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Best Stories to Tell to Children
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The little Jackal was very fond of shell-fish. He used to go down by the river and hunt along the edges for crabs and such things. And once, when he was hunting for crabs, he was so hungry that he put his paw into the water after a crab without looking first, -- which you never should do! The minute he put in his paw, snap ! -- the big Alligator who lives in the mud down there had it in his jaws.
"Oh, dear!" thought the little Jackal; "the big Alligator has my paw in his mouth! In another minute he will pull me down and gobble me up! What shall I do? what shall I do?" Then he thought, suddenly, "I'll deceive him!"
So he put on a very cheerful voice, as if nothing at all were the matter, and he said, --
"Ho! ho! Clever Mr. Alligator! Smart Mr. Alligator, to take that old bulrush root for my paw! I hope you'll find it very tender!"
The old Alligator was hidden away beneath the mud and bulrush leaves, and he couldn't see anything. He thought, "Pshaw ! I've made a mistake." So he opened his mouth and let the little Jackal go.
The little Jackal ran away as fast as he could, and as he ran he called out, --
"Thank you, Mr. Alligator! Kind Mr. Alligator! So kind of you to let me go!"
The old Alligator lashed with his tail and snapped with his jaws, but it was too late; the little Jackal was out of reach.
After this the little Jackal kept away from the river, out of danger. But after about a week he got such an appetite for crabs that nothing else would do at all; he felt that he must have a crab. So he went down by the river and looked all around, very carefully. He didn't see the old Alligator, but he thought to himself, "I think I'll not take any chances." So he stood still and began to talk out loud to himself. He said, --
"When I don't see any little crabs on the land I most generally see them sticking out of the water, and then I put my paw in and catch them. I wonder if there are any fat little crabs in the water to-day?"
The old Alligator was hidden down in the mud at the bottom of the river, and when he heard what the little Jackal said, he thought, "Aha! I'll pretend to be a little crab, and when he puts his paw in, I'll make my dinner of him." So he stuck the black end of his snout above the water and waited.
The little Jackal took one look, and then he said, -- "Thank you, Mr. Alligator! Kind Mr. Alligator! You are exceedingly kind to show me where you are! I will have dinner elsewhere." And he ran away like the wind.
'SMART MR. ALLIGATOR, TO TAKE THAT OLD BULRUSH ROOT FOR MY PAW!'
The old Alligator foamed at the mouth, he was so angry, but the little Jackal was gone.
For two whole weeks the little Jackal kept away from the river. Then, one day, he got a feeling inside him that nothing but crabs could satisfy; he felt that he must have at least one crab. Very cautiously, he went down to the river and looked all around. He saw no sign of the old Alligator. Still, he did not mean to take any chances. So he stood quite still and began to talk to himself, -- it was a little way he had. He said, --
"When I don't see any little crabs on the shore, or sticking up out of the water, I usually see them blowing bubbles from under the water; the little bubbles go puff, puff, puff, and then they go pop, pop, pop, and they show me where the little juicy crabs are, so I can put my paw in and catch them. I wonder if I shall see any little bubbles to-day?"
The old Alligator, lying low in the mud and weeds, heard this, and he thought, "Pooh! That's easy enough; I'll just blow some little crab-bubbles, and then he will put his paw in where I can get it."
So he blew, and he blew, a mighty blast, and the bubbles rose in a perfect whirlpool, fizzing and swirling.
The little Jackal didn’t have to be told who was underneath those bubbles: he took one quick look, and off he ran. But as he went, he sang, --
"Thank you, Mr. Alligator! Kind Mr. Alligator! You are the kindest Alligator in the world, to show me where you are, so nicely! I'll breakfast at another part of the river."
The old Alligator was so furious that he crawled up on the bank and went after the little Jackal; but dear, dear, he couldn’t catch the little Jackal; he ran far too fast.
After this, the little Jackal did not like to risk going near the water, so he ate no more crabs. But he found a garden of wild figs, which were so good that he went there every day, and ate them instead of shell-fish.
Now the old Alligator found this out, and he made up his mind to have the little Jackal for supper, or to die trying. So he crept, and crawled, and dragged himself over the ground to the garden of wild figs. There he made a huge pile of figs under the biggest of the wild fig trees, and hid himself in the pile.
After a while the little Jackal came dancing into the garden, very happy and care-free, -- but looking all around. He saw the huge pile of figs under the big fig tree.
"H-m," he thought, "that looks singularly like my friend, the Alligator. I'll investigate a bit."
He stood quite still and began to talk to himself, -- it was a little way he had. He said, --
"The little figs I like best are the fat, ripe, juicy ones that drop off when the breeze blows; and then the wind blows them about on the ground, this way and that; the great heap of figs over there is so still that I think they must be all bad figs."
