Изображения страниц
PDF

ANY years ago, so long a time that I for one do not believe there is anybody alive to-day who ever visited it, there was a little village high up on a mountain where everybody was contented, from the Borough President down to the littlest child. Every morning the men and the boys who were big enough went out to tend to the herds of goats, except the butcher and the butcher's boy, the baker, the manager of the general store, and the Borough President, of course. The mothers and older girls stayed home to tend to the churning, the cooking, the sewing, and all that sort of thing, and sometimes to gossip, while the little children who were n’t at singing-school or dancingclass played all day in the sun. Now for so many years this happy village had lived the same contented life that only the oldest inhabitant remembered the time that the Thrings came down from the deep wood on the very top of the mountain, shut all the people in their houses at night, stole all the treasure from the Town Hall, and drove the herds of goats up to their wood. That was a bad time for the village, and it took many years for the inhabitants to get new goats and to replenish their treasure. But it had all happened so long ago that I'm sorry to say the little boys would some

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

times laugh at the oldest inhabitant when he spoke of it, and even the older people would occasionally wag their heads and wink at one another during the telling. Yet no one cared to try to locate the place where the Thrings were supposed to have hidden the treasure, for they argued if there really were such things as Thrings, they were well enough let alone. And no wonder! because, according to the oldest inhabitant, the Thrings were a very desperate little people, with sharp eyes, long beards, long noses, and very long, hairy arms; and though they were only three feet high, they were very, very strong and not at all the sort one would care to meet in a dark wood. The only person in the happy village who was worried at all was the Borough President, and he would often call the oldest inhabitant to his palace (for like all Borough Presidents he was very rich) and ask all sorts of questions about the strength and the number of the Thrings. And the oldest inhabitant would answer the questions and perhaps. make the Thrings out to be worse than they really were, because he was proud of being the only one who could tell anything about them. And the Borough President would nod his head and wrinkle his brow and look very worried indeed; for though he would be very sorry if the little people drove off the goats, yet he kept no goats himself; but he did have bags of treasure, all carefully hidden under the coal in his cellar. Often and often, in the dark of night, he would put on his slippers and dressing-gown, would take his candle, trudge down the cellar stairs, shovel away the coal, and sit on the floor admiring his treasure, until the dawn coming through the little grating warned him it was time to cover it up again. Then he would waddle as noiselessly as possible up to bed and pretend that he had never left it all night. Once the cook met him just as he reached the second landing, and he, blushing furiously, but with a great show as if it were nothing unusual for him to be up at that time of the day, said, “I just remembered that I did n't put the cat out last night.” And once his beautiful little daughter, whom he loved even more than his treasure, said at the breakfast-table, “Your Honor, '' even beautiful daughters call Borough Presidents “Your Honor,”—“Your Honor,” said she, “did n’t I hear you up and about at a late hour last night?” “Pish, tush!” says His Honor; “little girls should be seen, but not listen. Put such frivolous thoughts out of your head this instant!” And she, being an obedient daughter, at once extinguished such thoughts. Now there came a lovely afternoon in June when the daisies were bursting into flower and the song-birds were caroling overhead or scolding their young ones because they were fooling over their flying lessons. All the children who were n’t at singing-school or dancing-class were scampering over the meadow, playing ring-around-a-rosy or chasing the yellow and blue butterflies, when suddenly, over the top of the hill, who should appear but the strangest little old man! His face was all pushed together in fine little wrinkles, like a pin-seal pocketbook. On his head was a brown, high-peaked cap, and a long brown cape hung from his shoulders to the ground. On his feet were big brogues with nails in the bottom, and he marched

[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

little girls that they were n’t afraid of lions or tigers or bears or anything, were, I 'm sorry to say, the first ones to reach their mother's door-steps. But on came the strange little man. And when the mothers and big sisters heard the children's story, I can tell you they lost no time in shooing their young ones inside and locking doors and windows and hiding under the beds with their aprons over their heads. When the monstrous little man came to the square not a soul was to be seen, so he sat down on the bottom step of the town hall and let his feet swing. Now the butcher's boy, who was a bold lad, instead of hiding under a bed, skipped around by the back yards and came to the rear door of the Borough President's Palace. “We won’t be taking any to-day,” says the cook, when she saw who was there. “And I have n’t any for you,” says the butcher's boy. “I came to see the Borough President.” “And what would you be doing, speaking to the Borough President and you only a butcher's boy?” says the cook. “Be that as it may,” says he, “the Borough President I must see.” And he spoke so earnestly that the cook

"WHO SHOULD APPEAR BUT THE STRANGEST LiTTLE OLD MAN!"

finally let him in, and led him to the great hall where the Borough President, the baker, the butcher, the manager of the general store, and the oldest inhabitant were sitting about over coffee and muffins and talking of this and that.

[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]

“Be off out of this,” said the butcher, when he saw him; “you ’re a bold young rascal to be coming into His Honor's presence with no invitation to do so.”

