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Best Stories to Tell to Children
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Once there was a cat, and a parrot. And they had agreed to ask each other to dinner, turn and turn about: first the cat should ask the parrot, then the parrot should invite the cat, and so on. It was the cat's turn first.
Now the cat was very mean. He provided nothing at all for dinner except a pint of milk, a little slice of fish, and a biscuit. The parrot was too polite to complain, but he did not have a very good time.
When it was his turn to invite the cat, he cooked a fine dinner. He had a roast of meat, a pot of tea, a basket of fruit, and, best of all, he baked a whole clothes-basketful of little cakes! -- little, brown, crispy, spicy cakes! Oh, I should say as many as five hundred. And he put four hundred and ninety-eight of the cakes before the cat, keeping only two for himself. Well, the cat ate the roast, and drank the tea, and sucked the fruit, and then he began on the pile of cakes. He ate all the four hundred and ninety-eight cakes, and then he looked round and said: --
"I'm hungry; haven’t you anything to eat?"
"Why," said the parrot, "here are my two cakes, if you want them?"
The cat ate up the two cakes, and then he licked his chops and said, "I am beginning to get an appetite; have you anything to eat?"
"Well, really," said the parrot, who was now rather angry, "I don't see anything more, unless you wish to eat me!" He thought the cat would be ashamed when he heard that - but the cat just looked at him and licked his chops again, -- and slip! slop! gobble! down his throat went the parrot!
Then the cat started down the street. An old woman was standing by, and she had seen the whole thing, and she was shocked that the cat should eat his friend. "Why, cat!" she said, "how dreadful of you to eat your friend the parrot!"
"Parrot, indeed!" said the cat. "What's a parrot to me? -- I've a great mind to eat you, too." And -- before you could say "Jack Robinson" -- slip! slop! gobble! down went the old woman!
Then the cat started down the road again, walking like this, because he felt so fine. Pretty soon he met a man driving a donkey. The man was beating the donkey, to hurry him up, and when he saw the cat he said, "Get out of my way, cat; I'm in a hurry and my donkey might tread on you."
"Donkey, indeed!" said the cat, "much I care for a donkey! I have eaten five hundred cakes, I've eaten my friend the parrot, I've eaten an old woman, -- what's to hinder my eating a miserable man and a donkey?"
And slip! slop! gobble! down went the old man and the donkey.
Then the cat walked on down the road, jauntily, like this. After a little, he met a procession, coming that way. The king was at the head, walking proudly with his newly married bride, and behind him were his soldiers, marching, and behind them were ever and ever so many elephants, walking two by two. The king felt very kind to everybody, because he had just been married, and he said to the cat, "Get out of my way, pussy, get out of my way, -- my elephants might hurt you."
GET OUT OF MY WAY, PUSSY
"Hurt me!" said the cat, shaking his fat sides. "Ho, ho! I've eaten five hundred cakes, I've eaten my friend the parrot, I've eaten an old woman, I've eaten a man and a donkey; what's to hinder my eating a beggarly king?"
And slip! slop! gobble! down went the king; down went the queen; down went the soldiers, -- and down went all the elephants!
Then the cat went on, more slowly; he had really had enough to eat, now. But a little farther on he met two land-crabs, scuttling along in the dust. "Get out of our way, pussy," they squeaked.
"Ho, ho, ho!" cried the cat in a terrible voice.
"I've eaten five hundred cakes, I've eaten my friend the parrot, I've eaten an old woman, a man with a donkey, a king, a queen, his men-at-arms, and all his elephants; and now I'll eat you too."
And slip! slop! gobble! down went the two land-crabs.
When the land-crabs got down inside, they began to look around. It was very dark, but they could see the poor king sitting in a corner with his bride on his arm; she had fainted. Near them were the men-at-arms, treading on one another's toes, and the elephants still trying to form in twos, -- but they couldn’t because there was not room. In the opposite corner sat the old woman, and near her stood the man and his donkey. But in the other corner was a great pile of cakes, and by them perched the parrot, his feathers all drooping.
