Last of the
( Public Domain Story)
you know that dragons were once as common as motor-omnibuses are now, and
almost as dangerous. But as every well-brought-up prince was expected to kill a
dragon, and rescue a princess, the dragons grew fewer and fewer till it was
often quite hard for a princess to find a dragon to be rescued from. And at
last there were no more dragons in France and no more dragons in Germany, or
Spain, or Italy, or Russia. There were some left in China, and are still, but they
are cold and bronzy, and there were never any, of course, in America. But the
last real live dragon left was in England, and of course that was a very long
time ago, before what you call English History began. This dragon lived in
Cornwall in the big caves amidst the rocks, and a very fine dragon it was,
quite seventy feet long from the tip of its fearful snout to the end of its
terrible tail. It breathed fire and smoke, and rattled when it walked, because
its scales were made of iron. Its wings were like half-umbrellas -- or like
bat's wings, only several thousand times bigger. Everyone was very frightened
of it, and well they might be.
Now the King
of Cornwall had one daughter, and when she was sixteen, of course she would
have to go and face the dragon: such tales are always told in royal nurseries
at twilight, so the Princess knew what she had to expect. The dragon would not
eat her, of course -- because the prince would come and rescue her. But the
Princess could not help thinking it would be much pleasanter to have nothing to
do with the dragon at all -- not even to be rescued from him. `All the princes
I know are such very silly little boys,' she told her father. `Why must I be
rescued by a prince?'
done, my dear,' said the King, taking his crown off and putting it on the
grass, for they were alone in the garden, and even kings must unbend sometimes.
darling,' said the Princess presently, when she had made a daisy chain and put
it on the King's head, where the crown ought to have been. `Father, darling,
couldn't we tie up one of the silly little princes for the dragon to look at --
and then I could go and kill the dragon and rescue the prince? I fence much
better than any of the princes we know.'
unladylike idea!' said the King, and put his crown on again, for he saw the
Prime Minister coming with a basket of new-laid Bills for him to sign. `Dismiss
the thought, my child. I rescued your mother from a dragon, and you don't want
to set yourself up above her, I should hope?'
`But this is
the last dragon. It is different from all other dragons.'
is the last,' said the Princess, and went off to her fencing lessons, with
which she took great pains. She took great pains with all her lessons -- for
she could not give up the idea of fighting the dragon. She took such pains that
she became the strongest and boldest and most skilful and most sensible
princess in Europe. She had always been the prettiest and nicest.
And the days
and years went on, till at last the day came which was the day before the
Princess was to be rescued from the dragon. The Prince who was to do this deed
of valour was a pale prince, with large eyes and a head full of mathematics and
philosophy, but he had unfortunately neglected his fencing lessons. He was to
stay the night at the palace, and there was a banquet.
the Princess sent her pet parrot to the Prince with a note. It said:
Prince, come on to the terrace. I want to talk to you without anybody else
hearing. --The Princess.
course, he went -- and he saw her gown of silver a long way off shining among
the shadows of the trees like water in starlight. And when he came quite close
to her he said: `Princess, at your service,' and bent his cloth-of-gold-covered
knee and put his hand on his cloth-of-gold-covered heart.
think,' said the Princess earnestly, `that you will be able to kill the
`I will kill
the dragon,' said the Prince firmly, `or perish in the attempt.'
`It's no use
your perishing,' said the Princess.
least I can do,' said the Prince.
afraid of is that it'll be the most you can do,' said the Princess.
only thing I can do,' said he, `unless I kill the dragon.'
should do anything for me is what I can't see,' said she.
`But I want
to,' he said. `You must know that I love you better than anything in the
When he said
that he looked so kind that the Princess began to like him a little.
she said, `no one else will go out tomorrow. You know they tie me to a rock and
leave me -- and then everybody scurries home and puts up the shutters and keeps
them shut till you ride through the town in triumph shouting that you've killed
the dragon, and I ride on the horse behind you weeping for joy.'
that that is how it is done,' said he.
you love me well enough to come very quickly and set me free -- and we'll fight
the dragon together?'
be safe for you.'
for both of us for me to be free, with a sword in my hand, than tied up and
helpless. Do agree.'
refuse her nothing. So he agreed. And next day everything happened as she had
When he had
cut the cords that tied her to the rock they stood on the lonely mountain-side
looking at each other.
`It seems to
me,' said the Prince, `that this ceremony could have been arranged without the
the Princess, `but since it has been arranged with the dragon --'
such a pity to kill the dragon -- the last in the world,' said the Prince.
don't let's,' said the Princess; `let's tame it not to eat princesses but to
eat out of their hands. They say everything can be tamed by kindness.'
kindness means giving them things to eat,' said the Prince. `Have you got
anything to eat?'
but the Prince owned that he had a few biscuits. `Breakfast was so very early,'
said he, `and I thought you might have felt faint after the fight.'
clever,' said the Princess, and they took a biscuit in each hand. And they
looked here, and they looked there, but never a dragon could they see.
its trail,' said the Prince, and pointed to where the rock was scarred and
scratched so as to make a track leading to a dark cave. It was like cart-ruts
in a Sussex road, mixed with the marks of sea-gull's feet on the sea-sand.
`Look, that's where it's dragged its brass tail and planted its steel claws.'
think how hard its tail and claws are,' said the Princess, `or I shall begin to
be frightened -- and I know you can't tame anything, even by kindness, if
you're frightened of it. Come on. Now or never.'
the Prince's hand in hers and they ran along the path towards the dark mouth of
the cave. But they did not run into it. It really was so very dark.
stood outside, and the Prince shouted: `What ho! Dragon there! What ho within!'
