, even in the case of a well-behaved dragon, or one supposed to have a good character, any person had better be careful about visiting a dragon’s cave.

Now there was a man in Switzerland, a cooper, who made tubs and buckets, and, once in a great while, a hogshead or a bath tub. His shop sign was a well-hooped barrel, set over his doorway. He was especially expert at making and mending milk churns. Some of the girls used to declare that butter came more quickly, and with less hard work, in churns made by him, than in any others.

His name was not Rip Van Winkle, whose father, by the way, was born in Germany, but he had a wife with a bad temper. She had a great reputation for scolding. It was said that her “tongue, which was only three inches long, could kill a man six feet high.” In fact, some folks declared that she did not need a sword, but she could fight a dragon with her fiery tongue alone. Let her but open her mouth, and such a volley of abuse would be shot out, at the monster, that, no matter how big, or how hungry he was, he would curl up his tail and run, or else flap his wings, like a frightened chicken, and be off.

Now when this cooper was asked how he felt, about having such a scold for a wife, he used to make apologies, and say, “Well, it was not always so. Once, she was so sweet and lovely, that I wanted to eat her up.”

Then, after a minute or two, he would add, “And I have always been sorry, ever since, that I did not do it.”

When his wife heard of this, she called him “the son of a dragon, and a woman-eater.”

One day, the cooper received an unusually severe punishment, not at the hands, but from the mouth of his wife. This, however, he richly deserved; for, after drinking, with his companions, all night, she had found him lying in the gutter. After she had rolled him over, like a flapjack, to see if the drunken lout was her husband, he got up, looking very sheepish. Then he promised to work hard that day. So she went back home, to get his breakfast ready.

But instead of going to his house or shop, where the wood shavings smelled so sweet, he resolved to take a walk, to get rid of a splitting headache. So he scrambled up the mountain side, expecting, on his return, to tell his wife, that he had been out in the woods, looking for timber, to make hoops and barrel staves.

He hardly knew where he was going, for he was stupid and half dizzy, from so much drink, from the night before, and pretty soon he slipped and fell. Over and over, he rolled, until, coming to the edge of a precipice, he stumbled and slid far down into a bog. This cooled him off and brought him to his senses.

He tried long to find the way out, but could see no hole or cleft in the rocks. After a while, he saw what looked like a tunnel, or, it might be, a grotto.

Entering in and peering about him, he discerned four great round lights, like moons. At this, his heart began to beat, his blood to swell in his veins, and his hair to rise, nearly knocking his hat off. He saw two streams of fire issue from beneath and between these shining orbs. After a few seconds, he saw clearly two dragons, that were breathing out streams of fire, that nearly scorched off his eyebrows, while the sulphurous smell nearly knocked him over.

At this, the cooper made the sign of the cross, and prayed for protection. Thereupon, both the dragons, that had got their jaws ready to swallow him, shut their mouths. They crawled up gently, with their tails down, and they gave him to understand that they were friendly, by licking his hands and feet. This they kept on doing, until all the mud, into which he had tumbled, and which had stuck to his clothes, was entirely gone. It was almost like taking a steam bath.

As the winter came on, the appetite of the dragons became less ravenous and they ate little. Like bears and marmots, they went into their cave, and kept very quiet, as if asleep. Moreover, even in summer, when these dragons could not get a supply of maidens, they devoured a sweetish substance, that exuded from a cleft in the rocks, which must have been filled by a colony of bees, for honey trickled plentifully down into the gully. At any rate, the cooper got to like the dragon’s winter food so well, that he wondered how he could ever have enjoyed black bread and cheese. In a month, his stomach got quite used to the new diet.

He was not afraid of the dragons, and they seemed to enjoy his company. Perhaps they thought that, when the spring should come, he might tell them, when his wife went abroad out of the house; and then, if starving, they might make a dinner of her.

Meanwhile, the cooper was missed in the village; and, as people wanted their tubs mended, several parties of strong young men climbed the mountains to find him. They sought in every grove and wood, over hill and down dale, in valley, and on the slopes, but his body could not be found. So, he was mourned as dead; for, in spite of his faults, he was considered a good fellow.

