ONCE upon a time there was a man who went into the wood to cut hop-poles, but he could find no trees so long and straight and slender as he wanted, till he came high up under a great heap of stones. There he heard groans and moans as though someone were at death's door. So he went up to see who it was that needed help, and then he heard that the noise came from under a great flat stone which lay on the heap. It was so heavy it would have taken many a man to lift it. But the man tilted up the stone, and lo! Out from under it crawled a dragon, which turned to swallow him up. But the man said he had saved the dragon's life, and it was shameful thanklessness in him to want to eat him up.
"Maybe," said the dragon, "but you might very well know I must be starved when I have been here hundreds of years and never tasted meat. Besides, it's the way of the world. That is how it pays its debts."
The man pleaded his cause stoutly, and begged prettily for his life; and at last they agreed to take the first living being they met should decide between them, and if his doom went the other way the man should not lose his life, but if he said the same as the dragon, the dragon should eat the man.
"See, over there comes one who looks as if he was sent to be a judge between us," said the man, as he pointed to Reynard the fox, who came stealing between the stones of the heap.
"All good things are three," said the man; "let me ask him, too, and if he gives doom like the others, eat me up on the spot."
"Very well," said the dragon. He, too, had heard that all good things were three, and so it should be a bargain. So the man talked to the fox as he had talked to the others.
"Yes, yes," said Reynard, "I see how it all is; "but as he said this he took the man a little aside.
"What will you give me if I free you from the dragon?" he whispered into the man's ear.
"You shall be free to come to my house and to be lord and master over my hens and geese every Thursday night," said the man.
"Well, my dear dragon," said Reynard, "this is a very hard nut to crack. I can't get it into my head how you, who are so big and mighty a beast, could find room to lie under that stone over there."
The dragon showed them how it could be there under the big stone. Once it was under t both left the place, quite cool.