The old Alligator, underneath his fig pile, thought -- "Bother the suspicious little Jackal! I shall have to make these figs roll about, so that he will think the wind moves them." And straightway he humped himself up and moved, and sent the little figs flying, -- and his back showed through.
The little Jackal did not wait for a second look. He ran out of the garden like the wind. But as he ran he called back, --
"Thank you, again, Mr. Alligator; very sweet of you to show me where you are; I can't stay to thank you as I should like: good-by!"
At this the old Alligator was beside himself with rage. He vowed that he would have the little Jackal for supper this time, come what might. So he crept and crawled over the ground till he came to the little Jackal's house. Then he crept and crawled inside, and hid himself there in the house, to wait till the little Jackal should come home.
By and by the little Jackal came dancing home, happy and care-free, -- but looking all around. Presently, as he came along, he saw that the ground was all scratched up as if something very heavy had been dragged over it. The little Jackal stopped and looked.
"What's this? what's this?" he said.
Then he saw that the door of his house was crushed at the sides and broken, as if something very big had gone through it.
"What's this? What's this?" the little Jackal said. "I think I'll investigate a little!"
So he stood quite still and began to talk to himself (you remember, it was a little way he had), but loudly. He said, --
"How strange that my little House doesn’t speak to me! Why don't you speak to me, little House? You always speak to me, if everything is all right, when I come home. I wonder if anything is wrong with my little House?"
The old Alligator thought to himself that he must certainly pretend to be the little House, or the little Jackal would never come in. So he put on as pleasant a voice as he could (which is not saying much) and said --
"Hullo, little Jackal!"
Oh! when the little Jackal heard that, he was frightened enough for once.
"'It's the old Alligator," he said, "and if I don't make an end of him this time he will certainly make an end of me. What shall I do?"
He thought very fast. Then he spoke out pleasantly.
"Thank you, little House," he said, "it's good to hear your pretty voice, dear little House, and I will be in with you in a minute; only first I must gather some firewood for dinner."
Then he went and gathered firewood, and more firewood, and more firewood; and he piled it all up solid against the door and round the house; and then he set fire to it!
And it smoked and burned till it smoked that old Alligator to smoked herring!
Once there was a Little Fir Tree, slim and pointed, and shiny, which stood in the great forest in the midst of some big fir trees, broad, and tall, and shadowy green. The Little Fir Tree was very unhappy because he was not big like the others. When the birds came flying into the woods and lit on the branches of the big trees and built their nests there, he used to call up to them, --
"Come down, come down, rest in my branches."
But they always said, --
"Oh, no, no; you are too little!"
And when the splendid wind came blowing and singing through the forest, it bent and rocked and swung the tops of the big trees, and murmured to them. Then the Little Fir Tree looked up, and called, --
"Oh, please, dear wind, come down and play with me!"
But he always said, --
"Oh, no; you are too little, you are too little!"
And in the winter the white snow fell softly, softly, and covered the great trees all over with wonderful caps and coats of white. The Little Fir Tree, close down in the cover of the others, would call up, --
"Oh, please, dear snow, give me a cap, too! I want to play, too!"
But the snow always said, --
"Oh no, no, no; you are too little, you are too little!"
The worst of all was when men came into the wood, with sledges and teams of horses. They came to cut the big trees down and carry them away. And when one had been cut down and carried away the others talked about it, and nodded their heads. And the Little Fir Tree listened, and heard them say that when you were carried away so you might become the mast of a mighty ship, and go far away over the ocean, and see many wonderful things; or you might be part of a fine house in a great city, and see much of life. The Little Fir Tree wanted greatly to see life, but he was always too little; the men passed by him.
But by and by, one cold winter's morning, men came with a sledge and horses, and after they had cut here and there they came to the circle of trees round the Little Fir Tree, and looked all about.
"There are none little enough," they said.
Oh! how the Little Fir Tree pricked up his needles!
"Here is one," said one of the men, "it is just little enough." And he touched the Little Fir Tree.
The Little Fir Tree was happy as a bird, because he knew they were about to cut him down. And when he was being carried away on the sledge he lay wondering, so contentedly, whether he should be the mast of a ship or part of a fine city house. But when they came to the town he was taken out and set upright in a tub and placed on the edge of a sidewalk in a row of other fir trees, all small, but none so little as he. And then the Little Fir Tree began to see life.
People kept coming to look at the trees and to take them away. But always when they saw the Little Fir Tree they shook their heads and said, "It is too little, too little."