"Let's get to work!" said the land-crabs. And snip, snap, they began to make a little hole in the side, with their sharp claws. Snip, snap, snip, snap, -- till it was big enough to get through. Then out they scuttled.
Then out walked the king, carrying his bride; out marched the men-at-arms; out tramped the elephants, two by two; out came the old man, beating his donkey; out walked the old woman, scolding the cat; and last of all, out hopped the parrot, holding a cake in each claw. (You remember, two cakes was all he wanted?)
But the poor cat had to spend the whole day sewing up the hole in his coat!
This is the Indian story of how fire was brought to the tribes. It was long, long ago, when men and beasts talked together with understanding, and the gray Coyote was friend and counselor of man.
There was a Boy of the tribe who was swift of foot and keen of eye, and he and the Coyote ranged the wood together. They saw the men catching fish in the creeks with their hands, and the women digging roots with sharp stones. This was in summer. But when winter came on, they saw the people running naked in the snow, or huddled in caves of the rocks, and most miserable. The Boy noticed this, and was very unhappy for the misery of his people.
"I do not feel it," said the Coyote.
"You have a coat of good fur," said the Boy, "and my people have not."
"Come to the hunt," said the Coyote.
"I will hunt no more, till I have found a way to help my people against the cold," said the Boy. "Help me, O Counselor!"
Then the Coyote ran away, and came back after a long time; he said he had found a way, but it was a hard way.
"No way is too hard," said the Boy. So the Coyote told him that they must go to the Burning Mountain and bring fire to the people.
"What is fire?" said the Boy. And the Coyote told him that fire was red like a flower, yet not a flower; swift to run in the grass and to destroy, like a beast, yet no beast; fierce and hurtful, yet a good servant to keep one warm, if kept among stones and fed with small sticks.
"We will get this fire," said the Boy.
First the Boy had to persuade the people to give him one hundred swift runners. Then he and they and the Coyote started at a good pace for the faraway Burning Mountain. At the end of the first day's trail they left the weakest of the runners, to wait; at the end of the second, the next stronger; at the end of the third, the next; and so for each of the hundred days of the journey; and the Boy was the strongest runner, and went to the last trail with the Counselor. High mountains they crossed, and great plains, and giant woods, and at last they came to the Big Water, quaking along the sand at the foot of the Burning Mountain.
It stood up in a high peaked cone, and smoke rolled out from it endlessly along the sky. At night, the Fire Spirits danced, and the glare reddened the Big Water far out.
There the Counselor said to the Boy, "Stay thou here till I bring thee a brand from the burning; be ready and right for running, for I shall be far spent when I come again, and the Fire Spirits will pursue me."
Then he went up the mountain; and the Fire Spirits only laughed when they saw him, for he looked so slinking, inconsiderable, and mean, that none of them thought harm from him. And in the night, when they were at their dance about the mountain, the Coyote stole the fire, and ran with it down the slope of the Burning Mountain. When the Fire Spirits saw what he had done they streamed out after him, red and angry, with a humming sound like a swarm of bees. But the Coyote was still ahead; the sparks of the brand streamed out along his flanks, as he carried it in his mouth; and he stretched his body to the trail.
The Boy saw him coming, like a falling star against the mountain; he heard the singing sound of the Fire Spirits close behind, and the laboring breath of the Counselor. And when the good beast panted down beside him, the Boy caught the brand from his jaws and was off, like an arrow from a bent bow. Out he shot on the homeward path, and the Fire Spirits snapped and sung behind him. But fast as they pursued he fled faster, till he saw the next runner standing in his place, his body bent for the running. To him he passed it, and it was off and away, with the Fire Spirits raging in chase.
So it passed from hand to hand, and the Fire Spirits tore after it through the scrub, till they came to the mountains of the snows; these they could not pass. Then the dark, sleek runners with the backward streaming brand bore it forward, shining star-like in the night, glowing red in sultry noons, violet pale in twilight glooms, until they came in safety to their own land.
And there they kept it among the stones and fed it with small sticks, as the Counselor advised; and it kept the people warm.
Ever after the Boy was called the Fire-Bringer; and ever after the Coyote bore the sign of the bringing, for the fur along his flanks was singed and yellow from the flames that streamed backward from the brand.