But in spring time, when the sun began to climb high in the sky, and the sap rose in the trees, the flowers bloomed, and, the cows went, with the cheesemakers, to the higher pastures, the two dragons grew restless, and their appetites came back in full force. Hoping to catch a nice fat maiden or two, they began to stretch, and roll, and to writhe, and tumble. They flapped, and furled, and unfolded their wings, until they felt ready to soar and swoop, with all their former skill.

By this time, also, the cooper began to get homesick. Even though afraid to meet his wife, he was longing to see his children, after his long absence. He had got very tired of looking only on rocks and the walls of the ravine. Moreover, the dragons did not seem to be as sociable, as at first, and they amused him no longer. Besides, he wanted to see his neighbors again, to tell them of his adventures and even to pose as a hero. He feared, however, that before he tried to get away, the dragons might still eat him up; for they snorted, and bellowed, and rubbed their stomachs, with their forepaws, as if hungry enough, indeed, to swallow a horse with its harness on.

One warm day, the cooper heard, afar off, the echoes of the Alpine horn. He listened with delight to the yodel music, as the shepherds called their cows and goats. As he was wondering how he could get out of the valley, and whether the dragons would let him go, he saw the larger one of the two monsters unfurl his wings, which were as big as a windmill’s sails. He flew straight up in the air, and, when near the blue sky, circled about a few times, like the carrier pigeons, which the cooper had seen at home. Then, careering far away, he disappeared in the dim distance beyond. No doubt, that day, some poor daddy, on coming home at night, missed one of his daughters. The cooper had noticed, that both the dragons had been roaring with hunger, for several days previously, and now he had his fears.

So the cooper watched his chance, determined not to let the other dragon get away, without his stealing a ride on the monster’s back. He knew that a man’s weight, for a dragon to carry in the air, would hardly be felt, so much as that of a feather.

For a dragon had the power of a catapult, the strength of a rhinoceros, a roar like a lion, teeth like a tiger, fins like a fish, claws like a falcon, wings like an eagle, and scales like an alligator. In short, a dragon was a whole menagerie in itself.

So watching his chance, the cooper, at the very moment that he saw the second dragon unfold his wings, grabbed hold of his tail; and, though it was slippery, he hung on to this, for dear life. Far up in the air, the monster flew, at first very high, and then low, as if he knew where the cooper lived. Then, coming near his village, the monster swooped down near the earth, and dropped his burden gently on the top of a wagon loaded with hay. He was off before any one could let fly an arrow from the string, or shoot a bolt out of a bow gun, or say “By Saint Matthew.”

As the cooper climbed down from the hay wagon, all the ducks, geese and chickens set up a concert of welcome. Donkeys brayed, the cows lowed, and dogs barked, and cats meowed. His wife, instead of scolding him, threw her arms around him, and wept for joy. His children gathered about, and so held his arms and legs, that puss could not get near to rub her sides against his limbs. All his neighbors and friends welcomed him back with delight.

The next day, his shop was filled with leaky tubs, and churns that had lost their hoops, and barrels that needed new staves. In addition, to this old work awaiting him, the orders for new utensils came in so fast, that he expected soon to be a rich man. He was so grateful, for his deliverance and safe return, and for his continuing prosperity, that, instead of hoarding up his money, he presented, to the church, in his village, a beautiful silver communion service, on which two dragons were engraved.

But his happiness was but for a short time, for his stomach had changed, and could no longer digest the ordinary food of mortals, not even buttermilk; and, as for cheese, it nearly killed him. Feeding so long, on honey and dragon’s food, had ruined him for liking any other articles of diet.

In vain his wife cooked everything very nicely and offered it in the most tempting form. The maidens of the village, thankful at not being digested by dragons, tried their best to tempt his appetite, with the very finest their dainty hands could make, in the form of broths, salads, meats, cakes, apple dumplings, puddings and tarts. The delicatessen shops sent the choicest tidbits they could roast before their spits, bake in their ovens, or show on their tables, or in their shop windows. Nothing would avail, and the poor man died of slow starvation; and this, before even autumn had come.

After so sad an event, the popularity of even good dragons waned, so that it is hard, nowadays, to make anyone believe there were such creatures, that are named in encyclopædias. It is now, the firm opinion of most Swiss folks, old and young, that the only good dragon is a dead one, while those neither dead or alive, but only painted, or in fairy tales, are good enough to know about.