But His Honor said, “Let the boy have his say.”

“Well then,” says the butcher's boy,

Which surprised the butcher's boy, for few enough good words about himself had he ever heard from the butcher. “In that case, perhaps you ’d rather go out there yourself,” says the Borough President. Well, no, the butcher thought that if the boy really wanted to go, perhaps that would be best, and all the others agreed. So out goes the butcher's boy, as bold as life, and walking right up to the Thring,

“OFF HE MARCHES, DRIVING THE GOATS AHEAD OF HIM"

“there 's a monstrous little man with a thousand wrinkles on him and a long nose and a long beard and unconscionable long arms sitting this minute on the bottom step of the town hall, and him scaring all the women and children so that they 've locked themselves in the houses.” “What nonsense is this?” cries the Borough President, turning pale. But the oldest inhabitant hobbled over to the front window, and says he, wagging his head and his eyes popping out, “Sure enough, it 's a Thring! I mind them well.” Then there was consternation, and a great deal of whispering. Finally, it was decided that some one must go and find out what it was the Thring was after, but no one cared to volunteer on a matter that might turn out any which way. Then, to the amazement of all, the bold butcher's boy spoke out: “And I 'll go,” says he, “to find out what sort of a bargain the monstrous little man has to ask.” At that, the butcher began to protest that his boy was the best he 'd ever had and what would he do if harm should come to him.

who never moved except to swing his legs, stands there and talks and listens for no less than twenty-three minutes by the town clock. Then back he comes. “The monstrous little man,” says he, “will have five fat goats to-day, and no less; and you 'll stay indoors until he 's driven them up to the edge of the dark wood on the top of the mountain. Otherwise, he 'll bring down all the Thrings, and will have all of the herds of goats and the treasure as well.” It did n’t take the time of a fly lighting on a piece of sugar for them to decide what to do; so off goes the butcher's boy to the fields for the five goats. And I can tell you he got them from the men quick enough, though they stayed where they were in the fields, hiding behind a stone or a stump. Not a word says the Thring when the boy brought five fat goats; but hopping down from the step, he waves his knotted-wood staff, and off he marches, driving the goats ahead of him across the square, down the street, through the fields, over the hill, and up the mountain, till he was lost to view at the edge of the dark wood.

[graphic]

Then the men came back from the fields, the women and little children came out of the houses, the schoolmistresses let out the dancing-class and the singing-school, and the Borough President came out of the palace, followed by the baker, the butcher, the manager of the general store, the oldest inhabitant, and the cook. And there was plenty of talk, to be sure, and many questions asked of the butcher's boy, who was made quite a hero of. But he, being a modest lad, would only say, “The monstrous little man was civil enough, but had little to say.” “It 's not so bad but what it might be worse,” said the Borough President, looking relieved, and every one agreed with him, except those who had lost their goats. So things went on again as usual in the happy village, except that one man was always stationed up in the clock-tower of the town hall, who never took his telescope from his eye and sat all day watching the edge of the dark wood on the mountain top. Then, one hot afternoon in August, with the bees humming over the clover and the robins and sparrows splashing and shaking themselves in the little bath-tubs left between the cobbles by the last night's rain, the lazy air was shattered by the sound of the big bell in the town-hall tower, which was the signal decided on if the Thring should again visit the village. And what a scampering there was! This time, the men and boys who were tending the herds came running helter-skelter down the streets and locked themselves in with the rest, letting the goats wander where they would. Over the hill, through the field, up the street, and across the square stumped the Thring, and sat down on the bottom step of the town hall and let his feet swing. And out came the butcher's boy from the palace of the Borough President, where he had immediately been summoned when the great bell rang, and walked right up to the monstrous little man who never moved except to swing his legs. But this time, after twenty-three minutes' talk, the boy walked straight away to the fields and brings back ten goats—for the Borough President told him he 'd best use his own judgment and not stand quibbling or come back until he 'd done just whatever that monstrous little man had to tell him. So the Thring hops off his step and off he marches, driving the ten goats ahead of him, until he was lost to view at the edge of the dark wood.

