The Cooper and the two Dragons

In Switzerland lived a man, cooper was his state, which one day climbs the soft inclined side of the surrounding mountain to a forest of oaks and birches to seek wood there. It was the autumn and the ground was covered with a thick carpet of dead leafs. Our man deviated soon from the path, in search of some good low branch which he can cut and charge on his mule.

At the falling night, he noted that he had been mislaid. He scanned the darkness in the hope to see the campfire of some hunter or the hut of a coalman. The branches lacerated his face while he advanced in the obscure forest, and sudden it seemed to him that the ground was falling under his steps. He released the leading-rein of his mule, tried to advance, lost foot and fell at the bottom from a ravine, bringing in his fall several roots and stones. At the bottom, the ground was covered with mud and the air impregnated of a strong odor of manure and burned foliage. Exhausted, the cooper shrivelled in a corner and fell asleep.

With the pale gleam of the dawn, he woke up, sored all over, and contemplated the thin band of sky which cut out between the walls of the ravine, so high and abrupt that he could not think of climbing them, and he sank in a deep despair. Then he heard the sigh of a drowsy animal, so near and so powerful that he felt his hair to straigt up on his head. This breath was hot like the breath of a furnace and passably sulfurous. It seemed to emanate on the side opposite of the ravine and the cooper leaned ahead and scanned the darkness. In a jump, he stand erected. Not far from him, their folded up rings and their massive forms cutting out vaguely in the dim light, their heavy half closed eyelids because the winter torpor, two enormous dragons were rested.

Our man fell to knees to beg the sky. At this time there, one of the dragons emerged from its torpor. The wings folded up like a fan, it came out of the cave in a great unfolding of scaly rings, carried by four short clawed legs. It agitated the tail in direction of the cooper and it was rolled up around him. The dragon looked a few moments at the prisoner with glaucous eyes, then released him and re-entered in its den, leaving poor man with his knees trembling of terror, but unharmed.

Knowing his rescue improbable and his escape impossible, the cooper spent the winter in the ravine, accompanied by the drowsy dragons. He nourished from mushrooms growing on the wet walls, heated by the breath of the dragons, and was refreshed by collecting the dew in his hands. As he was left in peace, he lost his fear and, one night when the snowflakes fell thick and where cold bit him, he slipped into the cave and settled himself well at the heat from the hollow of the rings. One of the dragons turned the head but, accepting the intrusion, it took again its position and left him quiet.

The cooper thus spent the night and all those which followed and, with the return of spring, when the melting made waters cascade in the ravine, the dragons saved his life. One morning, he woke up alone and frozen in the smoked den. By the opening penetrated the noise of a large beat of wings. He precipitated outside and saw one of the dragons spreading largely its membranous wings and, whipping the air from its tail, rising in the sky. The other dragons was also on the point of flying away in the bright light of the morning and, crouch in mud, it slowly unfolded its wings, such insect hardly released of its cocoon. The cooper seizes it by the tail and he hanged of all his forces while the animal flapped the air to rise from the ground.

Arrived at the edge of the ravine, the man opened the arms and fell gently on the ground. He looked for a moment the rise of the dragons in the luminous sky. Then it was put in search of the path from which he had deviated the preceding autumn and followed it until he reach his home. There, he told his adventure to his friends and relative amazed which held him for dead since his mule had returned alone, several months before.