The Red Book Of Animal Stories - online children's book

Stories of Animals, Fantastic and Mundane, Edited By Andrew Lang

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8               GRIFFINS AND UNICORNS
England. ' The unicorn and the lion being enemies by nature,' says a man who wrote three hundred and fifty years ago, 'as soon as the lion sees the unicorn, he betakes himself to a tree ; whereupon the unicorn, in his fury, and with all the swiftness of his course, running at him, sticks his horn fast in the tree, and then the lion falls upon him and kills him.' The same story is told by other people, and this is what Shakespeare means when he says in one of his plays that unicorns may be betrayed with trees. There was only one way by which a uni­corn could be taken alive, for ' the greatness of his mind is such that he chooseth rather to die,' one writer tells us; but this was a way which has been tried ever since the days of Samson, and even before him !
A beautiful young lady was dressed in her best clothes, covered with jewels, and seated in a lonely place in the middle of a forest to wait till the unicorn passed by ; the hunters meanwhile lying hidden in a neighbouring thicket. By and-bve a crackling would be heard among the branches, and after a little while the unicorn would come in sight, his sharp horn thrust out from his nose. Directly he saw the young lady he always went straight up to her, and laying his head on her lap, fell fast asleep. Then the hunters would steal out very softly, and throw ropes round the sleeping unicorn, and cany him off to the king's palace, sure of receiving much gold for their prize.
Living or dead the unicorn was held to be of great value for many reasons, but chiefly because his horn was used for drinking cups, and showed at once if any poison mingled with the wine. This was an excellent quality in times when people thought nothing of poisoning their nearest relations, and after the tiniest quarrel both parties went about in fear of their lives. The power of the unicorn's horn sometimes went even further, and dis­pelled the poison, for we read in an old chronicle of what happened in the waters of Marah, which Moses made sweet by striking them with his staff. ' Evil and unclean
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