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Best Stories to Tell to Children
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I am going to tell you a story about something wonderful that happened to a Christmas tree like this, ever and ever so long ago, when it was once upon a time.
It was before Christmas, and the tree was all trimmed with pop-corn and silver nuts and [name the trimmings of the tree before you], and stood safely out of sight in a room where the doors were locked, so that the children should not see it before it was time. But ever so many other little house-people had seen it. The big black pussy saw it with her great green eyes; the little gray kitty saw it with her little blue eyes; the kind house-dog saw it with his steady brown eyes; the yellow canary saw it with his wise, bright eyes. Even the wee, wee mice that were so afraid of the cat had peeped one peek when no one was by.
But there was some one who hadn’t seen the Christmas Tree. It was the little gray spider!
You see, the spiders lived in the corners, -- the warm corners of the sunny attic and the dark corners of the nice cellar. And they were expecting to see the Christmas Tree as much as anybody. But just before Christmas a great cleaning-up began in the house. The house-mother came sweeping and dusting and wiping and scrubbing, to make everything grand and clean for the Christ-child's birthday. Her broom went into all the corners, poke, poke, -- and of course the spiders had to run. Dear, dear, how the spiders had to run! Not one could stay in the house while the Christmas cleanness lasted. So, you see, they couldn’t see the Christmas Tree.
Spiders like to know all about everything, and see all there is to see, and they were very sad. So at last they went to the Christ-child and told him all about it.
"All the others see the Christmas Tree, dear Christ-child," they said; "but we, who are so domestic and so fond of beautiful things, we are cleaned up! We cannot see it, at all."
The Christ-child was sorry for the little spiders when he heard this, and he said they should see the Christmas Tree.
The day before Christmas, when nobody was noticing, he let them all go in, to look as long as ever they liked.
They came creepy, creepy, down the attic stairs, creepy, creepy, up the cellar stairs, creepy, creepy, along the halls, - and into the beautiful room. The fat mother spiders and the old papa spiders were there, and all the little teenty, tonty, curly spiders, the baby ones. And then they looked! Round and round the tree they crawled, and looked and looked and looked. Oh, what a good time they had! They thought it was perfectly beautiful. And when they had looked at everything they could see from the floor, they started up the tree to see more. All over the tree they ran, creepy, crawly, looking at every single thing. Up and down, in and out, over every branch and twig, the little spiders ran, and saw every one of the pretty things right up close.
They stayed till they had seen all there was to see, you may be sure, and then they went away at last, quite happy.
Then, in the still, dark night before Christmas Day, the dear Christ-child came, to bless the tree for the children. But when he looked at it -- what do you suppose? -- it was covered with cobwebs! Everywhere the little spiders had been they bad left a spider-web; and you know they had been just everywhere. So the tree was covered from its trunk to its tip with spider-webs, all hanging from the branches and looped around the twigs; it was a strange sight.
What could the Christ-child do? He knew that house-mothers do not like cobwebs; it would never, never do to have a Christmas Tree covered with those. No, indeed.
So the dear Christ-child touched the spiders' webs, and turned them all to gold! Wasn’t that a lovely trimming? They shone and shone, all over the beautiful tree. And that is the way the Christmas Tree came to have golden cobwebs on it.
This is the story an Indian woman told a little white boy who lived with his father and mother near the Indians' country; and Tavwots is the name of the little rabbit.
But once, long ago, Tavwots was not little, -- he was the largest of all four-footed things, and a mighty hunter. He used to hunt every day; as soon as it was day, and light enough to see, he used to get up, and go to his hunting. But every day he saw the track of a great foot on the trail, before him. This troubled him, for his pride was as big as his body.
"Who is this," he cried, "that goes before me to the hunting, and makes so great a stride? Does he think to put me to shame?"
"T'-sst!" said his mother, "there is none greater than thou."
"Still, there are the footsteps in the trail," said Tavwots.
And the next morning he got up earlier; but still the great footprints and the mighty stride were before him. The next morning he got up still earlier; but there were the mighty foot-tracks and the long, long stride.