THE FIRE SPIRITS TORE AFTER IT ... TILL THEY CAME TO THE MOUNTAINS OF THE SNOWS
Once there was a good old man who lived up on a mountain, far away in Japan. All round his little house the mountain was flat, and the ground was rich; and there were the rice fields of all the people who lived in the village at the mountain's foot. Mornings and evenings, the old man and his little grandson, who lived with him, used to look far down on the people at work in the village, and watch the blue sea which lay all round the land, so close that there was no room for fields below, only for houses. The little boy loved the rice fields, dearly, for he knew that all the good food for all the people came from them; and he often helped his grandfather watch over them. One day, the grandfather was standing alone, before his house, looking far down at the people, and out at the sea, when, suddenly, he saw something very strange far off where the sea and sky meet. Something like a great cloud was rising there, as if the sea were lifting itself high into the sky. The old man put his hands to his eyes and looked again, hard as his old sight could. Then he turned and ran to the house.
"Yone, Yone!" he cried, "bring a brand from the hearth!"
The little grandson could not imagine what his grandfather wanted of fire, but he always obeyed, so he ran quickly and brought the brand. The old man already had one, and was running for the rice fields. Yone ran after. But what was his horror to see his grandfather thrust his burning brand into the ripe dry rice, where it stood.
"Oh, Grandfather, Grandfather!" screamed the little boy, "what are you doing?"
"Quick, set fire! Thrust your brand in!" said the grandfather.
Yone thought his dear grandfather had lost his mind, and he began to sob; but a little Japanese boy always obeys, so though he sobbed, he thrust his torch in, and the sharp flame ran up the dry stalks, red and yellow. In an instant, the field was ablaze, and thick black smoke began to pour up, on the mountain side. It rose like a cloud, black and fierce, and in no time the people below saw that their precious rice fields were on fire. Ah, how they ran! Men, women, and children climbed the mountain, running as fast as they could to save the rice; not one soul stayed behind.
And when they came to the mountain top, and saw the beautiful rice-crop all in flames, beyond help, they cried bitterly, "Who has done this thing? How did it happen?"
"I set fire," said the old man, very solemnly; and the little grandson sobbed, "Grandfather set fire." But when they came fiercely round the old man, with "Why? Why?" he only turned and pointed to the sea. "Look!" he said.
They all turned and looked. And there, where the blue sea had lain, so calm, a mighty wall of water, reaching from earth to sky, was rolling in. No one could scream, so terrible was the sight. The wall of water rolled in on the land, passed quite over the place where the village had been, and broke, with an awful sound, on the mountain-side. One wave more, and still one more, came; and then all was water, as far as they could look, below; the village where they had been was under the sea.
But the people were all safe. And when they saw what the old man had done, they honored him above all men for the quick wit which had saved them all from the tidal wave.
Once, while Jesus was journeying about, he passed near a town where a man named Jairus lived. This man was a ruler in the synagogue, and he had just one little daughter, about twelve years of age. At the time that Jesus was there the little daughter was very sick, and at last she lay a-dying.
Her father heard that there was a wonderful man near the town, who was healing sick people whom no one else could help, and in his despair he ran out into the streets to search for him. He found Jesus walking in the midst of a crowd of people, and when he saw him he fell down at Jesus' feet and besought him to come into his house, to heal his daughter. And Jesus said, yes, he would go with him. But there were so many people begging to be healed, and so many looking to see what happened, that the crowd thronged them, and kept them from moving fast. And before they reached the house one of the man's servants came to meet them, and said, "Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the master to come farther."
But instantly Jesus turned to the father and said, "Fear not; only believe, and she shall be made whole." And he went on with Jairus, to the house.
When they came to the house, they heard the sound of weeping and lamentation; the household was mourning for the little daughter, who was dead. Jesus sent all the strangers away from the door, and only three of his disciples and the father and mother of the child went in with him. And when he was within, he said to the mourning people, "Weep not; she is not dead; she sleepeth."
When he had passed, they laughed him to scorn, for they knew that she was dead.