Then out came all the people from their houses and gathered about the butcher's boy, who said, “The monstrous little man was polite enough, but had little to say.” And the Borough President said, “Nothing 's so bad, but it might be worse,” and all . the people agreed with him, except those who had lost their goats, and they were n’t so sure about that. Then came a cool day in October, with the smell of the fruit in the air and this and that kind of bird gathering together in groups and talking among themselves in very loud bird-talk about the trip they were going to take south that winter. And suddenly the big bell in the town-hall tower boomed out again, and of course every one knew what that meant, and into their houses they scampered. This time, the Borough President called the butcher's boy to him and patted him on the head. “Go and find out what the Thring wants,” says he, “there 's a good chap; and don't stand quibbling; give him all the goats he wants, and here 's a farthing for your trouble. Now be off with you! There 's a boy, if you like,” says the Borough President, to the oldest inhabitant, rubbing his hands and smiling. “He 'll grow to be a man; and who knows, some day maybe a butcher he 'll be himself.” Then they all sat down to wait; but not for long. Suddenly the knocker on the front door of the palace began to bang, and the oldest inhabitant peered through the curtain, and there stood the butcher's boy; and off beyond, on the bottom step of the town hall, the Thring, swinging his legs and staring straight before him with his beadybeady eyes. So they let the boy in. “How 's this?” scowled the Borough President; “away to the fields and fetch that monstrous little man all the goats he wants.” “Oh, but he wants no goats this trip,” says the butcher's boy. “No goats? Wha-wha-what d-d-does he w-want?” stammers the Borough President, getting pink in the ears. “Two bags of treasure, the size that could be carried in his two hands; and not from the town hall either, but the best Your Honor has in the palace; and if it 's not brought him at once, he 'll bring down all the Thrings, and will have all the herds of goats and the town-hall treasure and Your Honor's, and maybe the littlest child into the bargain!” says the butcher's boy, all in one breath.

“So hol” cries the Borough President, “he 'll have my treasure, will he? He will not! Goats if he likes, all of them. But my treasure is mine, and that 's that!” “He gave me only five minutes to get back with the two bags,” says the butcher's boy. Then there was argument and persuasion a-plenty by the butcher, the baker, the manager of the general store, and the cook, while the oldest inhabitant tried to tell what happened ever so many years ago, “when—” But they put a pillow over his head so he could n’t go on. Finally the Borough President, turning very purple, gave in, and said he 'd get the two bags of treasure if everyone there would turn their backs and stuff their ears. Then he tiptoed out, and down the cellar stairs, and into the coal-bin, and back again with the two bags, so quietly that no one knew which way he had gone to get the treasure. And off went the butcher's boy straight to the monstrous little man, who took the bags and saying, “His Honor is very light with his treasure; I’ll call again,” tramped off and was soon lost to view. Now when the people had come out and heard all about this, they looked more contented and said, “Things are n’t so bad but what they might be worse.” But the Borough President was very angry indeed and said nothing could ever be as bad as what had happened to him, and that anybody who could get back his treasure and find a way to keep those Thrings in their place so they would n’t be bothering honest folk any more was more than welcome to have the two bags for himself and his beautiful daughter in marriage, as well as the west wing of the palace to live in, so long as he 'd be quiet after nine o'clock at night and not quarrel with his wife. Well, when the butcher's boy heard that, he made up his mind at once what he would do, for he loved the Borough President's daughter very much, though he had never told her so. And she, the minx, would run to the window over the kitchen whenever she heard him delivering the meat, and watch until he was out of sight. And he never knew that, any more than her father or the cook knew it, and you may be sure they knew nothing of it at all. So the butcher's boy bought a loaf of bread with his farthing, which he put in one pocket, and cut off a large slice of meat, while the butcher's back was turned, which he put in his other pocket. Then, sticking a butcher-knife in his belt and taking with

him a long coil of rope, he waited for night to come. When every one had gone to bed, out starts this bold boy, through the field, over the hill, and up the mountain to the edge of the dark wood. And there he stopped, for no sensible person would try to walk through a dark wood on a dark night when they could n’t see their hands before their faces, let alone knowing where next to put their foot. And being a good boy, with no cares except that of hunting the treasure, he slept soundly and only woke up when the sun first peeped over the far-away hills. Then, after making a meal out of the bread and meat in his pocket, off he starts into the dark wood, peering this way and that. And finally he thought he heard a trumpet calling the same note over and over again, and at the same time he saw a faint light ahead and pushed on very, very carefully until he came to a small clearing. And there, what should he see fast asleep in front of a cave in the rocks but the same monstrous little man who had paid the visits to the village, and the trumpet, which had sounded louder and louder as he approached, turned out to be nothing but the snoring of him. The butcher's boy looked this way and that, but not a sign of other little men could he see. And looking again, he was surprised to see only one pan, and one cup, and one fork. “Well,” says he, “the other Thrings must live elsewhere, and perhaps this is their king, and him I shall catch.” So stealing around the clearing with as little noise as possible, he came behind the monstrous little man, and ever so carefully began passing the rope under his body and around it. And the Thring slept on. And after that, the butcher's boy tied the rope around and around the legs of the Thring. And after that, he tied the rope into a tight knot, and the Thring woke up. Then there was a howdy-do! The monstrous little man rolled and tried to kick and made horrible faces and bellowed in terrible rage. But he could n’t loosen himself. Then he began to cry, and to implore, and begged to be loosened from the rope. But the butcher's boy would not do that unless he would promise thus and so. And what must he promise? the Thring wanted to know. So the butcher's boy told him how he must give back the two bags of treasure, and that a way must be found to keep the other Thrings in place, so that they would n't he bothering the honest folk of the village

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »