Select the desired text size

Island of the nine whirlpools.

From The Book of Stories for the Storyteller by Fanny E. Coe.

Start of Story

But when the dawn came he saw the Lone Tower standing dark against the pink and primrose of the East, and about its base the sullen swirl of black water, and he heard the wonderful roar of it. So he hung off and on, all that day and for six days besides. And when he had watched seven days he knew something. For you are certain to know something if you give for seven days your whole thought to it, even though it be only the first declension, or the nine-times table, or the dates of the Norman Kings. What he knew was this: that for five minutes out of the 1,440 minutes that make up a day the whirlpools slipped into silence, while the tide went down and left the yellow sand bare. And every day this happened, but every day it was five minutes earlier than it had been the day before. He made sure of this by the ship's chronometer, which he had thoughtfully brought with him. So on the eighth day, at five minutes before noon, Nigel got ready. And when the whirlpools suddenly stopped whirling and the tide sank, like water in a basin that has a hole in it, he stuck to his oars and put his back into his stroke, and presently beached the boat on the yellow sand. Then he dragged it into a cave, and sat down to wait. By five minutes and one second past noon, the whirlpools were black and busy again, and Nigel peeped out of his cave. And on the rocky ledge overhanging the sea he saw a Princess as beautiful as the day, with golden hair and a green gown--and he went out to meet her.

"I've come to save you," he said. "How darling and beautiful you are!" "You are very good, and very clever, and very dear," said the Princess, smiling and giving him both her hands. He shut a little kiss in each hand before he let them go. "So now, when the tide is low again, I will take you away in my boat," he said. "But what about the dragon and the griffin?" asked the Princess. "Dear me," said Nigel. "I didn't know about them. I suppose I can kill them?" "Don't be a silly boy," said the Princess, pretending to be very grown up, for, though she had been on the island time only knows how many years, she was just eighteen, and she still liked pretending. "You haven't a sword, or a shield, or anything!" "Well, don't the beasts ever go to sleep?" "Why, yes," said the Princess, "but only once in twenty-four hours, and then the dragon is turned to stone. But the griffin has dreams. The griffin sleeps at teatime every day, but the dragon sleeps every day for five minutes, and every day it is three minutes later than it was the day before." "What time does he sleep today?" asked Nigel. "At eleven," said the Princess. "Ah," said Nigel, "can you do sums?" "No," said the Princess sadly. "I was never good at them." "Then I must," said Nigel. "I can, but it's slow work, and it makes me very unhappy. It'll take me days and days." "Don't begin yet," said the Princess. "You'll have plenty of time to be unhappy when I'm not with you. Tell me all about yourself."

So he did. And then she told him all about herself. "I know I've been here a long time," she said, "but I don't know what Time is. And I am very busy sewing silk flowers on a golden gown for my wedding day. And the griffin does the housework--his wings are so convenient and feathery for sweeping and dusting. And the dragon does the cooking--he's hot inside, so, of course, it's no trouble to him; and though I don't know what Time is I'm sure it's time for my wedding day, because my golden gown only wants one more white daisy on the sleeve, and a lily on the bosom of it, and then it will be ready." Just then they heard a dry, rustling clatter on the rocks above them and a snorting sound. "It's the dragon," said the Princess hurriedly. "Good-bye. Be a good boy, and get your sum done." And she ran away and left him to his arithmetic. Now, the sum was this: "If the whirlpools stop and the tide goes down once in every twenty-four hours, and they do it five minutes earlier every twenty-four hours, and if the dragon sleeps every day, and he does it three minutes later every day, in how many days and at what time in the day will the tide go down three minutes before the dragon falls asleep?"

It is quite a simple sum, as you see: You could do it in a minute because you have been to a good school and have taken pains with your lessons; but it was quite otherwise with poor Nigel. He sat down to work out his sum with a piece of chalk on a smooth stone. He tried it by practice and the unitary method, by multiplication, and by rule-of-three-and-three-quarters. He tried it by decimals and by compound interest. He tried it by square root and by cube root. He tried it by addition, simple and otherwise, and he tried it by mixed examples in vulgar fractions. But it was all of no use. Then he tried to do the sum by algebra, by simple and by quadratic equations, by trigonometry, by logarithms, and by conic sections. But it would not do. He got an answer every time, it is true, but it was always a different one, and he could not feel sure which answer was right. And just as he was feeling how much more important than anything else it is to be able to do your sums, the Princess came back. And now it was getting dark. "Why, you've been seven hours over that sum," she said, "and you haven't done it yet. Look here, this is what is written on the tablet of the statue by the lower gate. It has figures in it. Perhaps it is the answer to the sum." She held out to him a big white magnolia leaf. And she had scratched on it with the pin of her pearl brooch, and it had turned brown where she had scratched it, as magnolia leaves will do. Nigel read: AFTER NINE DAYS T ii. 24. D ii. 27 Ans. P.S.--And the griffin is artificial. R. He clapped his hands softly.

"Dear Princess," he said, "I know that's the right answer. It says R too, you see. But I'll just prove it." So he hastily worked the sum backward in decimals and equations and conic sections, and all the rules he could think of. And it came right every time. "So now we must wait," said he. And they waited. And every day the Princess came to see Nigel and brought him food cooked by the dragon, and he lived in his cave, and talked to her when she was there, and thought about her when she was not, and they were both as happy as the longest day in summer. Then at last came The Day. Nigel and the Princess laid their plans. "You're sure he won't hurt you, my only treasure?" said Nigel. "Quite," said the Princess. "I only wish I were half as sure that he wouldn't hurt you." "My Princess," he said tenderly, "two great powers are on our side: the power of Love and the power of Arithmetic. Those two are stronger than anything else in the world." So when the tide began to go down, Nigel and the Princess ran out on to the sands, and there, in full sight of the terrace where the dragon kept watch, Nigel took his Princess in his arms and kissed her. The griffin was busy sweeping the stairs of the Lone Tower, but the dragon saw, and he gave a cry of rage--and it was like twenty engines all letting off steam at the top of their voices inside Cannon Street Station.


back to top
Back To Top
next page
Next Page
previous page
Previous Page