The Cooper and the two Dragons

In Switzerland lived a man, a cooper by trade, who one day climbed the soft slope of a nearby mountain to a forest of oaks and birches to find wood. It was autumn and the ground was covered with a thick carpet of dead leaves. The cooper deviated soon from the path, in search of some good low branches to cut and carry home 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. He heard the sound of the beating of large wings. He went outside and saw one of the dragons spreading its membranous wings and, whipping the air from its tail, rising in the sky. The other dragon was also on the point of flying away in the bright light of the morning and it slowly unfolded its wings. The cooper seized it by the tail and he hung on with all his strength while the animal rose off the ground and into the sky.

Arriving at the edge of the ravine, the man released his grip and fell gently on the ground. He looked for a moment upon the rise of the dragons in the luminous sky. Then, he found the path from which he had deviated the preceding autumn and followed it until he reached his home. There, he told his adventure to his friends and relatives, who were amazed. They thought he was dead since his mule had returned alone, several months before.