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Island of the nine whirlpools.
From The Book of Stories for the Storyteller by Fanny E. Coe.
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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
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,"
"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
"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
"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
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
"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.