"Now I will set me a trap for this impudent fellow," said Tavwots, for he was very cunning. So he made a snare of his bow-string and set it in the trail overnight.
And when in the morning he went to look, behold, he had caught the sun in his snare! All that part of the earth was beginning to smoke with the heat of it.
"Is it you who made the tracks in my trail?" cried Tavwots.
"It is I," said the sun; "come and set me free, before the whole earth is afire."
Then Tavwots saw what he had to do, and he drew his sharp hunting-knife and ran to cut the bow-string.
But the heat was so great that he ran back before he had done it; and when he ran back he was melted down to half his size! Then the earth began to burn, and the smoke curled up against the sky.
"Come again, Tavwots," cried the sun.
And Tavwots ran again to cut the bow-string. But the heat was so great that he ran back before he had done it, and he was melted down to a quarter of his size!
"Come again, Tavwots, and quickly," cried the sun, "or all the world will be burnt up."
And Tavwots ran again; this time he cut the bowstring and set the sun free. But when he got back he was melted down to the size he is now! Only one thing is left of all his greatness: you may still see by the print of his feet as he leaps in the trail, how great his stride was when he caught the sun in his snare.
TAVWOTS ... DREW HIS SHARP HUNTING-KNIFE AND RAN TO CUT THE BOW-STRING
Once I was way over across the ocean, in a country called Germany; and I went to a funny little town, where all the streets ran uphill. At the top there was a big mountain, steep like the roof of a house, and at the bottom there was a big river, broad and slow. And the funniest thing about the little town was that all the stores had the same thing in them; bakers' shops, grocers' shops, everywhere we went we saw the same thing, -- big chocolate rats, rats and mice, made out of chocolate candy. We were surprised about it after a while. "Why do you have rats in your stores? " we asked them.
"Don't you know this is Hamelin town?" they said. "What of that?" said we. "Why, Hamelin town is where the Pied Piper came," they told us; "surely you know about the Pied Piper?" "What about the Pied Piper? we said. And this is what they told us about him.
It seems that once, long, long ago, that little town was dreadfully troubled with rats. The houses were full of them, the stores were full of them, the churches were full of them, they were everywhere. The people were just about eaten out of house and home. Those rats,
They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
At last it got so bad that the people simply couldn’t stand it any longer. So they all came together and went to the town hall, and they said to the Mayor (you know what a mayor is?), "See here, what do we pay you your salary for? What are you good for, if you can't do a little thing like getting rid of these rats? You just go to work and clear the town of them; find the remedy that's lacking, or -- we'll send you packing!"
Well the poor Mayor was in a terrible way. What to do he didn’t know. He sat there with his head in his hands, and thought and thought and thought.
Suddenly there came a little rat-rat at the door. Oh! how the Mayor jumped! His poor old heart went pit-a-pat at anything like the sound of a rat. But it was only the scraping of shoes on the mat. So the Mayor sat up, and said, "Come in!"
And in came the strangest figure! It was a man, very tall and very thin, with a sharp chin and a mouth where the smiles went out and in, and two blue eyes, each like a pin; and he was dressed half in red and half in yellow, -- he really was the strangest fellow! -- and round his neck he had a long red and yellow ribbon, and on it was hung a thing something like a flute, and his fingers went straying up and down it as if he wanted to be playing.
He came up to the Mayor and said, "I hear you are troubled with rats in this town."
"I should say we were," groaned the Mayor. "Would you like to get rid of them? I can do it for you."
"You can?" cried the Mayor. "How? Who are you, any way?"
"Men call me the Pied Piper," said the man, "and I know a way to draw after me everything that walks, or flies, or swims. What will you give me if I rid your town of rats?"
"Anything, anything," said the Mayor. "I don't believe you can do it, but if you can, -- I'll give you five thousand dollars."
"All right," said the Piper, "it is a bargain."
