My Dear Children,--I am going to tell you a really breathless story for your holiday treat. It will have to begin with the moral, because everyone will be too much exhausted to read one at the end, and as the moral is the only part that really matters, it is important to come to it quite fresh.
We will, therefore, endeavour to learn from this story:-
If we fly at all, to fly HIGH.
To be extremely polite.
To be kind and grateful to cats and all other animals.
All the trouble arose one day when the Princess (there is always a Princess in a fairy-tale, you know) was playing in the garden with her ball. She threw it up in the air much higher than usual and it never came down again. There was an awful shriek, like ten thousand steam-engines; all the ladies-in-waiting fainted in a row, the inhabitants of the place went stone-deaf, and the Captain of the Guard, who was in attendance with a company of his troops, seized the Princess, put her on his horse, galloped away followed by his soldiers to a castle on the top of a hill, deposited the Princess in the highest room, and then and only then, told her what had happened.
"Miss," he said, for he was so upset he forgot Court etiquette, "Miss, your ball must have hit the Dreadful Griffin in the eye (I noticed he was taking a little fly in the neighbourhood), and that was the reason of the awful shriek. Well, Miss, the Dreadful Griffin never was known to forgive anybody anything, so I snatched you up quick before he could get at you and brought you to the Castle of the White Cats. There are seventeen of these animals sitting outside the door and twenty-seven more standing in the courtyard, so you're as safe as safe can be, for the Dreadful Griffin can't look at a white cat without getting the ague and then he shakes so a mouse wouldn't be afraid of him. And now, Miss, I must go back to your Royal Pa, so I will wish you good-morning."
Having made this long speech the Captain suddenly remembered the Court etiquette, became very hot and red, went out of the room backwards, and instantly fell over the seventeen cats who all swore at him, which so confused the poor man that he rolled down the stairs and out into the court where the twenty-seven cats were having rations of mouse-pie served out to them; and the Captain rolled into the middle of the pie, scalded himself badly with the gravy, and was thankful to jump on his horse and ride away with his soldiers to report matters to the King.
The King was so pleased with his promptitude that he made him the General of the Flying Squadron, which only fights in the air, and conferred on him the medal of the Society for the Suppression of Superfluous Salamanders, whereat the Captain was overjoyed.
But this is a digression, and I only told you because I wanted you to see that virtue is always rewarded.
Now for the poor Princess.
Well, she cried a little, of course, but the cats brought her some mouse-pie, which she found very good, and she was soon quite happy playing with some of the kittens and nearly forgot all about the Dreadful Griffin; but he did not forget about HER, oh dear no! He flew after the Captain when he galloped away with the Princess, but when he saw the White Cats he shook with ague so fearfully that his teeth rolled about in his mouth like billiard balls and he had to go and get a new set before he could eat his dinner. Well, he was in a perfect fury, and how to get at the Princess he did not know. He swallowed several buckets of hot brimstone, rolled his head in a red flannel petticoat, put his tail in a hot sand-bag, and went to bed hoping to cure the ague, which he did completely, so that he was quite well next day and more anxious to eat the Princess than ever.
Now next door to the Dreadful Griffin (that is, a hundred miles away) there lived a Wicked Witch, and he went to consult her as to how he might get at the Princess. When the Wicked Witch heard what a sad effect White Cats had on the Griffin's constitution she said that she would have expected a Griffin of his coils to have had more sense.
"Any slow-worm knows," said the Wicked Witch, "that cats love mice better than Princesses; therefore get a large sack of fat mice, let them loose a little way from the castle, and when the cats see them they will run after them, and you can eat the Princess."
The Dreadful Griffin was so pleased with the Wicked Witch that he presented her with a pair of fire-bricks and a hot-water tin, and then flew away to the Purveyor of Mice, who lived in a town about seventy miles away. He bought twelve hundred dozen fat mice of the best quality, all the Purveyor had in stock that were home-grown, and flew on with them to the castle. When he was a little way off he let the mice out, expecting all the cats to arrive at once; but not a cat appeared. They HEARD mice and they SMELT mice, but not a cat moved, for they were on their honour; so they kept guard and licked their lips sadly. When the Griffin saw the last of the twelve hundred dozen mice disappearing down the road with never a cat after them, he was in a tremendous temper and flew away to the house of the Wicked Witch, only stopping to pick up a steam engine which he dropped through her roof, and then went home to bed. Next day he remembered a friend of his called the Grumpy Giant, who lived six doors away, that is, about a thousand miles, so he flew to ask his advice. When the Giant heard his story, he said in the gruffest voice you ever heard, "Mice is common, try sparrers" (by which you can see that he was quite an uneducated person), and then he turned over and went to sleep.
The Dreadful Griffin at once flew away to the Sparrow Preserves, bought eleven thousand, and then proceeded to let them fly close to the castle. Still not a cat moved. As the cats' copy-book well says, "Honour is dearer to cats than mice or birds," and all the kittens write this in round-hand as soon as they can do lessons at all, and never forget it.