Until, finally, two children came along, hand in hand, looking carefully at all the small trees. When they saw the Little Fir Tree they cried out, --
"We'll take this one; it is just little enough!" They took him out of his tub and carried him away, between them. And the happy Little Fir Tree spent all his time wondering what it could be that he was just little enough for; he knew it could hardly be a mast or a house, since he was going away with children. He kept wondering, while they took him in through some big doors, and set him up in another tub, on the table, in a bare little room. Pretty soon they went away, and came back again with a big basket, carried between them. Then some pretty ladies, with white caps on their heads and white aprons over their blue dresses, came bringing little parcels. The children took things out of the basket and began to play with the Little Fir Tree, just as he had often begged the wind and the snow and the birds to do. He felt their soft little touches on his head and his twigs and his branches. And when he looked down at himself, as far as he could look, he saw that he was all hung with gold and silver chains! There were strings of white fluffy stuff drooping around him; his twigs held little gold nuts and pink, rosy balls and silver stars; he had pretty little pink and white candles in his arms; but last, and most wonderful of all, the children hung a beautiful white, floating doll-angel over his head! The Little Fir Tree could not breathe, for joy and wonder. What was it that he was, now? Why was this glory for him?
After a time every one went away and left him. It grew dusk, and the Little Fir Tree began to hear strange sounds through the closed doors. Sometimes he heard a child crying. He was beginning to be lonely. It grew more and more shadowy.
All at once, the doors opened and the two children came in. Two of the pretty ladies were with them. They came up to the Little Fir Tree and quickly lighted all the little pink and white candles. Then the two pretty ladies took hold of the table with the Little Fir Tree on it and pushed it, very smoothly and quickly, out of the doors, across a hall, and in at another door.
The Little Fir Tree had a sudden sight of a long room with many little white beds in it, of children propped up on pillows in the beds, and of other children in great wheeled chairs, and others hobbling about or sitting in little chairs. He wondered why all the little children looked so white and tired; he did not know that he was in a hospital. But before he could wonder any more his breath was quite taken away by the shout those little white children gave.
"Oh! oh! m-m! m-m!" they cried.
"How pretty! How beautiful! Oh isn’t it lovely!" He knew they must mean him, for all their shining eyes were looking straight at him. He stood as straight as a mast, and quivered in every needle, for joy. Presently one little weak child-voice called out, "It 's the nicest Christmas tree I ever saw!"
And then, at last, the Little Fir Tree knew what he was; he was a Christmas tree! And from his shiny head to his feet he was glad, through and through, because he was just little enough to be the nicest kind of tree in the world!
Once the Otter came to the Mouse-deer and said,
"Friend Mouse-deer, will you please take care of my babies while I go to the river, to catch fish?"
"Certainly," said the Mouse-deer, "go along." But when the Otter came back from the river, with a string of fish, he found his babies crushed flat. "What does this mean, Friend Mouse-deer?" he said. "Who killed my children while you were taking care of them?"
"I am very sorry," said the Mouse-deer, "but you know I am Chief Dancer of the War-dance, and the Woodpecker came and sounded the war-gong, so I danced. I forgot your children, and trod on them."
"I shall go to King Solomon," said the Otter, "and you shall be punished."
Soon the Mouse-deer was called before King Solomon.
"Did you kill the Otter's babies?" said the king.
"Yes, your Majesty," said the Mouse-deer, "but I did not mean to."
"How did it happen?" said the king.
"Your Majesty knows," said the Mouse-deer, "that I am Chief Dancer of the War-dance. The Woodpecker came and sounded the war-gong, and I had to dance; and as I danced I trod on the Otter's children."
"Send for the Woodpecker," said King Solomon. And when the Woodpecker came, he said to him, "Was it you who sounded the war-gong?"
"Yes, your Majesty," said the Woodpecker, "but I had to."
"Why?" said the king.
"Your Majesty knows," said the Woodpecker, that I am Chief Beater of the War-gong, and I sounded the gong because I saw the Great Lizard wearing his sword."
"Send for the Great Lizard," said King Solomon.
When the Great Lizard came, he asked him, "Was it you who were wearing your sword?"
"Yes, your Majesty," said the Great Lizard; "but I had to."
"Why?" said the king.
"Your Majesty knows," said the Great Lizard, "that I am Chief Protector of the Sword. I wore my sword because the Tortoise came wearing his coat of mail."
So the Tortoise was sent for.
"Why did you wear your coat of mail?" said the king.
"I put it on, your Majesty," said the Tortoise, "because I saw the King-crab trailing his three-edged pike."
Then the King-crab was sent for.
"Why were you trailing your three-edged pike?" said King Solomon.