And then he went to the door and stepped out into the street and stood, and put the long flute-like thing to his lips, and began to play a little tune. A strange, high, little tune. And before three shrill notes the pipe uttered, You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
From street to street he piped, advancing, from street to street they followed, dancing. Up one street and down another, till they came right down to the edge of the big river, and there the Piper turned sharply about and stepped aside, and all those rats tumbled hurry scurry, head over heels, down the bank into the river and - were - drowned. Every single last one. Except one big old fat rat; he was so fat he didn’t sink, and he swam across, and ran away down south to live.
Then the Piper came back to the town hall. And all the people were waving their hats and shouting for joy. The Mayor said they would have a big celebration, and build a tremendous bonfire in the middle of the town. He asked the Piper to stay and see the bonfire, -- very politely.
"Yes," said the Piper, "that will be very nice; but first, if you please, I should like my five thousand dollars."
"H'm, -- er -- ahem!" said the Mayor, "You mean that little joke of mine; of course that was a joke" -- (You see it is always harder to pay for a thing after it is all used up.)
"I do not joke," said the Piper very quietly; "my five thousand dollars, if you please."
"Oh, come, now," said the Mayor, "you know very well it wasn’t worth five cents to play a little tune like that; call it five dollars, and let it go at that."
"A bargain is a bargain," said the Piper; "for the last time, -- will you give me my five thousand dollars?"
"I'll give you a pipe of tobacco, something good to eat, and call you lucky at that!" said the Mayor, tossing his head.
Then the Piper's mouth grew strange and thin, and sharp blue and green lights began dancing in his eyes, and he said to the Mayor very softly, "I know another tune than that I played; I play it to those who play me false."
"Play what you please! You can't frighten me! Do your worst!" said the Mayor, making himself big. Then the Piper stood high up on the steps of the town hall, and put the pipe to his lips, and began to play a little tune. It was quite a different little tune, this time, very soft and sweet, and very, very strange. And before he had played three notes, you heard a rustling, that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling;
"Stop, stop!" cried the people, "He is taking our children! Stop him, Mayor!"
"I will give you your money, I will!" cried the Mayor, and tried to run after the Piper.
But the very same music that made the children dance made the grown-up people stand stock-still; it was is if their feet had been tied to the ground; they could not move a muscle. There they stood and saw the Piper move slowly down the street, playing his little tune, with the children at his heels. On and on he went; on and on the children danced; till he came to the bank of the river.
"Oh, oh! He will drown our children in the river!" cried the people. But the Piper turned and went along by the bank, and all the children followed after.
Up, and up, and up the hill they went, straight toward the mountain which is like the roof of a house. And just as they got to it, the mountain opened, -- like two great doors, and the Piper went in through the opening, playing the little tune, and the children danced after him -- and -- just as they got through -- the great doors slid together again and shut them all in! Every single last one. Except one little lame child, who couldn’t keep up with the rest and didn’t get there in time. And they never came back anymore at all, never.
WITH THE CHILDREN AT HIS HEELS
But years and years afterwards, when the fat old rat who swam across the river was a grandfather, his children used to ask him, "What made you follow the music, Grandfather?" and he used to tell them, "My dears, when I heard that tune I thought I heard the moving aside of pickle-tub boards, and the leaving ajar of preserve cupboards, and I smelled the most delicious old cheese in the world, and I saw sugar barrels ahead of me; and then, just as a great yellow cheese seemed to be saying, 'Come, bore me' -- I felt the river rolling o'er me!"
And in the same way the people asked the little lame child, "What made you follow the music?"
"I do not know what the others heard," he said, "but I, when the Piper began to play, I heard a voice that told of a wonderful country just ahead, where the bees had no stings and the horses had wings, and the trees bore wonderful fruits, where no one was tired or lame, and children played all day; and just as the beautiful country was one step away -- the mountain closed on my playmates, and I was left alone."
That was all the people ever knew. The children never came back. All that was left of the Piper and the rats was just the big street that led to the river; so they called it the Street of the Pied Piper.
And that is the end of the story.