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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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And the two lovers stood looking up at the dragon. He was dreadful to look at. His head was white with age--and his beard had grown so long that he caught his claws in it as he walked. His wings were white with the salt that had settled on them from the spray of the sea. His tail was long and thick and jointed and white, and had little legs to it, any number of them--far too many--so that it looked like a very large fat silkworm; and his claws were as long as lessons and as sharp as bayonets. "Good-bye, love!" cried Nigel, and ran out across the yellow sand toward the sea. He had one end of a cord tied to his arm. The dragon was clambering down the face of the cliff, and next moment he was crawling and writhing and sprawling and wriggling across the beach after Nigel, making great holes in the sand with his heavy feet--and the very end of his tail, where there were no legs, made, as it dragged, a mark in the sand such as you make when you launch a boat; and he breathed fire till the wet sand hissed again, and the water of the little rock pools got quite frightened, and all went off in steam. Still Nigel held on and the dragon after him. The Princess could see nothing for the steam, and she stood crying bitterly, but still holding on tight with her right hand to the other end of the cord that Nigel had told her to hold; while with her left she held the ship's chronometer, and looked at it through her tears as he had bidden her look, so as to know when to pull the rope.

On went Nigel over the sand, and on went the dragon after him. And the tide was low, and sleepy little waves lapped the sand's edge. Now at the lip of the water, Nigel paused and looked back, and the dragon made a bound, beginning a scream of rage that was like all the engines of all the railways in England. But it never uttered the second half of that scream, for now it knew suddenly that it was sleepy--it turned to hurry back to dry land, because sleeping near whirlpools is so unsafe. But before it reached the shore sleep caught it and turned it to stone. Nigel, seeing this, ran shoreward for his life--and the tide began to flow in, and the time of the whirlpools' sleep was nearly over, and he stumbled and he waded and he swam, and the Princess pulled for dear life at the cord in her hand, and pulled him up on to the dry shelf of rock just as the great sea dashed in and made itself once more into the girdle of Nine Whirlpools all around the island. But the dragon was asleep under the whirlpools, and when he woke up from being asleep he found he was drowned, so there was an end of him. "Now, there's only the griffin," said Nigel. And the Princess said: "Yes--only--" And she kissed Nigel and went back to sew the last leaf of the last lily on the bosom of her wedding gown. She thought and thought of what was written on the stone about the griffin being artificial--and next day she said to Nigel: "You know a griffin is half a lion and half an eagle, and the other two halves when they've joined make the leo-griff. But I've never seen him. Yet I have an idea."

So they talked it over and arranged everything. When the griffin fell asleep that afternoon at teatime, Nigel went softly behind him and trod on his tail, and at the same time the Princess cried: "Look out! There's a lion behind you." And the griffin, waking suddenly from his dreams, twisted his large neck around to look for the lion, saw a lion's flank, and fastened its eagle beak in it. For the griffin had been artificially made by the King-enchanter, and the two halves had never really got used to each other. So now the eagle half of the griffin, who was still rather sleepy, believed that it was fighting a lion, and the lion part, being half asleep, thought it was fighting an eagle, and the whole griffin in its deep drowsiness hadn't the sense to pull itself together and remember what it was made of. So the griffin rolled over and over, one end of it fighting with the other, till the eagle end pecked the lion end to death, and the lion end tore the eagle end with its claws till it died. And so the griffin that was made of a lion and an eagle perished, exactly as if it had been made of Kilkenny cats. "Poor griffin," said the Princess, "it was very good at the housework. I always liked it better than the dragon: It wasn't so hot-tempered."

At that moment there was a soft, silky rush behind the Princess, and there was her mother, the Queen, who had slipped out of the stone statue at the moment the griffin was dead, and now came hurrying to take her dear daughter in her arms. The witch was clambering slowly off her pedestal. She was a little stiff from standing still so long. When they had all explained everything over and over to each other as many times as was good for them, the witch said: "Well, but what about the whirlpools?" And Nigel said he didn't know. Then the witch said: "I'm not a witch anymore. I'm only a happy old woman, but I know some things still. Those whirlpools were made by the enchanter-King's dropping nine drops of his blood into the sea. And his blood was so wicked that the sea has been trying ever since to get rid of it, and that made the whirlpools. Now you've only got to go out at low tide." So Nigel understood and went out at low tide, and found in the sandy hollow left by the first whirlpool a great red ruby. That was the first drop of the wicked King's blood. The next day Nigel found another, and next day another, and so on till the ninth day, and then the sea was as smooth as glass.

The nine rubies were used afterwards in agriculture. You had only to throw them out into a field if you wanted it plowed. Then the whole surface of the land turned itself over in its anxiety to get rid of something so wicked, and in the morning the field was found to be plowed as thoroughly as any young man at Oxford. So the wicked King did some good after all. When the sea was smooth, ships came from far and wide, bringing people to hear the wonderful story. And a beautiful palace was built, and the Princess was married to Nigel in her gold dress, and they all lived happily as long as was good for them. The dragon still lies, a stone dragon on the sand, and at low tide the little children play around him and over him. But the pieces that were left of the griffin were buried under the herb-bed in the palace garden, because it had been so good at housework, and it wasn't its fault that it had been made so badly and put to such poor work as guarding a lady from her lover. I have no doubt that you will wish to know what the Princess lived on during the long years when the dragon did the cooking. My dear, she lived on her income--and that is a thing that a great many people would like to be able to do.


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