"Because, your Majesty," said the King-crab, "I saw that the Crayfish had shouldered his lance."
Immediately the Crayfish was sent for.
"Why did you shoulder your lance?" said the king.
"Because, your Majesty," said the Crayfish, "I saw the Otter coming down to the river to kill my children."
"Oh," said King Solomon, "if that is the case, the Otter killed the Otter's children. And the Mouse-deer cannot be held, by the law of the land!"
A long, long time ago, as long ago as when there were fairies, there lived an emperor in China, who had a most beautiful palace, all made of crystal. Outside the palace was the loveliest garden in the whole world, and farther away was a forest where the trees were taller than any other trees in the world, and farther away, still, was a deep wood. And in this wood lived a little Nightingale. The Nightingale sang so beautifully that everybody who heard her remembered her better than anything else that he heard or saw. People came from all over the world to see the crystal palace and the wonderful garden and the great forest; but when they went home and wrote books about these things they always wrote, "But the Nightingale is the best of all."
At last it happened that the Emperor came upon a book which said this, and he at once sent for his Chamberlain.
"Who is this Nightingale?" said the Emperor. "Why have I never heard him sing?"
The Chamberlain, who was a very important person, said, "There cannot be any such person; I have never heard his name."
"The book says there is a Nightingale," said the Emperor. "I command that the Nightingale be brought here to sing for me this evening."
The Chamberlain went out and asked all the great lords and ladies and pages where the Nightingale could be found, but not one of them had ever heard of him. So the Chamberlain went back to the Emperor and said, "There is no such person."
"The book says there is a Nightingale," said the Emperor; "if the Nightingale is not here to sing for me this evening I will have the court trampled upon, immediately after supper."
The Chamberlain did not want to be trampled upon, so he ran out and asked everybody in the palace about the Nightingale. At last, a little girl who worked in the kitchen to help the cook's helper, said, "Oh, yes, I know the Nightingale very well. Every night when I go to carry scraps from the kitchen to my mother, who lives in the wood beyond the forest, I hear the Nightingale sing."
The Chamberlain asked the little cook-maid to take him to the Nightingale's home, and many of the lords and ladies followed after. When they had gone a little way, they heard a cow moo.
"Ah!" said the lords and ladies, "that must be the Nightingale; what a large voice for so small a creature!"
"Oh, no," said the little girl, "that is just a cow, mooing."
A little farther on they heard some bullfrogs, in a swamp.
"Surely that is the Nightingale," said the courtiers; "it really sound like churchbells!"
"Oh, no," said the little girl, "those are bullfrogs, croaking."
At last they came to the wood where the Nightingale was. "
Hush!" said the little girl, "she is going to sing." And, sure enough, the little Nightingale began to sing. She sang so beautifully that you have never in all your life heard anything like it.
"Dear, dear," said the courtiers, "that is very pleasant; does that little gray bird really make all that noise? She is so pale that I think she has lost her color for fear of us."
The Chamberlain asked the little Nightingale to come and sing for the Emperor. The little Nightingale said she could sing better in her own greenwood, but she was so sweet and kind that she came with them.
That evening the palace was all trimmed with the most beautiful flowers you can imagine, and rows and rows of little silver bells, that tinkled when the wind blew in, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of wax candles, that shone like tiny stars. In the great hall there was a gold perch for the Nightingale, beside the Emperor's throne.
When all the people were there, the Emperor asked the Nightingale to sing. Then the little gray Nightingale filled her throat full, and sang. And, my dears, she sang so beautifully that the Emperor's eyes filled up with tears! And, you know, emperors do not cry at all easily. So he asked her to sing again, and this time she sang so marvelously that the tears came out of his eyes and ran down his cheeks. That was a great success. They asked the little Nightingale to sing, over and over again, and when they had listened enough the Emperor said that she should be made "Singer in Chief to the Court." She was to have a golden perch near the Emperor's bed, and a little gold cage, and was to be allowed to go out twice every day. But there were twelve servants appointed to wait on her, and those twelve servants went with her every time she went out, and each of the twelve had hold of the end of a silken string which was tied to the little Nightingale's leg! It was not so very much fun to go out that way!
For a long, long time the Nightingale sang every evening to the Emperor and his court, and they liked her so much that the ladies all tried to sound like her; they used to put water in their mouths and then make little sounds like this: glu-glu-glug. And when the courtiers met each other in the halls, one would say "Night," and the other would say "ingale," and that was conversation.
