A short tale by E. Nesbit: here it is, in full.
Of course 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?'
`It's always 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.
`Father, 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.'
`What an 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
`How?' asked the King.
`Because he 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 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
After supper the Princess sent her pet parrot to the Prince
with a note. It said:
Please, Prince, come on to the terrace. I want to talk to
you without anybody else hearing. --The Princess.
So, of 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.
`Do you think,' said the Princess earnestly, `that you will be
able to kill the dragon?'
`I will kill the dragon,' said the Prince firmly, `or perish
in the attempt.'
`It's no use your perishing,' said the Princess.
`It's the least I can do,' said the Prince.
`What I'm afraid of is that it'll be the most you can do,'
said the Princess.
`It's the only thing I can do,' said he, `unless I kill the
`Why you should do anything for me is what I can't see,' said
`But I want to,' he said. `You must know that I love you
better than anything in the world.'
When he said that he looked so kind that the Princess began to
like him a little.
`Look here,' 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.'
`I've heard that that is how it is done,' said he.
`Well, do you love me well enough to come very quickly and set
me free -- and we'll fight the dragon together?'
'It wouldn't be safe for you.'
`Much safer for both of us for me to be free, with a sword in
my hand, than tied up and helpless. Do agree.'
He could refuse her nothing. So he agreed. And next day
everything happened as she had said.
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 dragon.'
`Yes,' said the Princess, `but since it has been arranged with
the dragon --'
`It seems such a pity to kill the dragon -- the last in the
world,' said the Prince.
`Well then, 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.'
`Taming by kindness means giving them things to eat,' said the
Prince. `Have you got anything to eat?'
She hadn't, 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.'
`How 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.
`But here's 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.'
`Don't let's 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.'
She caught 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.
So they 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.
The Prince 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 a present.'
`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 her?'
`Eat her, 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.'
The Princess's voice grew firmer.
`Do you like biscuits?' she said.
`No,' growled the dragon.
`Not the nice little expensive ones with sugar on the top?'
`No,' growled the dragon.
`Then what 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.
The Prince 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.
`He must like something,' whispered the Princess, and she
called out in a voice as sweet as honey and sugar-cane:
`Dragon! Dragon dear!'
`WHAT?' 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:
`Dragon -- Dragon dear!'
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
halfspread 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.
The dragon 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.
And then they saw that great tears were coursing down its
`Whatever's the matter?' said the Prince.
`Nobody,' sobbed the dragon, `ever called me "dear"
`Don't cry, 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.'
`Eat what, dragon dear?' said the Princess. `Not biscuits?'
The dragon slowly shook his heavy head.
`Not biscuits?' said the Princess tenderly. `What, then,
`Your 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.
`But what would you like to drink our health in?' said the
Prince. `We're going to be married today, aren't we, Princess?'
She said that she supposed so.
`What'll I 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,
`I've lots 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 safe.
`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'll 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.
`There must 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
So the 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.