Then Jesus left them all, and went alone into the chamber where the little daughter lay. And when he was there, alone, he went up to the bed where she was, and bent over her, and took her by the hand. And he said, "Maiden, arise."
And her spirit came unto her again! And she lived and grew up in her father's house.
There was once a girl named Tarpeia, whose father was guard of the outer gate of the citadel of Rome. It was a time of war, -- the Sabines were besieging the city. Their camp was close outside the city wall.
Tarpeia used to see the Sabine soldiers when she went to draw water from the public well, for that was outside the gate. And sometimes she stayed about and let the strange men talk with her, because she liked to look at their bright silver ornaments. The Sabine soldiers wore heavy rings and bracelets on their left arms, -- some wore as many as four or five.
The soldiers knew she was the daughter of the keeper of the citadel, and they saw that she had greedy eyes for their ornaments. So day by day they talked with her, and showed her their silver rings, and tempted her. And at last Tarpeia made a bargain, to betray her city to them. She said she would unlock the great gate and let them in, if they would give her what they wore on their left arms.
The night came. When it was perfectly dark and still, Tarpeia stole from her bed, took the great key from its place, and silently unlocked the gate which protected the city. Outside, in the dark, stood the soldiers of the enemy, waiting. As she opened the gate, the long shadowy files pressed forward silently, and the Sabines entered the citadel.
As the first man came inside, Tarpeia stretched forth her hand for her price. The soldier lifted high his left arm. "Take thy reward! " he said, and as he spoke he hurled upon her that which he wore upon it. Down upon her head crashed -- not the silver rings of the soldier, but the great brass shield he carried in battle!
She sank beneath it, to the ground.
"Take thy reward," said the next; and his shield rang against the first.
"Thy reward," said the next -- and the next -- and the next -- and the next; every man wore his shield on his left arm.
So Tarpeia lay buried beneath the reward she had claimed, and the Sabines marched past her dead body, into the city she had betrayed.
The Greek god Pan, the god of all out-of-doors, was a great musician. He played on a pipe of reeds. And the sound of his reed-pipe was so sweet that he grew proud, and believed himself greater than the chief musician of the gods, Apollo, the sun-god. So he challenged great Apollo to make better music than he.
Apollo consented to the test, to punish Pan's vanity, and they chose the mountain Tmolus for judge, since no one is so old and wise as the hills.
When Pan and Apollo came before Tmolus, to play, their followers came with them, to hear. One of the followers of Pan was a mortal named Midas.
First Pan played; he blew on his reed-pipe, and out came a tune so wild and yet so coaxing that the birds hopped from the trees to get near; the squirrels came running from their holes; and the very trees swayed as
if they wanted to dance. The fauns laughed aloud for joy as the melody tickled their furry little ears. And Midas thought it the sweetest music in the world. Then Apollo rose. His hair shook drops of light from its curls; his robes were like the edge of the sunset cloud; in his hands he held a golden lyre. And when he touched the strings of the lyre, such music stole upon the air as never god nor mortal heard before. The wild creatures of the wood crouched still as stone; the trees held every leaf from rustling; earth and air were silent as a dream. To hear such music cease was like bidding farewell to father and mother. When the charm was broken, all his hearers fell at Apollo's feet and proclaimed the victory his. But Midas would not. He alone would not admit that the music was better than Pan's.
"If thine ears are so dull, mortal," said Apollo, "they shall take the shape that suits them." And he touched the ears of Midas. And straightway the dull ears grew long, pointed, and furry, and they turned this way and that. They were the ears of an ass!
For a long time Midas managed to hide the tell-tale ears from every one; but at last a servant discovered the secret. He knew he must not tell, yet he could not bear not to; so one day he went into the meadow, scooped a little hollow in the turf, and whispered the secret into the earth. Then he covered it up again, and went away. But, alas, a bed of reeds sprang up from the spot and whispered the secret to the grass. The grass told it to the tree-tops, the tree-tops to the little birds, and they cried it all abroad.
And to this day, when the wind sets the reeds nodding together, they whisper, laughing, "Midas has the ears of an ass! Oh, hush, hush!"