At last, one day, there came a little package to the Emperor, on the outside of which was written, "The Nightingale." Inside was an artificial bird, something like a nightingale, only it was made of gold, and silver, and rubies, and emeralds, and diamonds. When it was wound up it played a waltz tune, and as it played it moved its little tail up and down. Everybody in the court was filled with delight at the music of the new nightingale. They made it sing that same tune thirty-three times, and still they had not had enough. They would have made it sing the tune thirty-four times, but the Emperor said, "I should like to hear the real Nightingale sing, now."
But when they looked about for the real little Nightingale, they could not find her anywhere! She had taken the chance, while everybody was listening to the waltz tune, to fly away through the window to her own greenwood.
"What a very ungrateful bird!" said the lords and ladies. "But it does not matter; the new nightingale is just as good."
So the artificial nightingale was given the real Nightingale's little gold perch, and every night the Emperor wound her up, and she sang her waltz tune to him. The people in the court liked her even better than the old Nightingale, because they could all whistle her tune, -- which you can't do with real nightingales.
About a year after the artificial nightingale came, the Emperor was listening to her waltz tune, when there was a snap and whir-r-r inside the bird, and the music stopped. The Emperor ran to his doctor, but he could not do anything. Then he ran to his clockmaker, but he could not do much. Nobody could do much. The best they could do was to patch the gold nightingale up so that it could sing once a year; even that was almost too much, and the tune was pretty shaky. Still, the Emperor kept the gold nightingale on the perch in his own room.
A long time went by, and then, at last, the Emperor grew very ill, and was about to die. When it was sure that he could not live much longer, the people chose a new emperor and waited for the old one to die. The poor Emperor lay, quite cold and pale, in his great big bed, with velvet curtains, and tall candlesticks all about. He was quite alone, for all the courtiers had gone to congratulate the new emperor, and all the servants had gone to talk it over.
When the Emperor woke up, he felt a terrible weight on his chest. He opened his eyes, and there was Death, sitting on his heart. Death had put on the Emperor's gold crown, and he had the gold sceptre in one hand, and the silken banner in the other; and he looked at the Emperor with his great hollow eyes. The room was full of shadows, and the shadows were full of faces. Everywhere the Emperor looked, there were faces. Some were very, very ugly, and some were sweet and lovely; they were all the things the Emperor had done in his life, good and bad. And as he looked at them they began to whisper. They whispered, "Do you remember this?" "Do you remember that?" The Emperor remembered so much that he cried out loud, "Oh, bring the great drum! Make music, so that I may not hear these dreadful whispers!"
But there was nobody there to bring the drum.
Then the Emperor cried, "You little gold nightingale, can you not sing something for me? I have given you gifts of gold and jewels, and kept you always by my side; will you not help me now?" But there was nobody to wind the little gold nightingale up, and of course it could not sing.
The Emperor's heart grew colder and colder where Death crouched upon it, and the dreadful whispers grew louder and louder, and the Emperor's life was almost gone. Suddenly, through the open window, there came a most lovely song. It was so sweet and so loud that the whispers died quite away. Presently the Emperor felt his heart grow warm, then he felt the blood flow through his limbs again; he listened to the song until the tears ran down his cheeks; he knew that it was the little real Nightingale who had flown away from him when the gold nightingale came.
Death was listening to the song, too; and when it was done and the Emperor begged for more. Death, too, said, "Please sing again, little Nightingale!"
"Will you give me the Emperor's gold crown for a song?" said the little Nightingale.
"Yes," said Death; and the little Nightingale bought the Emperor's crown for a song.
"Oh, sing again, little Nightingale," begged Death.
"Will you give me the Emperor's sceptre for another song? " said the little gray Nightingale.
"Yes," said Death; and the little Nightingale bought the Emperor's sceptre for another song. Once more Death begged for a song, and this time the little Nightingale got the banner for her singing. Then she sang one more song, so sweet and so sad that, it made Death think of his garden in the churchyard, where he always liked best to be. And he rose from the Emperor's heart and floated away through the window.
When Death was gone, the Emperor said to the little Nightingale, "Oh, dear little Nightingale, you have saved me from Death! Do not leave me again. Stay with me on this little gold perch, and sing to me always!"
"No, dear Emperor," said the little Nightingale, "I sing best when I am free; I cannot live in a palace. But every night when you are quite alone, I will come and sit in the window and sing to you, and tell you everything that goes on in your kingdom: I will tell you where the poor people are who ought to be helped, and where the wicked people are who ought to be punished. Only, dear Emperor, be sure that you never let anybody know that you have a little bird who tells you everything."After the little Nightingale had flown away, the Emperor felt so well and strong that he dressed himself in his royal robes and took his gold sceptre in his hand. And when the courtiers came in to see if he were dead, there stood the Emperor with his sword in one hand and his sceptre in the other, and said, "Good-morning!"