The Dragon's Tail





I wonder if the girls and boys who read these stories, have heard of the

charming and romantic town of Eisenach? I suppose not, for it is a

curious fact that few English people visit the place, though very many

Americans go there. Americans are well known to have a special interest

in old places with historical associations, because they have nothing of

the sort in America; moreover many of them are Germans by birth, and

have heard stories of the Wartburg, that beautiful old castle, which

from the summit of a hill, surrounded by woods, overlooks the town of

Eisenach.



The Wartburg is quaintly built with dear little turrets and gables, and

high towers, a long curving wall with dark beams like the peasant

cottages, and windows looking out into the forest. It belongs at present

to the Grand duke of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach.



Every stone and corner of the Wartburg is connected with some old story

or legend.



For instance there is the hall with the raised dais at one end and

beautiful pillars supporting the roof where minnesingers of old times

used to hold their great "musical festivals" as we should say nowadays.

There was keen competition for the prizes that were offered in reward

for the best music and songs.



In the castle are also the rooms of St Elizabeth, that sweet saint who

was so good to the poor, and who suffered so terribly herself in parting

from her husband and children.



Then there is the lion on the roof who could tell a fine tale if he

chose; the great banqueting hall and the little chapel.



On the top of the tower is a beautiful cross that is lit up at night by

electric light and can be seen from a great distance in the country

round. This is of course a modern addition.



But the most interesting room in the castle is that where Dr Martin

Luther spent his time translating the Bible. A reward had been offered

to anyone who should kill this arch-heretic; so his friends brought him

disguised as a knight to the Wartburg, and very few people knew of his

whereabouts.



As you look through the latticed windows of that little room, the

exquisite blue and purple hills of the Thueringen-Wald stretch away in

the distance, and no human habitation is to be seen. There too you may

see the famous spot on the wall where Luther threw the inkpot at the

devil. To be correct you can see the hole where the ink-stain used to

be; for visitors have cut away every trace of the ink, and even portions

of the old wooden bedstead. There is the writing-desk with the

translation of the Bible, and the remarkable footstool that consisted of

the bone of a mammoth.



Those were the days in which a man risked his life for his faith; but

they were the days also, we must remember, of witchcraft and magic.



One other story of the Wartburg I must narrate in order to give you some

idea of the interest that still surrounds the place, and influences the

children who grow up there. It was in the days of the old Emperor

Barbarossa (Redbeard).



The sister of the Emperor whose name was Jutta, was married to the

Landgraf Ludwig of Thueringen, and they lived at the Wartburg.



One day when Barbarossa came to visit them, he observed that the castle

had no outer walls round it, as was usual in those days.



"What a pity," he said, "that such a fine castle should be unprotected

by walls and ramparts, it ought to be more strongly fortified."



"Oh," said Landgraf Ludwig, "if that is all the castle needs, it can

soon have them."



"How soon?" said the Emperor, mockingly.



"In the space of three days," answered his brother-in-law.



"That could only be possible with the aid of the devil," said

Barbarossa, "otherwise it could not be done."



"Wait and see for yourself," said the Landgraf.



On the third day of his visit, Ludwig said to the Emperor: "Would you

care to see the walls? They are finished now."



Barbarossa crossed himself several times, and prepared for some fearful

manifestation of black magic; but what was his surprise to see a living

wall round the castle of stout peasants and burghers, ready armed, with

weapons in their hands; the banners of well-known knights and lords

waved their pennants in the wind where battlements should have been.



The Emperor was much astonished, and called out: "Many thanks,

brother-in-law, for your lesson; stronger walls I have never seen, nor

better fitted together."



"Rough stones they may some of them be," said the Landgraf, "yet I can

rely on them, as you see."



Now as you may imagine, the children who grow up in this town, must have

their heads full of these tales, and many poets and artists have been

inspired by the beauties of Eisenach. The natural surroundings of the

town are so wonderful, that they also provide rich material for the

imagination.



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

school report. 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

intention.



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

swords.



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. Huge walls

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

lunch!"



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 said.



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

dicky bird."



"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

entered. 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!

Werner!"



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

more disreputable.



"We feel positively ashamed to go home with you," their mothers said to

them.



"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

Helmut wished.



"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

dragon."



"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

whisper.



"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!"





The Dragon's Strength The Draiglin' Hogney facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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