Well, I really dare not describe the state of mind the Griffin was in; but he made the air so hot that all the people put on their thinnest clothes, although it was the middle of winter. He flew home puffing and snorting, and on the way he passed the house of the Amiable Answerer. He went in and told his story, and his voice shook with rage. The Amiable Answerer gave him a penny pink ice to cool him down, and then said gently:-
"I think, dear Mr Griffin, that green spectacles would meet your case. Then the cats which are now white would appear to you green and . . . "
But the Griffin was already half-way to a Watchmaker's where they sold glasses. He burst into the shop, frightened the watchmaker so that he fell into the works of the watch he was mending and could only be got out with the greatest difficulty, seized twelve pairs of green spectacles, put them on all at once and flew towards the castle.
Now the Dreadful Griffin was one of those creatures who do not stop to think, consequently he came to grief. White cats gave him the ague, but green dogs made him cough most fearfully; and a little way out of the town he met thirteen white poodles taking a walk, who of course all looked bright green to the Dreadful Griffin. He coughed so fearfully that all the twelve pairs of spectacles fell off his nose and were smashed to bits, and his plan was spoilt once more.
No, I am not going to tell you what the Dreadful Griffin said and did then, it is too terrible to speak of, but he had to keep in bed for a week, and drink hot tar, and have his chest ironed with a steam roller, and his nose greased with seven pounds of tallow candles; but all his misfortunes did not cure him of wanting to eat the Princess. When his cough was better, he went for a walk in the wood near which he lived, to think out a new plan. Suddenly he heard something croaking, and saw the Fat Frog sitting under a tree. Now the Dreadful Griffin was so low in his mind that he wanted to tell someone his troubles, so he told the Fat Frog.
"Don't come near me," said the Fat Frog when he had finished, "for I hate heat. If you look under the fifth tree from the end of the wood you'll find a thin packet. Put it in sixteen gallons of water and pour it over the cats, only mind you shut your eyes first, and for goodness sake don't come into this wood any more, you dry up the moisture."
The Griffin quite forgot to thank the Fat Frog, he was a Griffin of NO manners, but he didn't forget to take the packet. It was labelled 'Reckitt's,' and when he put it in the water all the water turned bright blue. Then he took the pail in his claw, flew to the castle, shut his eyes and poured some of the contents of the pail over the cats in the courtyard.
When he opened his eyes there were twenty-seven bright blue, damp, depressed cats; and he passed them without any difficulty. He shut his eyes, wriggled up the stairs, poured the remaining mixture over the seventeen cats, who all turned as blue as the rest, and then he burst open the door of the Princess's room. Fortunately there was a kind Fairy flying over the castle at that very moment, who, seeing what was happening, changed the Princess into a flea so that the Dreadful Griffin couldn't see her anywhere.
No, if I couldn't tell you before, I certainly must not attempt now to describe the Griffin's behaviour when he found the Princess thus snatched from his jaws. He went grunting and bellowing and screaming along; and just as he was stopping to take breath he heard someone roaring with laughter, and saw a little yellow man sitting on the top bough of a tree.
"Are you laughing at ME?" said the Dreadful Griffin (he was so angry that he was quite polite). And the little man said quite as politely that he certainly WAS.
"Why?" said the Dreadful Griffin, still fearfully polite.
"Because you're such a green Griffin," said the yellow man; and he screamed with laughter again--"I know all about it, you've blued the cats and now the Princess has greened you. She's turned into a flea, and you still want to eat her, and it never occurred to you, you green old grampus of a Griffin, that fleas like CATS. I suppose the Princess flea wouldn't jump on to a tabby kitten, and you couldn't swallow the kitten--oh dear, no--of course not . . . ."
But the Griffin was gone. He went to the Zoo, found a tabby kitten, though they are rare in that country, and flew back with it to the Princess's room.
He waited half an hour and then swallowed the kitten at one gulp; but he instantly burst in four pieces, for the fluffy kitten tickled his digestive organs so much that they cracked his sides and he died; and the flea and the kitten came out quite unhurt, only a little damp.
Then a wonderful thing happened. The tabby kitten changed into the little yellow man who had laughed at the Griffin. He grew, and grew, and in a few minutes he was a handsome prince. His name was Prince Orange Plushikins. One day a cruel witch whom he had offended had changed him into an ugly yellow man, and had sworn that he should only regain his shape if he was eaten by a Griffin when under the form of a tabby kitten; which you know was precisely what happened. Well, Prince Orange Plushikins at once asked the Princess flea to marry him, and the minute the flea said "Yes," the Princess reappeared. She and the Prince were married next morning; and all the cats went to the steam laundry and were washed and bleached and had their tails crimped and their whiskers starched; and they danced at the wedding, and everybody lived happily ever after.