Select the desired text size

Island of the nine whirlpools.

From The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit.

Press F5 to hear again

Start of Story

The dark arch that led to the witch's cave was hung with a black-and-yellow fringe of live snakes. As the Queen went in, keeping carefully in the middle of the arch, all the snakes lifted their wicked, flat heads and stared at her with their wicked, yellow eyes. You know it is not good manners to stare, even at Royalty, except of course for cats. And the snakes had been so badly brought up that they even put their tongues out at the poor lady. Nasty, thin, sharp tongues they were too. Now, the Queen's husband was, of course, the King. And besides being a King he was an enchanter, and considered to be quite at the top of his profession, so he was very wise, and he knew that when Kings and Queens want children, the Queen always goes to see a witch. So he gave the Queen the witch's address, and the Queen called on her, though she was very frightened and did not like it at all. The witch was sitting by a fire of sticks, stirring something bubbly in a shiny copper cauldron. "What do you want, my dear?" she said to the Queen. "Oh, if you please," said the Queen, "I want a baby--a very nice one. We don't want any expense spared. My husband said--" "Oh, yes," said the witch. "I know all about him. And so you want a child? Do you know it will bring you sorrow?" "It will bring me joy first," said the Queen. "Great sorrow," said the witch. "Greater joy," said the Queen.

Then the witch said, "Well, have your own way. I suppose it's as much as your place is worth to go back without it?" "The King would be very much annoyed," said the poor Queen. "Well, well," said the witch. "What will you give me for the child?" "Anything you ask for, and all I have," said the Queen. "Then give me your gold crown." The Queen took it off quickly. "And your necklace of blue sapphires." The Queen unfastened it. "And your pearl bracelets." The Queen unclasped them. "And your ruby clasps." And the Queen undid the clasps. "Now the lilies from your breast." The Queen gathered together the lilies. "And the diamonds of your little bright shoe buckles." The Queen pulled off her shoes. Then the witch stirred the stuff that was in the cauldron, and, one by one, she threw in the gold crown and the sapphire necklace and the pearl bracelets and the ruby clasps and the diamonds of the little bright shoe buckles, and last of all she threw in the lilies. The stuff in the cauldron boiled up in foaming flashes of yellow and blue and red and white and silver, and sent out a sweet scent, and presently the witch poured it out into a pot and set it to cool in the doorway among the snakes. Then she said to the Queen: "Your child will have hair as golden as your crown, eyes as blue as your sapphires. The red of your rubies will lie on its lips, and its skin will be clear and pale as your pearls. Its soul will be white and sweet as your lilies, and your diamonds will be no clearer than its wits."

"Oh, thank you, thank you," said the Queen, "and when will it come?" "You will find it when you get home." "And won't you have something for yourself?" asked the Queen. "Any little thing you fancy--would you like a country, or a sack of jewels?" "Nothing, thank you," said the witch. "I could make more diamonds in a day than I should wear in a year." "Well, but do let me do some little thing for you," the Queen went on. "Aren't you tired of being a witch? Wouldn't you like to be a Duchess or a Princess, or something like that?" "There is one thing I should rather like," said the witch, "but it's hard to get in my trade." "Oh, tell me what," said the Queen. "I should like some one to love me," said the witch. Then the Queen threw her arms around the witch's neck and kissed her half a hundred times. "Why," she said, "I love you better than my life! You've given me the baby--and the baby shall love you too." "Perhaps it will," said the witch, "and when the sorrow comes, send for me. Each of your fifty kisses will be a spell to bring me to you. Now, drink up your medicine, there's a dear, and run along home." So the Queen drank the stuff in the pot, which was quite cool by this time, and she went out under the fringe of snakes, and they all behaved like good Sunday-school children. Some of them even tried to drop a curtsy to her as she went by, though that is not easy when you are hanging wrong way up by your tail. But the snakes knew the Queen was friends with their mistress; so, of course, they had to do their best to be civil.

When the Queen got home, sure enough there was the baby lying in the cradle with the Royal arms blazoned on it, crying as naturally as possible. It had pink ribbons to tie up its sleeves, so the Queen saw at once it was a girl. When the King knew this he tore his black hair with fury. "Oh, you silly, silly Queen!" he said. "Why didn't I marry a clever lady? Did you think I went to all the trouble and expense of sending you to a witch to get a girl? You knew well enough it was a boy I wanted--a boy, an heir, a Prince--to learn all my magic and my enchantments, and to rule the kingdom after me. I'll bet a crown--my crown," he said, "you never even thought to tell the witch what kind you wanted! Did you now?" And the Queen hung her head and had to confess that she had only asked for a child. "Very well, madam," said the King, "very well--have your own way. And make the most of your daughter, while she is a child." The Queen did. All the years of her life had never held half so much happiness as now lived in each of the moments when she held her little baby in her arms. And the years went on, and the King grew more and more clever at magic, and more and more disagreeable at home, and the Princess grew more beautiful and more dear every day she lived.

The Queen and the Princess were feeding the goldfish in the courtyard fountains with crumbs of the Princess's eighteenth birthday cake, when the King came into the courtyard, looking as black as thunder, with his black raven hopping after him. He shook his fist at his family, as indeed he generally did whenever he met them, for he was not a King with pretty home manners. The raven sat down on the edge of the marble basin and tried to peck the goldfish. It was all he could do to show that he was in the same temper as his master. "A girl indeed!" said the King angrily. "I wonder you can dare to look me in the face, when you remember how your silliness has spoiled everything." "You oughtn't to speak to my mother like that," said the Princess. She was eighteen, and it came to her suddenly and all in a moment that she was a grown-up, so she spoke out. The King could not utter a word for several minutes. He was too angry. But the Queen said, "My dear child, don't interfere," quite crossly, for she was frightened. And to her husband she said, "My dear, why do you go on worrying about it? Our daughter is not a boy, it is true--but she may marry a clever man who could rule your kingdom after you, and learn as much magic as ever you cared to teach him." Then the King found his tongue. "If she does marry," he said, slowly, "her husband will have to be a very clever man--oh, yes, very clever indeed! And he will have to know a very great deal more magic than I shall ever care to teach him."


back to top
Back To Top
next page
Next Page