And from the cave they heard an answering voice and great clattering and
creaking. It sounded as though a rather large cotton-mill were stretching
itself and waking up out of its sleep.
and the Princess trembled, but they stood firm.
`Dragon -- I
say, dragon!' said the Princess, `do come out and talk to us. We've brought you
`Oh yes -- I
know your presents,' growled the dragon in a huge rumbling voice. `One of those
precious princesses, I suppose? And I've got to come out and fight for her.
Well, I tell you straight, I'm not going to do it. A fair fight I wouldn't say
no to -- a fair fight and no favour -- but one of those put-up fights where you've
got to lose -- no! So I tell you. If I wanted a princess I'd come and take her,
in my own time -- but I don't. What do you suppose I'd do with her, if I'd got
wouldn't you?' said the Princess, in a voice that trembled a little.
`Eat a fiddle-stick
end,' said the dragon very rudely. `I wouldn't touch the horrid thing.'
Princess's voice grew firmer.
`Do you like
biscuits?' she said.
growled the dragon.
nice little expensive ones with sugar on the top?'
growled the dragon.
do you like?' asked the Prince.
`You go away
and don't bother me,' growled the dragon, and they could hear it turn over, and
the clang and clatter of its turning echoed in the cave like the sound of the
steam-hammers in the Arsenal at Woolwich.
and Princess looked at each other. What were they to do? Of course it was no
use going home and telling the King that the dragon didn't want princesses --
because His Majesty was very old-fashioned and would never have believed that a
new-fashioned dragon could ever be at all different from an old-fashioned
dragon. They could not go into the cave and kill the dragon. Indeed, unless he
attacked the Princess it did not seem fair to kill him at all.
like something,' whispered the Princess, and she called out in a voice as sweet
as honey and sugar-cane:
shouted the dragon. `Say that again!' and they could hear the dragon coming
towards them through the darkness of the cave. The Princess shivered, and said
in a very small voice:
And then the
dragon came out. The Prince drew his sword, and the Princess drew hers -- the
beautiful silver-handled one that the Prince had brought in his motor-car. But
they did not attack; they moved slowly back as the dragon came out, all the
vast scaly length of him, and lay along the rock -- his great wings half spread
and his silvery sheen gleaming like diamonds in the sun. At last they could
retreat no further -- the dark rock behind them stopped their way -- and with
their backs to the rock they stood swords in hand and waited.
grew nearer and nearer -- and now they could see that he was not breathing fire
and smoke as they had expected -- he came crawling slowly towards them
wriggling a little as a puppy does when it wants to play and isn't quite sure
whether you're not cross with it.
they saw that great tears were coursing down its brazen cheek.
the matter?' said the Prince.
sobbed the dragon, `ever called me "dear" before!'
dragon dear,' said the Princess. `We'll call you "dear" as often as
you like. We want to tame you.'
`I am tame,'
said the dragon -- `that's just it. That's what nobody but you has ever found
out. I'm so tame that I'd eat out of your hands.'
dragon dear?' said the Princess. `Not biscuits?' The dragon slowly shook his
biscuits?' said the Princess tenderly. `What, then, dragon dear?'
kindness quite undragons me,' it said. `No one has ever asked any of us what we
like to eat -- always offering us princesses, and then rescuing them -- and
never once, "What'll you take to drink the King's health in?" Cruel
hard I call it,' and it wept again.
would you like to drink our health in?' said the Prince. `We're going to be
married today, aren't we, Princess?'
that she supposed so.
take to drink your health in?' asked the dragon. `Ah, you're something like a
gentleman, you are, sir. I don't mind if I do, sir. I'll be proud to drink you
and your good lady's health in a tiny drop of' -- its voice faltered -- `to
think of you asking me so friendly like,' it said. `Yes, sir, just a tiny drop
of puppuppuppuppupetrol -- tha-that's what does a dragon good, sir --'
in the car,' said the Prince, and was off down the mountain in a flash. He was
a good judge of character and knew that with this dragon the Princess would be
`If I might
make so bold,' said the dragon, `while the gentleman's away -- p'raps just to
pass the time you'd be so kind as to call me Dear again, and if you'd shake
claws with a poor old dragon that's never been anybody's enemy but his own --
well, the last of the dragons will be the proudest dragon that's ever been since
the first of them.'
It held out
an enormous paw, and the great steel hooks that were its claws closed over the
Princess's hand as softly as the claws of the Himalayan bear will close over
the bit of bun you hand it through the bars at the Zoo.
And so the
Prince and Princess went back to the palace in triumph, the dragon following
them like a pet dog. And all through the wedding festivities no one drank more
earnestly to the happiness of the bride and bridegroom than the Princess's pet
dragon -- whom she had at once named Fido.
And when the
happy pair were settled in their own kingdom, Fido came to them and begged to
be allowed to make himself useful.
be some little thing I can do,' he said, rattling his wings and stretching his
claws. `My wings and claws and so on ought to be turned to some account -- to
say nothing of my grateful heart.'
Prince had a special saddle or howdah made for him -- very long it was -- like
the tops of many tramcars fitted together. One hundred and fifty seats were
fitted to this, and the dragon, whose greatest pleasure was now to give
pleasure to others, delighted in taking parties of children to the seaside. It
flew through the air quite easily with its hundred and fifty little passengers
-- and would lie on the sand patiently waiting till they were ready to return.
The children were very fond of it, and used to call it Dear, a word which never
failed to bring tears of affection and gratitude to its eyes. So it lived,
useful and respected, till quite the other day -- when someone happened to say,
in his hearing, that dragons were out-of-date, now so much new machinery had
come in. This so distressed him that he asked the King to change him into
something less old-fashioned, and the kindly monarch at once changed him into a
mechanical contrivance. The dragon, indeed, became the first aeroplane.